A Style Less Ordinary
Throw off the chains of sartorial blandness. Simon Carter chats New Romantics, colour, having the courage of your sartorial convictions and asks where have all the style icons gone..?
Article by Rupert Watkins, photography by Andy Barnham
A degree in immunology does not perhaps sound the most obvious starting point for a successful career in men’s fashion. From this unusual point though, Simon Carter has grown a hugely successful style brand. A style lover since his teens, he discovered fashion working part time on the King’s Road and quickly was bitten by the bug. Working one day a week at Eat your Heart Out, Simon found a vintage men’s brooch which he copied before setting out and wearing down the shoe leather, selling it from shop to shop and eventually making his first sale to society jewellers Cobra & Bellamy.
Moving into other gentlemen’s accessories he began designing cufflinks – he has subsequently sold over a million pairs – before later moving into ties and then shirts. Throughout he has been hugely focused on the design aspect of what he does, “it’s about fusing style and utility to create that wearable and essential garment, design is not a luxury it is a core part of the creative process from which everything else flows.”
With a reputation for the colourful and somewhat offbeat, Simon laments the fact that individuality and flair has been engineered out by major menswear buyers, “men’s fashion has been very safe for a long time, we live in an era that is unidentifiable.” Whilst he is not chastising the more timeless precepts of men’s style, Simon clearly senses a vibrancy, a spirit of sartorial rebellion is currently missing. “In the 1980s you had the New Romantics movement, you had punk – it was incredibly distinctive and there was a palpable sense of energy. It was a disruptive time – it was the era of Thatcher and the Miner’s Strike. Despite the current highly charged and disruptive period we’re going through politically now there’s no groundswell, no distinctive fashion is being bred, it’s rather bland.”
Further discussing this intriguing issue, it becomes clear that Simon feels there are just no stylish icons for men to both look up to, “even when you see the current crop of actors on the red carpet, you know they’re all dressed by someone else – there’s no individual that stands out. Compared to the decades before, there’s no Mick Jagger or Steve McQueen, where’s the new Terrance Stamp – he always looked impeccable – who’s now replacing figures such as that..?”
That desire to look distinctive shines through in Simon’s clothes, his shirts certainly have an engaging boho streak to them. Allied to his very English cut herringbone and velvet jackets with a touch of the zany and eccentric in the patterned linings, the Simon Carter client will stand out from the sartorial crowd. “For many new customers it’s almost the first time they’ve played about with colour,” Simon enthuses, “but once they’ve taken the plunge and bought their first shirt, they keep on coming back…” His jackets bloc has remained unchanged for some years now; with a wide structured shoulder and narrow waist it’s a silhouette that works and allows the focus to be on the texture, the colour and the fabric.
As Simon Carter has grown, he has had to source his goods from ever more places. “For my price point, it’s unfortunately simply not viable to source everything in the UK; that said I work with Abraham Moon for tweed and have worked with Harris Tweed. My belts and umbrellas are actually made in London and I work with Dents for my gloves.” For almost 30 years, Simon has also worked with Liberty of London and has had access to their archive of colourful and vibrant fabrics. Much as he seeks to make in the UK and believes the “made in England” concept to be of critical saleable importance, like many in the industry, Simon rues the fact the country has run down its manufacturing capacity; there is simply not the supply of skilled workers to answer the clear need and desire for such quality garments both here and abroad. Chatting with him, I recalled the owner of a small independent cloth weavers just outside London telling Riddle he deals with various firms to finish the cloths; the owners of these firms are reporting they lose their potential workforce to shelf stacking in Tescos. Simon robustly agrees, “the UK Fashion and Textile Association must look to sell design and the craft industry to future generations, for too many anything is seen as being better than working on the shop floor. Potential skills, careers and passions are just being allowed to go to waste.”
Working with his range of suppliers, Simon has built a quietly formidable brand sold in 25 countries, from Australia to China – “they love their Liberty fabrics” he smiles. In the UK he has grown from his first emporium on Regent Street to four standalone London shops and one in Brighton (as well as concessions including Fortnums and Harvey Nicks). His shop in Mayfair’s Shepherd Market is very much the beating heart of the brand having moved into this relaxed enclave in 2009. His website is his second most popular store with his shirts being an extremely popular purchase – over half of all online transactions. Despite this online success, Simon maintains the physical shop remains critical in this digital age, “it’s about offering the customer that experience, to draw them in and make them feel special and part of the brand.” Too many larger brands he feels, have become too sluggish in offering the customer what they want. His Shepherd Market lair is colourfully furnished with off-beat pictures, comic books and furnishings, “a good physical experience of a brand also drives future online loyalty,” he points out.
With his focus on design, style and quality, Simon has been well placed to benefit from the rise of the thoughtful consumer, “I hugely benefit from the increasing trend of ‘less but better,’” he remarks, “I am not an impulse buy at my price point and with my type of design but I can be that from of ‘beginner’s luxury’ as it were. The amount of times I get told ‘this is my favourite shirt,’ ‘I save this or that shirt of yours for special occasions’ is always good to hear.”
Simon Carter’s colourful and quirky appeal stretches over the age brackets. Whilst his Mayfair shop – perhaps unsurprisingly – sees more 40 /50 year olds, his Brighton shop has a clientele 10 years younger and via Asos, he has a healthy number of fans in their 20s. Over 2018, Simon will be looking to expand and consolidate this appeal to a younger customer. Whilst he is happy with the laydown of his shops, he does smile, “if I had a larger shop, I’d love to include my cake brand in it..!” He invested in a small café in the spring of 2017.
Despite many more magazines and blogs available to help inform the sartorially curious, Simon still feels men of all ages can be too risk-averse. He feels many are constantly on the cusp of taking the plunge but fear peer and societal pressure, pointing to the number of UK Pitti Uomo aficionados who spent time worrying about what to wear amongst the global peacocks on the streets of Florence for 36 hours but would not show the courage of their sartorial convictions and walk down the London street in the same outfit.
“There is a luxury about individuality,” Simon ponders. After all, luxury is personal and subjective, “it’s what it means to you as the wearer, style you make yourself after all, fashion you just follow” he remarks. Go on…. express yourself….. and if you want to, Simon Carter is sure to have a little colourful and quirky something up his sleeve for you.
Enquires: Simon Carter, 34 Shepherd market, Mayfair, London W1J 7QP / 0207 9079170 / other London shops in Blackheath, Lamb’s Conduit Street and Crystal Palace, Brighton shop 5 Kensington Gardens, North Laine, Brighton / www.simoncarter.net/