Nick Hart: Forget bling, suits are the thing, and Nick's the Savile Row king

As the catwalks are readied for London Fashion Week, one British designer is already snapping his braces. He tells Christian Broughton why his clothes are going down a storm with some of the biggest names in the music biz
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The Independent Online

It's London Fashion Week. Models and parties will be splashed across the colour pages of the newspapers, big labels will scout for fresh talent, buyers will select the clothes (mainly womenswear, some men's) that will be sold in boutiques come autumn, and commentators will muse on whether anyone can/ will/needs to fill the gap left by Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney since they took their shows to Paris.

Meanwhile, Nick Hart, one of the city's most exciting forces in menswear, will be getting away from it all in Cornwall. "Perhaps that doesn't sound good," he laughs, cautiously, "but it's true. I've never done a show, as such. I don't like them. Once you start on that road you're caught up and you'll spend your entire life designing clothes that will never be worn by people." Hart is a designer with a distaste for the catwalk. But then, he doesn't believe in doing things like other people.

In 2002, Hart established himself as a Savile Row tailor, naming the range Spencer Hart, after his young son. His was suiting with attitude. His mission: to reinvigorate not just that street, but British menswear. At the very top end of the market, he's already a force to be reckoned with. David Bowie, Robbie Williams and Duran Duran's John Taylor, fashion designers Matthew Williamson and Tommy Hilfiger, even the rugby player Lawrence Dallaglio - all are clients, choosing from the 185 variations of lapel, collar and pocket in Hart's made-to-measure line (a little under £2,000) or the fully bespoke £3,500 service. Dan Peres, editor in chief of the US style magazine Details, understands the appeal. "No matter which chic Italian label was sewn inside the suits I'd collected over the years," he has said, "I felt uncomfortable every time I put one on. So, for the last few years, I've been wearing jeans, sweaters and sneakers to the office. But in Spencer Hart suits, I feel like myself. And I look a hell of a lot sharper."

It's not so odd for a tailor to opt out of the catwalk merry-go-round, but this spring, his new menswear range, named Nick Hart, is also available. Consisting of suits, shirts and more casual trousers, it's cheaper (well, just; off-the-peg suits are around £850), but still designed by the man himself, and it will sit alongside Jil Sander and Prada in some of the world's most exclusive boutiques. Now that makes his catwalk allergy strange indeed.

Still on the subject of London Fashion Week, he crystalises his feelings into an anecdote: "At the last one, two Japanese guys were taking pictures of the front of my store. I went out with a camera and started taking pictures of them." They went away.

Hart is not your average fashion type. Had he wanted a place at fashion college, his dyslexia would have blocked it. Still, he lists his two greatest recent achievements as getting the Nick Hart range into L'Eclaireur in Paris ("the most cutting-edge menswear boutique in the world") and having two mannequins next to John Galliano's in the AngloMania exhibition this May at New York's Metropolitan Museum. "I had to create my world," he says. "I didn't fit other people's."

Born in Buckinghamshire, the son of an accountant, he went to boarding school until he was 16. At 13, he took his first job in a tailor's, "sweeping the floor ... but I learnt all about it, I've paid my dues". Between that time and the launch of Spencer Hart, he worked behind such labels as Diesel, Joseph, Voyage, Mandarina Duck and Kenzo - in creative roles and in marketing and distribution. Now 43, Hart understands not just how to design the clothes that win such a clientèle; he sees the industry as a whole.

"Britain has a schizophrenia," he says, sitting in Notting Hill's fashionable private club, the Electric, playing with a hole worn into the elbow of his simple black jumper. "On the one hand we churn out a lot of very creative people, and then we have this conservative streak, an up-tightness. So we have a complete and utter inability to put the world of commerce together with the world of design." So, his theory goes, people such as McQueen, whose label is now part of the Gucci group, are right to put on dazzling shows in London, then pursue business opportunities abroad.

But Hart wanted to stay in London, where he has lived for 25 years (now with a wife and two children), so he created his own market and methods. "I felt there was room for fantastic quality clothes made without compromise by the best people but with a modern approach. Savile Row is split for me. You have the old school which makes great quality," he says, name-checking bastions such as Henry Poole.

"And you have the new school, some of whom make crap quality but pretend it isn't." No names, but he's not a fan of some of the more youthful brands that have opened on the west side of the street, where his own shop is located. "I don't do suits [made] in Slovenia, then do a certain collar that means it can be passed off like it's from the other side of the street, only at half the price.

"In China they're going to produce everything for 3p, so unless you make something that has intrinsic value you won't achieve longevity." Hart's bespoke suits - also available for women - are made by "two guys on the Row".

As for aesthetic, those who think a back-room brain must lack creativity and passion would be mistaken. "I was brought up in the Seventies and I was into soul and jazz. The people who represent that style best are Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk." Not your average Savile Row icons. But take one of Hart's newest fans as an example, and all becomes clear.

If you detected a smarter, more suited look sported by the hip-hop stars at last week's Grammy Awards, it's in no small part down to Hart. Damon Dash has crossed the revered pavements of the Row to Spencer Hart. Kanye West and Jay-Z are other clients. It looks as if London tailoring may be the death of bling.

"My suits look seriously radical on Damon. They're not [the usual hip-hop] pinstripe gangster suits with pink ties. It's black and midnight blue with white shirts. My style is soft through the body, so these big guys can wear it without being flashy, but then with a razor-sharp lapel. It's putting the romance back into clothes. You can smell the music in them."

So, rock royalty, fashion designers, hip-hop moguls. Who next? Footballers? "I'd do David Beckham for free." For the PR? "No! I don't believe in that kind of PR. Publicists say give away clothes, but Kate Moss must have 500 pairs of jeans - it doesn't work any more. Besides, if my clientèle knew I was doing David Beckham, that would put them off." Then why? "To get him out of those big tie knots and wide lapels. It's terrible. I'd totally change the way he looks. For me it's about Dennis Hopper, Steve McQueen, the guys at school who could dance and you always wanted to be with. David Beckham doesn't look cool. I can make him look cool. That's the point."

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