WHEN the fourth season of London Collections: Men kicks off tomorrow it will confirm what those in the fashion industry already know: menswear is stonkingly huge right now.
Blokes of Britain, it seems, are no longer content to be seen in public wearing ill-fitting jeans and football strips; they have discovered style and grooming and the world is a much better place for it.
“Menswear in general is massive,” agrees Kestin Hare, “and it is becoming more important than ever.”
He’ll be showing Common People’s autumn winter 2014 collection at LCM this week alongside the likes of Jonathan Saunders, Margaret Howell, Christopher Kane, Nicole Farhi, Hackett, Crombie, Tom Ford and Burberry Prorsum. “Looking at the line-up,” he says, “it’s quite scary the type of talent you’re up against down there. But it’s a challenge I’m ready to take on.”
Though the brand has been around since 2011, in the early days it focused mainly on wholesale so the average man on the street might not recognise the name. But business is booming in the Far East. “Eighty per cent of sales were there,” says Hare, “with two department stores in Japan, one in Hong Kong, five in South Korea, then we were wholesaling to the likes of Urban Outfitters and the best independents in the UK and the States.
“That has been the backbone of the business so far, but I’m a great believer, especially when you’re selling quality products, that it’s all about the fabrics, the feeling, the touch, everything down to the smell of the shop, the whole retail experience.”
So in August last year, he opened a shop in Edinburgh’s Stockbridge and took the label to a new level. “The great thing about here, in St Stephen Street, is that it is becoming a bit of a menswear destination. That’s from Vagabond, which is a trendy men’s barber, to The Last Word, which is downstairs from the shop and is arguably one of best cocktail bars in Edinburgh. Then you have Catalog, one of the best interiors stores, and Brotique, a men’s gift shop, which has just opened up, so it has become a bit like Lamb’s Conduit Street in London, and that’s important because we all feed off each other.”
The focus for Common People is on quality British manufacturing – the autumn winter 2013 collection features double-breasted pea coats, chunky cable-knit sweaters, parkas and tweedy trousers in a palette of greys, navy and plums.
“We make our trousers in Manchester,” says Hare, “we make our wool jackets in east London, we’re still making leather jackets in Galashiels, knitwear in Alloa – almost everything, down to the socks and the belts, is made in Britain.”
A collaboration with Inverallan hand knitters has created a timeless shawl-collar cardigan and two-tone roll-neck. “Each piece is individually hand-knitted by the people at Inverallan,” says Hare. “It’s a real cottage industry, but it’s important for us to be working with people like that.”
For spring summer, we’ll see a bit of a departure from the Common People template. “We’ve gone much cleaner and much more performance-based and technical because I think that’s the way menswear has gone. We’ve done a lot of inspiration trips to Copenhagen and Scandinavian cities where they have parallels to Edinburgh. Things are about function, it’s about the bike, it’s about the trainers, it’s about the performance-type jacket. People dress to impress, but they do it in a functional way.
“We’ve not used a lot of colour before, whereas this time round we’re going to see some really bright primary colours – oranges, reds and yellows. Men are not so scared about wearing colour anymore.”
Then, for autumn winter 2014, there will be more Scottish collaborations in store. “We’re working with Bute, which has predominantly been an interiors fabrics company, where we have contemporary rucksacks all woven on the island. And we’re working with other Scottish companies that I can’t say too much about at the moment, but there’s one that’s very exciting; I’m just hoping we can get it done in time for the show.”
It sounds as though it could be the start of a beautiful relationship. n