Ever since it was founded in 1992, bespoke tailor Richard James has looked to shake-up Savile Row with an injection of colour and cuts that push the boundaries of suit design. Putting a twist on classic tailoring, the Richard James aesthetic chimed perfectly with the rise of Cool Britannia, attracting fans from Oasis frontmen Noel and Liam Gallagher to actors Tom Cruise and Hugh Grant.
Never afraid to take risks, Richard James became the first Savile Row tailor to advertise in monthly fashion magazines, while its debut cinema ad showed a man throwing himself off the top of a building with the caption ‘Richard James: Clothes for all occasions’. The ad was subsequently banned.
Seemingly unfazed, Sean Dixon, managing director and co-founder of Richard James, recalls the buzz the advert generated across TV and radio and stands by it. “It was suited to our kind of vibe. We came to Savile Row at a time when it was a bit staid, safe and stuck in its ways. We did things very differently,” he says.
“We just carried that through with our message for marketing and advertising. It became part of what we were and that’s just carried on going.”
Dixon established the brand in 1992 with his eponymous co-founder Richard James. With a range spanning £6,000 bespoke suits and premium Japanese denim to silk ties and cotton socks, Richard James now employs 30 people in London, including six designers and tailors. The company has two shops in the capital – the ready-to-wear store on Savile Row and the bespoke shop on Clifford Street.
Last year, Dixon and James sold their majority stakes in the company, which generated revenues of £10m in 2017, to US property investor Charles S Cohen, with a view to ramping up the brand’s global ambitions
When starting out the approach to marketing was “fairly organic”, backed by a philosophy that the product was king, the approach is likely to change as international expansion beckons.
“Marketing just happened and you could argue that maybe that was a mistake, but for us that’s how it’s worked and everything has kind of snowballed from there. Now as the business grows and expands we probably have to think differently, especially as we’re going into different markets,” says Dixon.
“We’re confident the message works in this country, but in America we might need to market ourselves in a slightly different way to get the same sort of message home. Same with Central America, same with Asia. I think the days of ‘this is what we do and we’re just going to apply that’ are gone.”
You need to constantly be on top of your game or else one bad season and it’s done.
Sean Dixon, Richard James
Richard James plans to open its first US store in July on New York’s Park Avenue, a market the brand hopes will represent a significant part of its business going forward. The US flagship will reflect the concept in London, bringing together bespoke, made-to-measure and ready-to-wear.
Once open, the store will act as a springboard for further Richard James stores in other “significant cities” worldwide, with a particular focus on Hong Kong, China and South America.
Having stores is very important to the Richard James brand as a space to create a sense of retail theatre and share the product story. It is for this reason the team recently moved its master cutter onto the ground floor of the bespoke store, enabling visitors to see suits being crafted in real life.
“People are shopping more and more online, so how do you make them come into the shop? You need to have certain things that are unique,” Dixon explains.
“We’re lucky that we do have something very special to offer and we need to show it to people and involve them in that experience. People will often come into the space even if they’re not getting anything made just to look and we want to make that as welcoming as possible.”
While the shops remain a point of focus, Richard James has put lots of energy into translating the luxury experience online. The website is designed to reflect the brand’s sense of accessibility and fun, using a mixture of detailed sizing and fabric information, high resolution images and videos showing the bespoke tailoring environment.
“It’s interesting because it’s a combination of bespoke, which is really like an analogue business, and you’re coming up against a very digital workspace. One of the things that people like about tailoring is that there is an artisanal and old-fashioned element to it that hasn’t changed since it started,” says Dixon.
“In an age where everybody is using smartphones, everything’s very quick and digital you’re going back to something that is quite old fashioned and I think people like that. You need to get that message over using a digital format, so it’s about marrying those two things.”
Part of a lifestyle
Much of Richard James’s clientele are international, although often they are people who live and work in London. Dixon explains that Savile Row is still a real destination, differing from the tourist traps of Regent Street or Bond Street.
For its customers, suits have become less of a uniform and more of a fashion choice. Dixon describes them as wealthy, well-dressed men who choose to wear suits as part of their lifestyle and are unafraid of experimenting with colour. Blush pink, for example, is one of the bestselling shades of in the spring/summer 2018 collection.
People will often come into the space even if they’re not getting anything made just to look and we want to make that as welcoming as possible.
Sean Dixon, Richard James
These customers are also increasingly well-informed about fabrics and the cuts of suits, as well as being hungry for more information about the product story, whether they are shopping online or visiting in store.
As a result Richard James maintains the same messaging when it is discussing a bespoke suit as it does when talking about its jeans, which are made from Japanese denim and manufactured in the UK.
Bringing the tradition of bespoke into 2018 does not, however, come without its challenges. Dixon accepts that retailing has definitely changed since the brand was founded in 1992.
“Retail has become more demanding and I think the marketplace has become more crowded. I think when we started we were unique and there was no one else doing what we were doing and maybe that’s changed a bit,” he reflects.
“You need to constantly be on top of your game or else one bad season and it’s done. So it’s about always being relevant. I think the challenges are online, but it is a challenge you can’t ignore and you have to work on. It’s not a case of just sticking some nice pictures up on a website. You’ve got to engage, get your message over. It’s a lot harder on a flat screen.”