The last few years have been kind to the vintage market. For a long time now, collecting vintage clothing has been ‘cool’, but in the wake of growing environmental concerns and widespread criticism of the fashion industry, vintage menswear has shifted from being a hip pursuit to a hip pursuit with fashionable pro-environmental credentials.
Mixing vintage finds with well-chosen new acquisitions is becoming the normal approach to wardrobe building for many stylish men today, and few clothing aficionados have a greater appreciation of menswear built to last than Michael Hill, Creative Director of Drake’s, who’s been curating collections of bulletproof men’s clothing for over 10 years.
The Drake’s look itself is intellectual and idiosyncratic; mixing a British approach to colour and pattern with a global outlook. Within any given seasonal range, customers can expect to find clothes with cultural influences ranging from mid-century Italian tailoring to French workwear and Japanese denim. Hill also, in places, draws on the wardrobe his beloved father who managed the company’s tie business for many years, as well as that of Drakes’s founder, Michael Drake, ensuring that his vision for the brand today rings true to the tastes of these two men.
When we sit down with him after-hours at Drakes’ new Savile Row flagship store, Hill presents himself in a cashmere cardigan, knitted with quirky melange yarn and a panelled design, which dates to the early ‘70s. It’s quite something, and as with all good vintage menswear, it has quite the story behind it. “In many ways, this cardigan represents the beginning for me,” he tells us. “I’ve got photographs of me sitting on my old man’s knee as a baby, and he was wearing this cardigan. He passed this to me when I turned 18-years-old. Really, his own interest in clothes was my education in menswear.”
“When I was growing up, Dad had a little dressing at home. We always laughed about it, thinking ‘why isn’t that Mum’s dressing room?’, but of course, it was never going to be my Mum’s with Dad in the clothing business. He’d wake up at 5:30 in the morning to drive to the factory and he didn’t want to disturb my mother by dressing in the bedroom – so he’d have all his clothes in his dressing room and he’d get ready for the day in there. From time to time I’d go in and see him ferreting around, and as a curious kid I’d ask questions; ‘what’s that for?’, ‘why is that made that way?’ and I started to pick things up as I got a little older. I suppose I’d be curious about clothes and learn about menswear through osmosis.”
This sense of curiosity is integral to Drake’s today. The brand’s colourful look books present ‘classic’ menswear in a refreshing and irreverent light; tailoring and formal shirts are dressed down, workwear is smartened up, the tie becomes a vehicle for your personality, rather than a professional status symbol. Drake’s is playful above all else and few brands are better at mixing old and new menswear tropes, or at giving archive-inspired pieces a fresh lease of life. The backbone of Drakes’s collection, the humble Oxford button-down shirt is a good example. Sure, the classics are there in white and sky blue, but each season Hill and his team will release a range of fun, bright, striped or patterned variations on this classic, each made with quirky details and soft, loose-lined collars that help the Drake’s button-down to feel more relaxed than its contemporaries. They soften with each wash and wear, and if anything improve over time. In many ways, they epitomise Hill’s own personal philosophy on clothing.
“It’s really important in today’s world to buy into quality. I don’t like to tell anyone how to think, but our suggestion is that it’s important to consider pieces that are designed to stand the test of time. At Drake’s, our relationships with our makers matter. If you’re working with good people, good materials, and workshops that care about what they do, then you’re likely to be buying into something that has integrity. We try hard to deliver that for our customers".
— Michael Hill
Hill himself is a passionate advocate for a considered approach to shopping, and to wardrobe building over time. Even with the Drake’s collection at his finger tips every season, he still comes back to vintage finds and old wardrobe favourites on a routine basis. “Old stuff helps to take the edge off the new; things get better over time,” he says, earnestly. “You need vintage pieces to make everything work in your wardrobe – building up layers of texture and storytelling. If everything you wear is new all the time, that feels less rich than mixing old and new pieces somehow. Clothes have to be given the chance to live a life.”