Eric Musgrave

Since 1980, menswear & fashion retail commentator, opinionated thought-leader,
event host & all-round top bloke. Contact me to discuss working together.

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Harvey Nichols menswear goes big & bold

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

While it is regularly bracketed together with Harrods and Selfridges, Harvey Nichols is a much smaller department store than its London rivals. It sees itself as a large boutique rather than a huge emporium. This philosophy is reflected in the new menswear area that covers the two lower ground floors of the Knightsbridge building.

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It took nine months to remodel the 28,000sq ft space to the design of Virgile + Partners, the interior design agency responsible for Harvey Nicks’ very impressive store in The Mailbox centre in Birmingham, which was opened in July 2015.

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The London store displays the same techniques, especially the lavish use of eclectic surface finishes, custom-built fixtures and mannequins, and a general air of complete stylish confidence. In these pictures we see (from the top) the International Designer area, the Denim department and the Off Duty section.    Harvey Nichols New Menswear Destination - Off Duty 1Harvey Nichols New Menswear Destination - Off Duty 2HN Menswear 02HN Menswear 06

I was pleased – and surprised – to see that there is no space for the biggest brands’ corporate shopfitting; even Polo Ralph Lauren gets just the subtle branding like everyone else.

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The result is that, despite its expanse, the new menswear area does have the feel of an independent boutique, albeit one that has been put together with a hefty budget. I liked the way in which the products are allowed to be seen clearly and cleanly. The designers display a real understanding of how most men like to shop – “Just show me what you have and I’ll make up my own mind”.

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As well as the huge scale being impressive, the small and not-so-small details like the display furniture and the hundreds of unique mannequins make the space interesting and surprising.

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Even the bases of some rails are used as display units for nostalgic boys’ toys and memorabilia.HN Menswear 10HN Menswear 11HN Menswear 12

The changing rooms reveal the astonishing attention to detail for the department, which boast 270 brands, including 50 that were new brands for the launch.

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Hats off to Harvey Nicks’ CEO Stacey Cartwright, her team and the clever folk at Virgile & Partners for this bold statement of confidence in physical retailing. You would not get this sensory experience from a website.

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Romney Tweed: a truly English cloth

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

Conservative MP Damian Collins has been attending to business in the House of Commons in a suit made from the wool of Romney sheep raised within his Folkestone and Hythe constituency. Usually the relatively coarse Romney wool is used for carpets or upholstery, but painstaking work – all done in and around Huddersfield in West Yorkshire – has resulted in the first apparel-quality cloth produced and marketed as Romney Tweed.20160524_175254

The venture has taken more than three years to come to fruition. The original idea came from local resident Pat Alston, who wanted to create employment in the Romney area. The wife of a retired British diplomat, she hoped to have the cloth woven on Romney Marsh, a sparsely populated wetland that straddles Kent and East Sussex, which has a long history of raising sheep, including the Romney breed shown below.20160520_171922

However, weaving in an area with no tradition of the craft proved to be too ambitious a project. So she looked to the expertise of the weaving heartland of West Yorkshire to process the fleeces shorn from the variety of sheep grazing on the Marsh.

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The venture took off after textiles veteran Gordon Kaye, former managing director of premium Huddersfield mill Taylor & Lodge, became involved; his knowledge and contacts enabled Romney Tweed to be realised. The fleece is hand-sorted to select the best fibre then scoured at Curtis Wool Direct in Bingley, worsted-spun at Spectrum Yarns, Huddersfield, and dyed by Paint Box Textiles in Liversedge. The weaving is done at C&J Antich and the finishing at WT Johnson, both in Huddersfield. Sales to the bespoke trade are being handled by cloth merchant Dugdale Bros of Huddersfield.

Dugdale has 15 patterns of the 13oz cloth, which sells for about £54 per metre. Despite the relative thickness of the Romney fleece – it is about 31 microns in diameter compared to the 18.5 microns of a Super 100s suiting fibre – the production process has given it a soft handle. Despite its name, the cloth is actually a worsted quality, meaning it is finer, softer and smoother than a typical tweed.

Collins, who has been chairman of the all-party parliamentary committee for fashion and textiles since 2010, had his Romney Tweed suit made by London-based bespoke tailor Timothy Everest, who spent part of his childhood in Kent. Here cutter Fred Neiddu gives Collins his first fitting in the Spitalfields atelier, while Tim himself removes a sleeve for re-fitting.

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Kaye stresses that to create such a soft-handle worsted cloth from the short fleece of Romney wool is challenging technically. “British wools usually are used for woollen qualities, but by hand-sorting the raw fleece we were able to get enough yarn to make it work as a worsted. It is the first time that a Romney cloth has been made entirely in England,” he said.

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It is very unusual for a merchant to be able to offer tailors a purely English cloth. While Romney Tweed will never be a huge seller, Savile Row’s tailors – and their discerning customers – want more specials and this has a great story behind it.

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Damian Collins wears it well. Back on Romney Marsh, Pat Alston set up a Community Interest Company – a local charity – to manage the project and is looking for funds to ensure that Romney Tweed has a continuing identity. Long may it continue.

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Undressed at the V&A

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

The Undressed exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum is worth a visit but beware that it promises more than it delivers. Described as “a brief history of underwear”, it lives up to that description as the presentation is much smaller than I was expecting following the blockbuster Bowie and McQueen shows at the venue in south Kensington.

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The exhibition, on two levels of the museum, concentrates on women’s undergarments. What is inescapable is that women over the past 300 years or so have put themselves through a lot more discomfort than men, as witnessed by items like this hooped petticoat and a wide selection of corsets.

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It seems extraordinary that sporting corsets for “cycling, tennis and golfing” should have been developed.

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As always at the V&A, I marvelled at the fact that everyday items from long ago had survived in such good condition. One of the most charming was this dressing gown that has vertical slits over the front to permit easy access to the breasts for feeding.

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A large part of the upper floor of the exhibition is devoted to versions of “women’s underwear as outerwear” but I found the selection rather uninspiring. A lot looked like fairly regular eveningwear.

The men’s coverage is disappointingly sparse. It is fascinating to see the oldest male garment, this undershirt from the late 18th century.

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I also liked these red cotton flannel pants from about 100 years later.

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A modern version of those long pants was exhibited courtesy of Wolsey. I was not aware that the term “long johns” is thought to be derived from the US champion boxer John L Sullivan.

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Inevitably Y-fronts got a look in, courtesy of this charming mini-mannequin that once stood on the counter of an outfitter in The Hague. It’s a pity we don’t see visual merchandising like this too often today.

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I was surprised that there was no mention of the boxer short revival of the early 1980s, nor anything about the extraordinary success of the Calvin Klein version of the Y-front that was started by Bruce Weber’s famous photo of model Tom Hintnaus in 1982. That homo-erotic approach still is effective in men’s underwear today.

Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear is at the V&A until Sunday, 12 March 2017.

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