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The next generation hits the high street

Menswear favourite Burton mixes things up by taking on a new student designer. Rebecca Gonsalves reports

Most of the men  shopping at high street staple Burton will know little of the history of the brand. Born in Yorkshire more than 100 years  ago, the chain was founded by a Lithuanian Jewish refugee, later knighted for his services to commerce and charity.

At the time of Sir Montague Burton’s death, he presided over 600 shops, 14 factories and clothed one British man in every four. Now part of Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia retail empire (also the force behind Topman and BHS), the brand’s roots are rightly something to be celebrated.

The Montague Burton collection was first launched for autumn 2011 and took the focus back to British manufacture and classic design. This season, the collection has been updated by a guest designer and, instead of calling on a household name, the brains behind the brand turned to the Royal College of Art. The students on the Fashion Menswear MA course were given a brief to create a capsule collection of eight outfits to sit within the line.

“We were told all about Montague Burton,” explains Liam Hodges, the student whose designs were inspired by the miners’ strikes of the Eighties. Considering that Burton was largely manufactured in Yorkshire for many years, this was evidence that Hodges had done his homework. “At the time I was really interested in the miners’ strikes and took a lot of images and core research from that,” he says. “I lived in Dalston [east London] at the time and the riots that were happening in Tottenham and Dalston at the time informed a lot of my work too  – looking at those culture clashes.”

Hodges was also inspired by the working class of the modern day, of which he considers himself a member: “My sister worked in Burton, I worked in BHS and my mum did. I grew up in the Medway towns in Kent, and used to go to social clubs, working men’s clubs in Rainham.”

As well as the opportunity to dress a huge section of British men, Hodges was afforded a glimpse at the manufacturing process, which will come in useful when he graduates next year. “I learnt about production practicalities – we wanted to bring English fabrics or a ‘Made in England’ element into the collections but even though production was not as large scale as usual for Burton, British companies still found it hard to cope with.”

The production team were evidently adamant about their demands, however, as yarns and fabrics are all sourced in Britain – including a Harris Tweed suit – while the lambswool for the knitwear is spun and dyed in Leeds, where Burton once oversaw the biggest clothing factory in the world. Closer to home, Hodges knows his wearable collection will have at least one fan: “My mum kept saying, ‘make sure you get them put in Savacentre in Rainham, so when I go and have my coffee on a Sunday I can see them’.”