Whilst reading history at Liverpool University I worked at a number of stores including, for the longest time, ‘Cricket’. I was heavily involved in the Club scene in the North West and the a+r of the music industry. So many of the people I saw dressed as if they had a mirror reflecting only one part of their body at a time. I was sure that the resultant disjuncture was unintentional. After all, no man would willingly allow himself to be insulted by his tailor. The Street maybe cluttered by rude boy nonsense but it is inherently honest. Catwalk fashion for men lacks energy and far from being innovative is merely desperate to appear so. There are honourable exceptions. Designers who maintained a style and quality of manufacture, who employed interesting material interestingly. Satyenkumar being superb.
Men throughout the U.K., not just Wales, are rejecting the shoddy, generic tat that the High Street has pumped out for years. They have grown weary of the “like it or lump it” attitude whereby the chain stores patronise them. They do not want “in your face clothes” as an alternative. They want comfort that comes from fit and the careful manufacture of good materials into a recognisable style which is personal and reflective of the whole image of themselves they wish to put out there. When they want to be emphatic they still do not want to be theatrical. Clothes not costumes.
There is no national dress. There is no regional dress. Yes, ratcatchers tie their corduroys below the knee and scallys wear track suits. A vocational or tribal homogeneity exists both horizontally and vertically in a stratified society. Any retailer who focuses so narrowly soon finds his constituency has become a pressure group. Thinking globally, acting locally, in the internet age is not a geographic conceit. The locality is the interface between designer and customer, me. Your vision should make itself manifest after sufficient contemplation. Mine did and can be read by any competent interpreter of dress in the clothes I have chosen to sell.
You should never be pleased with yourself. That is why I am constantly adding to and subtracting from. Next season will see the addition of Siv Stovald, Saviour and Fred Perry by Raf Simons.
Monmouth may not be ready for this. It is an edgy introspective place which has seen people come and go. It does not give its heart easily. Achingly beautiful, aloof and with the self sufficiency of Kenneth Graham’s badger. I love it.
(The rest of the interview followed the more obvious interview format)
Wales certainly isn't known for its menswear... or shopping in general for that matter, so what made you choose Monmouth (with a population of 8407); was it to begin a sartorial revolution or did you just fall in love with the Grade II listed building?
Where else would a clothes obsessed Welsh historian of limited means open? The shop is Grade II listed and small enough for me not to need staff. I live above it. Although our website increases its sales month by month, I have no doubt the shop reassures people I exist. I am there. The Internet will expand only as long as customers trust it.
Have you got any plans up your sleeve for expansion? Would you love to see branches of your shop on every high street or do you prefer the one-off boutique way of doing things?
Will I ever leave Monmouth? I will always want a base here. I do not want a chain of shops but I shall open a small store in Paris, Rome and New York where I will sell British manufactured menswear by the designers who share my vision. They will be staffed by cheerful people who know what they are talking about and who do not want to score points off their customers. It will not happen next week. I come back to it. It is always about the clothes.
Who are your style icons?
Icon perhaps isn’t the right word. There are certainly people I look up to and admire. These change regularly ranging from Stefano Pilati, Paul Smith – I think I was probably the only 10 year old with a working knowledge of his work, my father – little did I know it but his ability to mix bespoke with wearing early stone island with other cutting edge labels (they were at the time!) influenced me greatly. Others include Iain Richardson in House of Cards, the stiffness of the suit. James Dean in Rebel without a cause, Steve McQueen in Thomas Crown Affair, Mad Men’s Roger Sterling. I expect you catch my drift.
Have you noticed any major trends this year?
Trends are usually a waste of time. Most men don’t pick up on them until a couple of years down the line. We are still all slavishly sticking to the ‘rock star/faux indie look’ whilst apparently we are supposed to have moved on. I am seeing a slight move towards being a bit more preppy. Men are slowly losing the overly baggy shorts and wearing things that are slightly more tapered with clean lines. This is also linked in with current economic crisis. Men are buying more big ticket items but not touching more disposable fare. We always dress better during recession. Especially given that the High Street for men has so far to go to be a palatable option. Cleaner lines are easier to wear now and in a years time and several classic pieces are great to come back to as long as the quality is there. It’s paramount to our buying that everything we stock is made well and in good materials. Otherwise it’s just disposable art.
What items of clothing (if any) do you wish that more men wore?
I’d love to see men throw off the shackles and be a little bit more experimental. I find that the majority of guys want to but don’t know how to. We are very poorly served in this country – well once you leave the clutches of the M25 behind. Stores believe that men all want to wear the same label. This is seriously at odds with out sartorial history. Pretty much every shift in how men dress has come from the UK. If we all wear Lyle and Scott and Gstar it’ll never happen. The problem with this is we consume a lot of fairly high priced clothes but sacrifice the individuality. It’s criminal to my mind that Satyenkumar and and-i - according to the press, two of Britain's brightest talents - are impossible to get hold of. Satyen makes items for us in such small numbers if would be silly to put series number on them. And-i have a thriving label outside of the UK. All the major world stores carry it. UK non-existent.
Do you believe that the way men and women shop really is fundamentally different- i.e. men are 'hunter-gatherers' and more focussed on what they want while women accumulate and adapt?
As you know, I have very recently started to stock womenswear. You probably have the London Fashion Week “Newsflash” to hand. Open it and count the photographs: 85 womenswear and 6 menswear. Women are no better served by the chains than men. They are not convinced that a surfeit necessarily increases choice. It just hides that needle in a bigger haystack. They like a wander round the shops. Well, so do I. But women are more optimistic. A man knows he will be bored rigid and will not find anything he wants in his size. So he browses the net. It is as focussing mechanism. Do women just assimilate and adapt? Do they buy an item only to work on it later? Hardly. Both images are stereotypes which a wise man passes on tip toe.
Finally, Steve has dreams of opening his own menswear store one day: what advice would you give anyone aspiring to do what you have done?
You want your own store? Stay sober and keep the batteries of your bullshit detector charged.