Michael Hill represents a brand that is as much rooted in traditional British style as it is in taking cues from American, Italian and Japanese style. Under Hill's direction, Drake's has expanded their offerings into shirting and outerwear and have collaborated with some of the best brands out there. As the face of Drake's, Hill evokes an effortless sense of style and coolness we here at S&A admire. His manner of dressing is a study in detail, contrast, playfulness & nonchalance. We sat down with Michael Hill while on his recent trip to Miami and got a chance to ask him a few questions...
1) What does Drake's appreciate about British style? What is Drake's take on traditional British Style?
Naturally, we reach back to times when we consider the British to have had great genuine style. As a company deeply involved in textile design and development, it's really our weaving and printing heritage, and it's style, that we appreciate most of all. At Drake's, I feel the 'Britishness' that we're undoubtedly rooted in has always been somewhat softened given our history as a manufacturing business that has sold to many great customers all over the world, and as such has been influence by those different markets; while today the smaller and more connected world we live in allows our Britishness to be part of a more international style.
2) Which items do you consider to be necessities in a well-dressed man's wardrobe?
It's perhaps the Winter wardrobe that we have the most affinity with. A good blazer of course but tweed coats are the things I couldn't do without, as well as our own Oxford and Chambray shirts; Ancient Madder, classic repp and grenadine ties, and wool/silk pocket squares, perhaps in an iconic Drake's print such as The Mogul Knights or Unicorn. Not forgetting a good pair of shoes of course, with the [Alden] snuff suede chukka being my personal favourite. They work with just about everything and are as comfortable as an old pair of slippers! My coat choice would be a classic Loden or a great old Duffel.
3) What does Drake's appreciate about American style? How is American style perceived in England?
Ivy League style is definitely a big inspiration for us and I think that's something that was evident even in Michael Drake's earliest collections. We love classic Americana too and then of course there's your recent resurgence in goods made in America. As a company that makes our own shirts and ties in our own factories in England we have so much respect for others that do likewise in their home countries. Designing and selling it is one thing, it's making it that we're especially proud of.
4) Are there things outside of the fashion world that inspire your work? Are you aware of outside influences being distilled into your work? Is it something that happens subconsciously?
It is a bit of both though it's more the latter; a process of osmosis as opposed to it being overly thought out. Certainly the art world, both from a historical and contemporary perspective, is something we're very interested in and given it's proximity to our world the influence is very much there. But I'm conscious that what we try to be about is great timeless clothes for men that love and appreciate style (as opposed to fashion per se) and on our side that's often a question of yarn and textile development and colouring as opposed to any great reinventions of the wardrobe wheel each season. We love working with old fashioned materials and time honoured manufacturing standards but we work with them with a fresh perspective and open mind. So I guess really we're looking back in order to look forward; what we do has to be relevant for today's modern gentleman.
5) We've seen that you are fans of Alden shoes. What is it that you like about the brand and their products? What about Engineered Garments?
Certainly fans of both. We see the Aldens that we carry being the right match for what we do at Drake's. You might imagine us to say that about one of the fine English makers but we've never sourced from England just for the sake of it. While we love Shetland tweed, hand printed silk from Macclesfield, and of course English shirts and ties, we also favour grenadine silk from Como for example. And for us the same goes for shoes from Massachusetts!
I find [Engineered Garments] clothing to be the right balance between style and practicality without aspiring to a romantic notion greater than that. They're very easy to wear and it feels like you're buying a product that has come from a good source, in terms of conception, manufacturing and their retail business.
6) What are your thoughts on Ring Jacket from Japan? Do you generally prefer unstructured jackets versus structured?
Whilst I recognise that [Drake's and Ring Jacket] are very different businesses, I also acknowledge our similarities, and in our cases, I feel that relates to our shared commitment to local manufacturing. We both care a great deal about how we make and our heritages in that regard. With Ring Jacket it all starts with the product and striving for consistency and excellence with it. As well as that they produce some very beautiful and interesting garments, all the more reason to be proud and happy to partner with them. The softer jacket fits with our hand-rolled ties, button-down or softly lined spread collared shirts and our more comfortable aesthetic in general. It feels right for today.
7) You are experiencing Miami during our hottest and most humid time of year. How do you think you'd dress if you lived in Miami?
We'd certainly need to swap the tweed for something lighter! Super lightweight wool and linen would clearly be the order of the day.
8) Do you drink? If so, what do you prefer to drink when 6 o'clock rolls around?
Gin & French (Vermouth)
9) Are there other London-based companies that are manufacturing clothing or products? What drives this desire to manufacture in London?
It's certainly unusual to be producing ties in London but we make here because we've always made here. It's not just a question of being committed to make here, it's that this is where the company was actually born. In short if we were to move our production then our ties wouldn't be Drake's ties. The craftsmen and women that physically make our ties are what make them Drake's. I feel we would be committing suicide if we compromised on our authenticity, despite the high costs involved. We're proud to manufacture at home and our philosophy is to make it ourselves wherever possible, hence our recent exciting venture into shirt making in Somerset. And knowing the stresses and strains that go with manufacturing we have a tremendous amount of respect for all the great artisans based here.
10) We'd like to hear your thoughts on working with Private White V.C. They manufacture their garments in Manchester. Are there similarities between Private White V.C. and Drake's?
Working [with Private White V.C.] was a great experience. It's always fascinating to look inside another factory and we certainly have a huge appreciation for all they're doing up in Manchester. Their look might be somewhat more casual than ours but I don't think the ethos isn't so different. It's interesting that we're both factories that have come from designing and making collections for a variety of brands over the years but given the way our businesses and the market have evolved we're both forging ahead with our own collections right through to retailing them ourselves. We know that's a big challenge but a very exciting one and we certainly respect what they have achieved in that regard. I think the more of us that can achieve that then the stronger our British-made message becomes and therefore the stronger the British brands across the board can become.
11) If you had a free week in Miami how would you like to spend it?
I'd love to explore Little Havana and the Art Deco District, spend some time by the ocean at South Beach and if my trip coincided with Art Basel Miami Beach then even better!
Interview conducted by Joey Halegua and Jonathan Eyal.
Photography by Kevin Beltran.
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