In the world of Tailoring, there isn’t a more prestigious address than No.1 Savile Row. Originally home to Lord Fairfax, No.1 Savile Row was bought by Mr.Hawkes, a prestigious court tailor, and the rest was history. Since then, Gieves and Hawkes have shown us a world of impeccable quality, attention to detail, and an unbridled passion for bespoke tailoring.
With a 245 year heritage, Gieves and Hawkes have been royal warrant holders since 1809. Enjoying the patronage of British royalty for over a hundred years, and serving as the official outfitters of the Royal Military. It is in their stunning archive room at No.1 Savile Row, in front of a floor to ceiling row of regal military uniforms, that we meet Mark Frost, Gieves and Hawkes newly appointed design director.
In conversation with Mark Frost, who started his career with a slew of prestigious stints at Hackett London and Tom Ford, we talk about his transition from being a member of the design team, to becoming the design director of one of the oldest tailoring houses in London. With a perfect cup of tea in hand, a casual charm, and decked in an impeccable burgundy patterned suit, Mark Frost perfectly represents the current vision at Gieves and Hawkes - a decidedly modern outlook yet filled with all the old world heritage and know-how that only generations of the well-practised tailors at Gieves and Hawkes can provide.
Tell us about your journey to No.1 Savile Row, tell us about how you began your career in design?
I’m from Bristol so I applied for the design degree course at the local University; I was studying design at university and I’ve always had a bit of an interest in tailoring. I didn’t have any fashion foundations at the time, so I dove straight into this course. During my studies, I was approached by Tom Ford and I went there and did an internship with them and returned there after graduation. It was such a great experience, and I learned an awful lot there. As a young designer, it was an amazing experience and he was an amazing person to learn from. Post that, I went on to learn at Hackett which was full of great and talented people. It’s a great bespoke tailoring house, with such significant RTW collections. I find myself very fortunate to to have worked with many great tailoring brands. When all of these opportunities here at Gieves and Hawkes were given to me a couple of years ago, it made all the sense in the world to take them.
How would you describe Gieves and Hawkes? What makes it different from other luxury menswear tailoring brands?
We have a really lengthy history and 250 years of bespoke tailoring knowledge; I think that know-how is what makes us unique. The way in which we use that knowledge to inspire our RTW collections is what makes us different. We are very privileged to have that. We are one of the only bespoke tailoring houses with such a significant RTW collection. I think that makes us different from other Savile Row establishments.
Before being appointed Design Director in April 2016, you were in the Gieves and Hawkes creative team for four years. What was this transition like for you?
It was a very smooth transition. A fair part of the reason I was offered this position, was because I had seen the last four years and the evolution we had been through as a brand. The path we were on wasn’t far from where we were headed. It was a case of keeping the car on the road; and if I can add my own taste then it’s great. Now it is my task to continue the great work that has been done before me, and to add a bit of sensibility to it. We have a lovely set up of passionate and talented people.
What is it like being at the helm of Gieves & Hawkes, a house that has been a staple of the London luxury tailoring scene for over 200 years?
It’s an incredible opportunity and I’m really privileged to be a part of it. It’s kind of humbling being on Savile row, even being in this building is a fantastic experience! If I can add to an already incredible history, then that’s as much as I can hope to achieve. I wouldn’t profess to have even a little of the tailoring knowledge that they have downstairs, but if I can help use that knowledge and fuse it with our collections, then I think I have a real winner here.
You have to be a pretty headstrong person to think you have all the answers, especially if you work in a business with a heritage like this. Bespoke and ready-to-wear are different businesses, but there are definite similarities. It’s about learning from them and hopefully looking at it from the other side and passing some more contemporary opinions onto them. Bespoke tailoring is a traditional experience — they do one thing, but they do it amazingly well. It’s a repeat process to an extent. We are excited to learn from what they do, and they are interested in what we are doing as a brand, so we can tie those things together. It’s different to the way we approach our processes. It takes a lot of man hours to create a bespoke suit. In ready-to-wear however, you can take those man hours and see what you can achieve; it’s chalk and cheese. You have 3-4 months to design, develop, and realise everything!
Back in the old days, there was a lot of respect dedicated to the creative department, it was a process, but now everything goes by so fast. In the back of my mind I always think about what’s coming next, before the design team and the company. You have that singular pressure, as no one else is thinking about it - but I am always thinking about four seasons at once. This is as much a part of the job as getting into the product and conceptualising it. It’s a manic business and is daunting at times. However, it’s nice to see how things turn around.
In what ways do you think your previous experiences with Tom Ford and Hackett London have influenced the way you approach your new role as Design Director in Gieves and Hawkes?
While they are different brands, one of the most important things I’ve learned is how you interact with people. The way you communicate with your customer and the understanding that everyone is an individual. Aside from him being an absolute design genius, the most important thing I learned from Tom is that you have to be cognisant of the person you are talking to; you have to give them your full focus. We are building relationships every day, and for someone in that position to understand the person in front of them — that’s one thing that really stuck with me. Working at Hackett was different; I really learned more about the process of design. For me personally, those two things fused together really helped me to develop into my role here.
Menswear tailoring is a well-known British Institution, it is a craft that is both built on heritage and yet has a viewpoint on modernity. How do you think London Tailoring scene has changed throughout the years?
I think tailoring is a global industry, and there are different aesthetics to that industry. In Italy, there is a certain type of tailoring. Savile Row tailoring has a kind of perceived sensibility and look - a strong shoulder, slim waist, and constructed chest in the suit. Today the customer and the market in general is developing; and people are leaning towards a more casual construction in their tailoring and in their casual wear as well. We are adapting our bespoke and casual pieces to this. We are developing blocks that have the softness and wearability that the modern guy is looking for - while keeping a British element to the cut, shape, and fabric. It’s an interesting blend, and the same goes for Saville Row. The men that come here should find things they can’t anywhere else. That has always been the case, but more recently, the process has been lost a bit. Although saying that, I have seen a resurgence for this: people come in looking for something that makes them look and feel their best. You get a sense of that and then get them in our front door. If we can make guys look their best, then I think we’ve done a good job.
In your opinion, what is the secret to making any perfectly tailored garment?
What we have that is particularly important is our level of customer service. The way you approach every individual; it’s important to give them your focus and understand what they are trying to achieve — whether its ready-to-wear or bespoke. In my opinion there isn’t one, but it’s all about achieving what the best thing you can do for that individual is. If they feel like they are confident, then that’s what we are here to do. Making someone feel confident is the end goal for any designer.
Portraits by Chris Baker
Words by Hannah Tan