WHEN Scots inventor Sir David Brewster launched his kal-eidoscope in 1817 he had no idea it would be such a hit, but it caught the public’s eye and 200,000 were sold in London and Paris in just three months.
One hundred and seventy years later, when Ted Baker, aka, Ray Kelvin, opened the doors to his shirt shop in Glasgow’s Princes Square, he had no idea it would be such a success either, but today he has 316 stores and concessions worldwide, with 180 in the UK.
The new Ted Baker store, opening in the city this week, pays homage to Brewster, along with other “Great Scots and their world firsts” for their innovation and vision, referencing them throughout the 2,665 square foot Buchanan Street store. There are fitting rooms with monochrome images of Scottish architecture that work like a kaleidoscope, screens with images of inventors and interactive screens that allow customers to send animations of themselves in head-to-toe Ted to social networks. There will also be updated versions of the first ever Ted Baker accessory, a men’s satchel from 1988, available exclusively in the new Glasgow store.
“When I started Ted Baker, its success was far from certain,” says Kelvin. “Not wanting to be known as ‘Ray the Bankrupt’, I christened the business Ted Baker, as it was a good, friendly moniker that people seemed to like. And while Ted is now a global success, I still prefer to remain in the background.
“Ted Baker is about the people and not just me. I’m a big believer in team effort, not glorifying the individual.”
Kelvin is notoriously publicity shy, doesn’t believe in marketing, PR or branding and avoids being photographed face on (he’s more normally half hidden or with his back to the camera) but it hasn’t held Ted Baker back, with everyone from clubbers to Tom Cruise wearing his gear.
Clothing is in Kelvin’s blood, and ever since he can remember he’s been interested in fashion. Born in north London in 1955, his grandfather had a menswear shop in Edmonton, and when his uncle took over the business, he worked for him as an 11-year-old. His father also had a small factory making blouses and the youngster sold women’s separates around the London markets. With this experience under his belt, Kelvin decided to launch his own shirt collection and plumped for Glasgow.
“Glasgow was hot back then in 1988. It was building up to become the European City of Culture and our Scottish customers were really receptive to ideas and to us as a brand.
“For me, Glasgow was the city where I wanted to open my first shop. I was more interested in producing great product for loyal customers than producing en masse. I thought Glasgow was the best place to start doing that,” he says.
Kelvin’s hunch was correct and the Glasgow store quickly became a success. A year on, Harrods phoned and asked to stock the shirts, and Kelvin and his team went on to build a wholesale network, while opening branches in Manchester, Plymouth and Nottingham, then, in 1990, the first Ted Baker London store in Covent Garden. Today the company is valued at £950m with a £350m turnover, and is forecast to make £40m profit this year.
Kelvin’s aim has always been to create clothes that were unique yet not overly expensive. In the 1980s and early 1990s the brand had a big hit with their viscose and rayon Ted Knows It Shirt produced in plains, prints, checks, florals and any other way a customer might want it.
“Once I had gained a significant reputation for offering my customers ‘twice the quality at half the price’, a wider range of premium menswear designs followed and in time women began to request the Ted Baker treatment… I duly obliged,” he says.
Nowadays the Ted Baker collections cover everything from work to leisure wear to accessories for both men and women, with this season’s collection majoring on florals, prints and pastels, sharp suits and, as always, the shirts, all shot against a Big Top setting. There are also nine barber shops, called Ted’s Grooming Room for haircuts, hot towel shaves and treatments, and a men’s products line that is also sold in Boots.
“We continue to play with, update and reinterpret classic shapes and materials as well as look at the way in which detail, finishes and fabric can enhance one’s collections. We don’t use public muses or celebrities, more characters from history who have an interesting story to tell, a different point of view or who have done something out of the ordinary. From a spot of fabric found in Morocco to a pattern spotted in Peru, you never know when or where inspiration will strike,” he says.
In 2011, Kelvin was given a CBE for services to the fashion industry, an accolade he insists is recognition of a team effort.
“I was absolutely thrilled and the honour felt like a fitting way to recognise the input of the many hundreds of different people over these last 26 years and the way that help has aided my career, its development and the success of the brand. I have retained the same directors I had from day one. There were only three of us in the office then. We have a lot of fun and have that glint in our eye that means we think out of the ordinary. We like hugging and stuff and don’t allow shouting.”
As Kelvin prepares for the launch of his latest shop, he sees his vision coming full circle, the pieces falling into place like the glass beads in Brewster’s kaleidoscope.
“My Scottish customers are fantastic. When we opened our very first store in Princes Square, they were the ones who made us feel welcome. So now we’re opening this amazing new store on Buchanan Street, it really is back to where it all began for Ted.”