Taking the helm of a cult brand can be a daunting prospect. Even more so when the brand in question happens to be one of the oldest and most iconic of British brands, namely Aquascutum. Thomas Harvey, who became head of menswear design for the house last year, is now setting out to re-launch the iconic brand. Schön! sat down with him for an insight into the background of the young designer, and to see what it means to take over the legacy of such an institution.
Thomas Harvey is by no means a stranger to the ins-and-outs of a fashion house. From a childhood steeped in architecture, and an early interest in photography at school, Harvey then went on to study art. Finding his feet in the worlds of art, fashion and design, he then began to specialise in menswear. “At the time I was struggling to find my niche in menswear, because 90% of the class was womenswear design.” From there, Harvey was thrown into the deep end, working for none other than Douglas Hayward on Savile Row. “I went there for a month, for one of my summer breaks from university. I was just hanging out in the background and learning, sitting in on all the fittings,” he relates. “The faces that were coming in were incredible. Michael Caine was a customer, and Terry O’Neill was in on a daily basis. It was like an old boys’ club of amazing people from the ‘60s and ‘70s.” It was during these summers working for Hayward that Thomas Harvey was introduced to the craftsmanship of Savile Row. “Tailoring was a core part of what I was doing at the time,” he explains. “Learning how clothes go together and how they fit is important, you can’t underestimate that in what you do.”
After a series of internships in New York, where he worked under the likes of Marc Jacobs, Harvey then joined Aquascutum in 2007. Leaving the company two or so years later, at the time when Aquascutum was facing financial difficulties, Harvey went on to learn the business side of running a fashion brand with a stint at Reiss. He continued working for the high-street empire until last year, when the new direction at Aquascutum approached Harvey with the offer of taking on the task of menswear design. “I got a phone call about a year ago and I came to meet the new owners and talk to them about what they wanted to do with the brand. It was an exciting opportunity: to re-launch the brand and take it back to where it should be.”
How does one go about such a tremendous task, we wonder? Thomas Harvey takes us through the process. As he states, “Heritage is a starting point. We have a rich archive, so we always go back to that.” In taking on the responsibility of designing new pieces for a brand which has such a strong visual heritage, staying in line with generations’ worth of Aquascutum heirloom pieces is almost an imperative. “In terms of the way we see it, the shopper wants to buy a garment and have it for years and years. Less ‘fast fashion’, and more return customers who know their father or grandfather had the raincoat,” he explains. “I think that is the key, to design timeless pieces. We are really proud of the heritage and the craftsmanship, the way things are done with Aquascutum. We are not a ‘fast fashion’ brand and we view ourselves as a luxury brand. that is the ethos we are looking to take forward.” Given that Aquascutum has such a significant history in working with outerwear (one of the first waterproof cloths was created by the house in 1853), dealing in the very best available textiles remains a priority for Thomas Harvey. “A lot of the cloth comes from the UK, we have a couple of mills here that we always work with. They supply 60-70% of our tailoring cloth. The rest is working with the top key designers in Italy, which is the main thing really, so we are very proud of that.”
With the success of London as a fashion centre in the past few years, and a gradual reversal of the exodus to Milan of all things tailoring and menswear, we ask how Harvey feels the scene of fashion houses, both young and established, will evolve. “It’s a really exciting time for fashion within London, there are a lot of brands that are re-launching and that is very interesting. It can only get from strength to strength,” before adding, “London is a few steps ahead of other markets, with so many interesting designs emerging. Design has really grown over the last few years.” A self-proclaimed people-watcher, Harvey emphasizes how the city influences his designs. “People are defining their personality more and more in the way they dress, which is exciting. Wherever I am, I just enjoy people-watching. It’s the best way to get inspiration.”
As we look through the Spring/Summer collection at the Great Marlborough Street store in the West End, Harvey lets us in on some upcoming Aquascutum projects, one of which will be the launch of a new menswear store in June on Jermyn Street. The future is certainly looking bright for both Thomas Harvey and Aquascutum, we just have to hope for an adequately British summer (by that we mean rain) for us to fully appreciate the 100th anniversary of the trenchcoat this year.
Discover the Aquascutum Spring/Summer collection here.
Words / Patrick Clark
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