It has been 60 years since British underwear and T-shirt label Sunspel introduced its two-ply Egyptian cotton boxer shorts to the discerning English gentleman. But the business is still growing and finding new loyal followers. It has certainly enjoyed a new lease of life since being purchased in 2005 by Dominic Hazelhurst and Nick Brooke – revenue has risen by 15 per cent over the past 18 months.
In a market in which quality has been largely forsaken for quantity and consumers have been inundated with heavily logo-ed designer briefs, Sunspel has always celebrated its “Made in England” heritage. “What attracted Nick and me to the business was the extraordinary level of customer loyalty to the brand and its Englishness, which still carries a resonance internationally,” says Hazelhurst.
The two investors have spent the past two years updating the packaging and have taken a more fashion-forward approach – they now produce seasonal colours of boxer shorts, have introduced prints and are making their presence known at fashion fairs such as Pitti Uomo.
The provenance of the brand has been deliberately upheld and, as a testament to its integrity, the majority of the 35 employees on the factory floor in Long Eaton, Derbyshire, have been with the company for 25 years or more. It is no surprise that the 60th anniversary of the Sunspel boxer short is going to be marked in a decidedly low-key British way: “We are just introducing some box sets; one of them is a two-piece set of boxers made of a silk cotton mix [pictured]. We used to sell pure silk but felt the material was too gaudy for the brand and that this is more understated and suitable.”
The newest brand under French luxury distribution company Hoghan, six-month-old Limoland is the brainchild of African art collector and design authority Jean Pigozzi. Monocle met Pigozzi and asked him about his projections for the Paris-based brand as well as Limoland’s new collaboration with Yoshida-Kaban, parent company of Monocle favourite, Porter.
Describe the appeal of Limoland
I always liked the fun clothes that I bought in Harlem on 125th street, but at 55 I was too old to wear some of them (I wore them anyway). With Limoland, we wanted to adapt this colourful streetwear for a more mature generation, making it out of more luxurious materials – the finest cashmeres, special Japanese cottons. Do not expect to see any pre-ripped Limo jeans or torn polo shirts.
Where do you think your biggest markets will be?
Japan, Italy, France and the UK. We would like to open our first flagship in Japan within the next two years. The first collection we showed in Paris in October convinced some of the most difficult stores, such as Colette in Paris and Harvey Nichols in London, and now we are targeting the top 70 men’s multibrand stores in the world.
What other projects have you got coming up?
In February we will announce a few more projects with some international superbrands. Expect more sportswear, more evening clothes, more travel items. But don’t expect any tuxedos or double-breasted suits just yet.
Kyoto-based clothing label Stealth Wealth is big on national pride and uses high-quality Japanese fabrics in its collections. This jacket was influenced by old Japanese army uniforms. Sewn in a denim factory, the structured stitching is a real talking point and the pocket on the arm is perfect for your iPhone.
With leadership experience at Malo, Piombo and Ballantyne, Massimo Alba, 47, has a long pedigree in the world of Italian clothing. His Milan-based eponymous label is smaller in scale (the design team consists of just Alba and his assistant Sofia) though hardly work-shy: the pair launched lines of men’s, women’s, and children’s quality basics last year.
British-born Stuart and Karen – whose brand goes by their real name Mr & Mrs MacLeod – joined forces romantically and professionally at fashion school in 1979, and established their womenswear label 15 years later. In 2005, they relocated to Normandy, northern France, where the firm and factory are now based. Mr and Mrs MacLeod’s capsule women’s collection consists of around 20 tailored pieces, tapping into the modern classics market led by Margaret Howell in recent years.
Like Howell, it’s no surprise to learn that their biggest audience for the past 12 years has been Japan, where Stuart says they are now planning to “put into place a manufacturing project to extend the label’s potential”. Mr MacLeod explains how their steady success is largely due to careful retail practice, created mostly by word of mouth (“no trumpets”) and a respect for intelligent retail that “went beyond fashion”. It worked – besides an annual turnover of €1.9m, they are now stocked in Ships in Japan and Liberty in London, as well as numerous posts in their third largest market, the US.
Top 5 key pieces, spring/summer 2008
01 Sport safari jacket
02 Full skirt with couture silhouette
03 Oversized fine-gauge knit cardigan
04 Boned prom dress with tulle petticoat
05 Boy’s blazer with French cuff
James Shaw and Alastair Rae launched Albam a year ago in response to the “distorted prices for quality basics” prevalent in the market. To achieve their goal of “simple, modern clothing but better” they spent time sourcing small factories, mostly in the UK, which have been open for 50 years and offer excellent craftsmanship.
Often faced with closure, the factories are now growing along with Albam which opened a shop in London in time for Christmas 2007. Its endeavours have resulted in key pieces that, unlike many brands, come out at the right time of year, but work for seasons to come. Fans will be happy to hear that Albam has teamed up with the Shorey family in Maine who handsew moccasin-style shoes and boots (below) that work well with clothes in urban and outdoor settings.
In 1996, the new chief executive for Aquascutum, Kim Winser, declared that its clothes needed “an overhaul, a new energy”. Head designers Michael Herz and Graeme Fidler have learnt that it is essential for them to oversee all projects, including the Aquamac, a new take on the cagoule. Minimal lines are assured by crumple-proof technology and smart buttons. We love the Aquamac Handbag model, where the detachable hood doubles as a bag.