READY TO WEAR : same again, please

There is never anything new in his collection. Every season, it is minuscule. But, says Squire designer Carlo Brandelli, if your work is perfect, why change it? By Annalisa Barbieri
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Indy Lifestyle Online
think of a male designer. What comes into your mind? Someone saying "darling, darling" as he clicks his fingers at his anor- exic assistant; someone wearing lots of gold jewellery with a small pug dog; a nervous poet-type whose every day seems to be his last? Carlo Brandelli, designer of menswear lable Squire, is not like this. And his collection is not what you'd expect either.

Brandelli's idea of a collection is to do the same thing one season after another - the shapes stay the same but the fabrics change. Doesn't this make life rather easy, no staying up all night designing new shapes? "Spending time in a design studio searching around for something to come into your head just for the sake of doing something new, well that's rubbish," he says.

This is the gist of Brandelli's take on clothes: there is nothing "new" in his collection, and it is minuscule compared to most designer's (never mind the quantity, feel the quality). The collection consists of three basic shapes: the flat-front trouser, the three-button single-breasted jacket and the covert coat (a single-breasted straight knee-length number). To this he adds perhaps two more jacket shapes, some basic button-down shirts and, this season, merino wool v-neck sweaters.

To Brandelli, the shapes he uses are the best, so why improve on them? "Look at the flat-front trouser, for example: it is the best shape for a trouser and you can't improve on it." What about if you get fat, I ask, are flat-front trousers really that flattering on a pot belly? Wouldn't soft pleats be kinder? "If a trouser is cut properly it will fit, the flat front is the oldest shape of trouser in the world, pleats are a relatively new invention."

If you're the sort of person who moans that just as you get to like something they have stopped doing it, then you will understand Brandelli's shrewd philosophy. After all, look at the Gucci loafer, the classic Levi jeans and the Chanel suit; people return to them year after year and, apart from subtle variations, these classics stay the same. Even major designers are now starting to realise that there is no shame in repeating a popular style. After all, what the customer wants the customer should get.

The main shapes in the Squire collection have a definite Sixties feel - narrow-legged trousers, narrow lapels, a rather skinny silhouette. "Although it does have a Sixties 'label', this just happens to be the years when it was going on. It's English tailoring with Italian styling. When I was growing up [he is now 28] I watched the way Italians dressed themselves and they very much picked up on that English tailoring look but refined it and made it sleeker and more stylish. Italians know how to dress, even a badly dressed Italian is well dressed."

So was this look based on the heady days of the Sixties when ragazzi had adoring mothers that made good gnocchi and pretty girlfriends called Concetta who wore white gloves to church. The good old days, when lads were lads? "No, this isn't a nostalgia trip for me, it's just that I think this style of men's dress is the best and most correct."

That Brandelli plays football and has a wife, Charlotte, and a daughter, Lola, is not the only thing that sets him apart from most designers. He didn't do the fashion school thing either. He spent his youth buying heaps of clothes and playing in a band ("the drummer only had one eye but he was a good drummer"). In his early twenties he started work as a consultant for the Japanese department store Isetan. There, in June 1992, he met Graham Stoddart, now production director of Squire. "This guy [Stoddart] came to see me at Isetan with some samples from a factory in Scotland. It was all crap apart from this covert coat that he had right at the bottom of the suitcase." Brandelli struck up a deal with Stoddart: "You buy the factory, I'll do the designing." He refused to be paid until he had got things going and had designed the collection. It took him one month.

The debut collection (autumn/winter 1993) was shown at Sehm, the menswear exhibition in Paris. It immediately sold to all the best shops around the world, 20 in Britain and 30 worldwide. Only fashion students, who struggle for years to get recognition, will understand how sickeningly simple this sounds. When you consider that a new fashion designer's success seems to hinge on how outrageous the collection is ("Pants as hats? It's the latest thing, darling"), Brandelli's approach seems suicidal. But since its inception the company has doubled its turnover every year - and we are not talking in thousands. Being a cocky little so-and-so has obviously paid off.

Squire's flagship shop opens for business in mid-December in Clifford Street, aptly just next to Savile Row. It will be in the modernist style that has made Squire's name and will house the biggest collection of Pop Art prints and drawings in Britain. Prints from Andy Warhol and Allen Jones and key furniture pieces such as Zannotta inflatable chairs and Clive Barker Coke bottles will live beside the complete Squire collection. The store will also provide space for new labels, the first of which will be one called '68-'76.

The shop will be a showcase for all the influences that Brandelli has picked out from the past. "People always want what's new - they forget all the great things that are already there. The reason I think some collections don't work is because the people who have designed them didn't live the experience. People buy Squire because they identify with what I'm doing and with the style. What you see in this collection is everything I have lived and experienced. There's Italian styling, English tailoring, traditional fabrics, in fact a bit of everything. My life is in this collection."

8 Squire clothes: from Squire, 17 Clifford St, London W1; the Squire Basement Concession, 29 Shorts Gardens, London WC2; Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge, London SW1; Smith & Westwood, Clayton Square Centre, Liverpool L1. Details: 0171 494 1880

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