Few success stories in British menswear ring truer than that of Drake’s, the British haberdasher which is currently celebrating some 40 years of making and supplying the finest artisanal clothing to men in search of things well made. Although not the longest period of time associated with a heritage brand, 40 years is nonetheless a significant milestone, largely because Drake’s seems considerably more influential than warrants a mere four decades of development – particularly when comparable British brands in the same space are often in excess of two hundred years old.
Drakes’ Creative Director, Michael Hill, in the Haberdasher Street factory.
Drakes’ Creative Director, Michael Hill, has followed the business from its inception; his father was the eponymous Michael Drake’s partner, and Hill used to spend his evenings and weekend exploring the old Drake’s workshop and helping with the business. Now at the helm, Hill is really the one common thread that runs throughout Drakes’ timeline, and his understanding of the past feeds into everything the company does today. Part guardian, part pioneer, his role walks the line between retaining the core values that Michael Drake established in 1977 and progressing the brand’s story. ‘Many of our customers go back a long way with us’, Hill explains, ‘it’s incredibly important that we maintain the spirit in which the company was run. If a customer feels a sense of continuity then hopefully that imbues a level of trust in our work, and that attitude very much applies to our manufacturing standards and approach to design. Whilst we’re inspired by the past we’re living in the present, and therefore looking forward as much as we are looking back. I’d like to think that keeps us fresh.’
Fresh indeed, look at the Spring Summer ’17 collection and one gets the sense that Drake’s is very much mid-evolution, expanding outwards from its traditional specialisms towards a more rounded offering. Alongside a wealth of slubby shantung and silk grenadine ties, quirky linen shirts and staple Oxford button-downs, Hill has introduced a range that for the first time includes Italian-made suiting, washed cashmere blazers and chinos, lightweight suede shoes, heavy linen overshirts, floaty printed scarves and even London-made jeans – all of which build on the core Drake’s aesthetic. The result is a comfortable, lifestyle appropriate collection that blurs the lines between casual and formal. Pair that with the brand’s superb storytelling, which aligns the Drake’s man with an interest in art, culture and in life well-lived, and you’ve got a recipe with a very definite appeal for style-conscious men.
All of which feeds into an exciting sense of Drake’s moving from strength to strength, and Hill’s plans for the year ahead belie a reassuring sense of confidence in the brand’s development. ‘We’re very excited about the year ahead. Currently, we’re half-way through renovating our Clifford Street store, and following last year’s pop-up in New York, we’re set to open a permanent shop on Crosby Street in June, and a shop-in-shop in Toyko, in April. We also have a series of exciting collaborations releasing over the next year and our new made-to-order service, which will allow for the personalisation of our shirts and tailored garments.’
Funnily enough, for all these leaps forward, when quizzed on his proudest moments at Drake’s over the years, Hill’s thought-process takes him back to the house’s roots. ‘I think the most significant achievement will always be getting through the initial years and the fact that we were able to keep going past Michael Drake himself, that we were able to convince our customers to trust us without him.’ Perhaps, but the Spring Summer ’17 collection is an achievement in itself, representing the culmination of several seasons of development. Drake’s is entering into a space that few heritage brands reach, aligning itself with a particularly current set of values and a particularly relevant way of dressing. It may be a traditional company, but Drake’s is nonetheless a trailblazer for modern British menswear.