menswear focus series: Simon Holden

Issue 2: Simon Holden – Senior Designer Menswear – John Lewis Partnership, London.

Welcome to the second issue of our interview series focusing on the varied aspects of the men’s fashion industry. In this issue, I had the good fortune to have a chat with a good friend of mine, Simon Holden. Simon is a passionate menswear designer and a true believer in the importance of menswear in daily life. He is currently Senior Menswear Designer at one of the UK’s most successful retailers, John Lewis Partnership and based in London.

Simon started his design career at Oswald Boeteng, the world renowned Savile Row tailor famous for his use of colour, pattern and sharp silhouette. Working at Oswald Boeteng has shaped his viewpoint on how a man should dress and that has stayed with throughout his career. From there Simon moved to high street retailer Burton Menswear, quickly set about the task of making the tailoring department one of the best on the high street. After 4 years there he has now settled at John Lewis and heads a small design team with a focus on his true passion Tailoring. I put the questions to Simon to get a feel of what it’s like designing and working within a large retailer and what essentially get him out of bed in the mornings!

Range Room: Menswear is enjoying a rich vein of form at the moment. Trends are coming and going at the drop of a hat, how do you translate those key looks we see on the catwalks into your suits?

Simon Holden: There are the key items for a season that I need to give a nod to, however, I think if you look bigger picture, you can see the trends coming. It is a case of knowing when the time is right to have a go! When I am at fabric and trade shows I am looking for something that I haven’t seen before or that I haven’t seen for a long time, something that looks fresh amongst a sea of familiarity.

RR: You work for a large retailer, your career has taken your from a catwalk designer to a major retailer, do you think there is a difference in customer relationship at each end of the fashion industry?

Simon: At both ends, the customer has high expectations of the product. At the top end, the relationship with the customer was more intimate and personal. Often customers/clients would come back to see a specific member of staff. At the retail end, there are more customers at any given time, but service is still vitally important to the customer experience.

RR: Most men own at least one suit, right? It’s a big purchase for an occasion or a necessity as a daily uniform for the office. How do you give the customer newness and keep them coming back?

Simon: Men will always need a suit for certain occasions, but it is my aim to provide them with something they will want rather than need! I believe that if you provide the customer with a product that is the best quality and value for the money they have spent, with attention to detail they will come back to you. They don’t necessarily know why it is a great suit, that’s my job! But they can just tell. If I can build that trust in the authentic product, the customer will come back.

RR: Given that workwear, as we know it is changing in front of our eyes, (mainly due to the workplace evolving drastically) how do you see tailoring evolving in the future?

Simon: I am particularly interested in this one at the moment, with Big Players on Wall Street saying their workers are no longer obliged to wear a suit to work. As a suits designer, you might think this would worry me, but I am actually very excited. I don’t believe these workers are all of a sudden going to start wearing shorts and t-shirts to the office, they will still want to look presentable, professional and ready to take on the world. What it will do is take away the notion of ‘uniform’ and instead be a more considered, smart look… men are going to have to give their daily outfit some thought!
This is already starting to happen with more emphasis on jacket and trouser separates, trends for trainers and knitwear/jersey worn with suits. A drop in people wearing ties. Now is a time re-appraise what work wear means!

RR: How has the innovation in performance fabrics and yarns influenced your work?

Simon: In tailoring Performance is nothing new, however, there does seem to be a new dynamic and exciting take on the concept at the moment, I guess influenced by the sportswear trends that have been going on. I’m quite interested that performance attributes, such as warming/cooling/anti-bacterial/moisture wicking, can all be achieved with natural yarns like merino wool.
At the opposite end of the scale, with man-made fibres, I am really excited about the use of recycled yarns. Our industry needs to start cleaning up its act, I feel this is where a lot of the innovation is coming through.

RR: We have all been to a wedding where someone has a bespoke or tailored suit, they cost an absolute fortune, put simply are they worth the dollar?

Simon: Yes, like most things in life, you get what you pay for. With Bespoke your own patterns will be drafted for you, but furthermore, you will be investing in the craftsmanship of truly skilled artisans. I could liken it to a Ford compared to a Bentley, they are both good cars. But a Bentley has another level of quality, craftsmanship, materials, finish and consideration… worth every penny.

RR: What or who is really driving your passion for your trade/craft? One person, maybe, or is it more of a look or feeling?

Simon: I like to step away from my trade to get inspired, away from the confines of the day job. Getting out and seeing what is going on, exhibitions, galleries. I also watch a lot of inspiring/motivational lectures online to get my brain ticking!

RR: And last but not least from a manufacturing point of view how what does speed to market in your day to day look like?

Simon: Lead times in Tailoring are pretty long, so it is important for me that samples and production process has maximum efficiency so that we can get maximum shelf life for a design.

RR: Simon, Thanks so much for your time, it’s been really great to get your views on Menswear as part of our focus!

For more inspirational interviews from other menswear designers read about Tom Pike and Ike Rust.

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