It’s a cold autumn morning and we find ourselves in Simon Carter’s cozy dressing room. Vintage comic book covers sprawled on the walls, a rich vintage leather armoire, and the perfectly placed fabric armchair on the corner - all carefully calculated details that reflect the taste and personality of Simon Carter. His knowledge of the London tailoring scene is vast and infinitely interesting; and in a sea of luxury conglomerates, he stays resolute in championing individuality and independence.
In conversation with Simon, we touch on the topic of luxury; and how it is not necessarily synonymous with design. Illuminating insight from an accomplished figure in the London Tailoring scene, whose business started decades ago, stemming from a love of vintage broaches and cufflinks. A devotion to design that has instructed every cuff, lapel, and fold in any Simon Carter piece. Throughout the years, Simon Carter has created a loyal community around his brand - a community grown out of a love for lost luxuries - of fountain pens, and inimitable style.
With over 30 years in the industry, tell us how did your career begin? How do you go from studying immunology to becoming the “King of Cufflinks”?
I was studying in London during the 1980s which was a very vibrant time to be in the city. It was the time of the New Romantics. There was a renewed interest in vintage clothing and I wanted to open a vintage clothing store. My business originally stemmed from a hobby - which was designing broaches for men. This morphed into taking those designs and turning them into cufflinks. I finished my degree and became a trainee buyer, and then started to do this full time.
Simon Carter has always been known for its eccentricity, panache, and British sense of humour. What is it about British style that makes it so unique?
I think we have a head start in that we pretty much invented the way men dress today. If you look back at Beau Brummell in the 1790s, it was all about the trouser and coat. We were the first country to tailor a look around that; and that sprung up on Savile Row as that’s where you went to be fitted. If you look back a lot of the big influences of tailoring all around the globe, they generally stem from traditional English looks. Its clothing that you wear when you ride your horse, or race a motorbike; and other people have turned this into an iconic look. So I think its kind of about being there first and having all that heritage.
How would you describe Simon Carter? What makes Simon Carter different from any other menswear brand?
There are always three values that go into my products: individuality, affordability and quality. I’ve always let my brand do the talking so I don’t advertise. People who buy into Simon Carter feel like they are buying into a club. I think my love of accessories gives me a good start because of the attention to detail.
You have a notable love for all things vintage, and have been known to frequent Antique fairs and Vintage markets. How do you incorporate this passion into your collections?
I don’t want it to be obvious. It is not something that I want to be referenced or hinted at. In the old days, I used to take old designs and rework them. These days it is more about buying old tweed jackets and taking that and interpreting it in a new way. I am a fountain pen kind of man, and all my customers write with fountain pens. It’s the only way.
You’ve once said “design is not a luxury” could you elaborate on that?
I think that I’m very skeptical about the word luxury. I think it’s been one of the most abused words in this century. I don’t think you can honestly say some brands are luxurious anymore, simply because things are widely accessible. Luxury can mean anything; it may mean having more time in your day, or having a gardener. When it comes to the materials I like to use, luxury entails having a very good design, and a very good price. We use fabrics that are very expensive. I’m very cautious about using the word luxury as we need to think long and hard about what it means. Sophisticated people are reinventing things all the time, it could mean six to eight pairs of jeans - hand loomed.
In a world of massive retail chains and high street brands, do you believe that there is renewed nostalgia for niche brands? How do you think this affects your brand and of independent brands like yourself?
I do think there is a renewed nostalgia and I have some hope. I think I can talk about the new sophisticated consumer and what it is that they want. This new customer is interested in the new, the small, and the disruptive. Small brands can be disruptive which I think they couldn’t do a decade ago, as it used to be dominated by brands with big marketing budgets. Funnily enough, small brands are far more interested in provenance, artisans, and craft, and much more about fabric and construction. I like that we stand on all these qualities and our customers, both new and old, come to us and they really appreciate that.
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 it’s really important to distinguish men’s tailoring and men’s fashion. Tailoring has always responded to fashion but never followed fashion. So in a way, tailoring has always had the whim of its master and I think that’s an important distinction. You can look at groundbreakers like Vivienne Westwood, Tom Ford, and John Galliano; and you wouldn’t necessarily think of them as tailors. There is an important distinction to be made. No one on Savile Row is leading fashion and I don’t think they want to or ought to be doing so.
What is next for Simon Carter?
I thought I might take a day off around the end of 2017, but then I realised I was busy. It’s kind of more of the same. There are bits I really enjoy, if you like that kind of lateral thinking. Our first store in India is opening in April. I’ve got a collaboration with a very lovely chain of stores in sole trader and that collection launches in a couple of weeks. I think of Simon Carter as an evolutionary brand not a revolutionary brand. What I want is for a person to view each season and immediately know it’s Simon Carter.
In your opinion, what is the secret to making a perfectly tailored garment?
I have a fantastic saying. It was my French teacher’s saying and he mysteriously wrote it in English. He said “fashion is what you follow and style is what you make”. The secret of any garment is that you make it your own. It must fit you really well and it’s about the fact that you feel more engaged when you wear that garment. Somehow, you feel that all of your clothing becomes greater than the sum of its parts. I think that’s the point of successful clothing, as well as trying to be honest with your own sense of style. All clothing is beautiful.
Portraits by Chris Baker
Words by Hannah Tan