At thirty-five years old Drake’s London Creative Director Michael Hill is roughly the same age as the brand itself. This fact is interesting because when Hill took over as lead designer for Drake’s in 2010, he did so with the vigor and sensibilities of a man well immersed in the diversified mentality of the fervent post-millennial menswear set. Prior to assuming this principal role, Hill had apprenticed under Michael Drake himself, earning an invaluable education which primed him to assume creative control once Drake sold the company was purchased by Mark Cho of The Armoury. It has been Hill’s ability to align Drake’s tradition of incomparable accessories with his own taste for more progressive pieces that has kept Drake’s as one of the preeminent brands in the world. I had a chance to speak with Hill about the brand’s growth, both in scope and in style, as well as his personal style, the role of the internet in menswear, and the future of Drake’s.
ACL: When you took over as lead designer for Drake’s in 2010, you really took the brand to new heights, what was your mission when you assumed that position?
Michael Hill: I wanted to ensure the continuity from the previous ownership, both in terms of the quality and style of the product and our longstanding, loyal customers.Continuity was as important as anything new I wanted to do with the business and our mission was to give us some longer term stability by putting down roots in terms of our first brick and mortar store, our website and a factory fit for purpose and the coming decades. I also wanted to reassure our own staff as well, as I was relatively young when I took over the company.
ACL: Especially over the past couple years, you all have really garnered a lot of attention for your more eye-catching fabrics, how do you go about developing and choosing patterns?
MH: We are fortunate enough to inherit a rich Drake’s archive and we have very close ties with great weavers and printers that we’ve worked with since Michael Drake began the company.
ACL: Some of your patterns, like the “snakes & ladders” print, or the “dancing steps” print, reflect a creativity that has really never been seen on pocket squares or scarves before, what sparked this more inventive approach to your designs?
MH: It’s often said a guy can have fun with his socks but you can have even more fun with a pocket square! A man can wear a strong design in an unostentatious way, particularly if the coloring is well-balanced. Here at Drake’s we believe in doing something tasteful but also doing something fun.
ACL: Are you ever surprised by how popular a certain pattern can become?
MH: I suppose so, you have a feeling for it at the start of a season but it is often a nice surprise when you find something that strikes a chord with our customers that you didn’t expect to. It is encouraging for us to see that something which has a lot of colour and design has sold well.
ACL: Many men still forgo pocket squares or skip a scarf, why do you think that these men shy away from accessories, and why do you think that these items are important?
MH: It’s possible they’re worried it’s too fussy or they’re not confident about how to do it properly, but that certainly is changing. These two relatively small items in a gentleman’s wardrobe can completely lift an outfit and tie it all together.
ACL: You’ve built up the Drake’s product line significantly since you’ve taken the reins, what has the process like in growing from ties into sweaters, shirts, and sport coats?
MH: It has been great fun and hard work. We haven’t tried to do everything. We haven’t sold a suit (so far) because many of our neighbors and competitors sell those things. We just aimed to sell the things that we thought our customer would appreciate and wasn’t necessarily in the market already.
We weren’t bolting on product for the sake of it. We’ve been careful to work with people who have a similar aesthetic to Drake’s, who are open to putting those products together to our exacting standards and quality. Furthermore, we never thought of the tie in isolation, but rather always in terms of an overall look and now to be able to physically achieve this seems like a natural step.
ACL: What’s the most important thing that you learned from Michael Drake as his understudy?
MH: You can never be complacent. Disaster can always be there tomorrow. Work as if that’s going to happen.
ACL: Drake’s is well-known for producing everything, under a very watchful eye, in-house in London. Why do you think it matters to produce locally, and have such a direct line to your production?
MH: It’s not a Drake’s tie unless it comes from our workshop. The staff in our workshop are the heart and soul of Drake’s, so for us there has to be a direct line. If we were to make our ties somewhere else, no matter what the label says, it wouldn’t be a Drake’s tie. It matters because it’s who we are and what we do.
ACL: Men’s style, on a larger scale, seems to be moving in two disparate directions, with some men becoming increasingly more casual, and others heading back toward a more formal look. What is your take on how men dress today?
MH: I feel Men’s Style in general is in one of the best places it’s been for a long time. There is such a wealth of possibility available to guys these days and with platforms such as Tumblr, forums and other blogging sites the sheer amount of information about ‘Menswear’ to hand is staggering.
New retail outfits and companies are popping up all over the globe with a commitment to supplying and manufacturing quality goods and this can only be seen as a good thing. This variety allows us to experiment with our own personal style and find what works for us.
ACL: I would say that your personal attire is a great example of a modern refined style, how does building your own wardrobe differ from building a collection for a brand such as Drake’s.?
MH: The link is intrinsic. I don’t necessarily think about building my own wardrobe and a collection for Drake’s but sometimes those things go hand in hand. One has to be slightly more open-minded when building a collection for Drake’s but I believe in all of the product that we produce.
ACL: You all opened your first shop not too long ago, what has that been like and can we expect more retail shops on the horizon?
MH: It’s been great fun, a steep learning curve! It’s been wonderful for us to meet our customer and we are pleased with how it’s gone so far. There isn’t any blueprint to roll out more stores and we are fortunate enough to be making it up as we go along. If timing and location was right, it would be something we would do, but happy at this stage to be more personal with our sole location.
ACL: You’ve already done so much to grow the Drake’s brand, so what else would you still like to accomplish, and where does the brand go from here?
MH: Right now we will be focusing on our shirts. Drake’s has just bought a wonderful, old shirt factory, Cleeve of London and we plan to integrate that business into the family and apply the same ethos and philosophy to that business as we have with Drake’s. We are proud of the tie we make in England and want to be proud of the shirt we produce as well. We are committed to manufacturing, it is our foundation and everything we are.