When John Ray left Gucci eight years ago, he returned to Scotland and a new chapter in a life that he fully intended would have nothing more to do with fashion. But the bug still bit, and when Dunhill came calling, Ray succumbed. "A challenge," he said the other day. "A chance to be British and international." It's scarcely a new notion—London's fashion renaissance is larded with heritage houses looking for a stake in the global future—but Ray has taken a distinctively different approach. While those other businesses attempt to update with "contemporary" cuts, he is more engaged by past glories. In an august old building on Horse Guards Avenue, Ray presented, to the stately strains of Benjamin Britten, his own elegant vision of a man, steeped in Victoriana and Edwardiana, with jackets elongated and full-skirted and high-waisted trousers hanging off suspenders. ("Liberating," he insisted.) He compounded his sartorial statement with featherlight silk suits inspired by the tailoring young men might have worn on their character-shaping Grand Tours of Europe in the 19th century.
"I like tradition," said Ray. "Men look their best when they're traditional." But what he mastered here was tradition that wasn't stuffy. If anything, it had an enchantingly light almost-feyness, exemplified in an outfit that matched a double-breasted jacket in creamy cotton-silk to high-waisted shorts in crispest white cotton, the accompanying footwear a Grecian slipper in crocodile. Ray said he was after insouciance—and he found it. Other appealing details included the turned-up cuffs on jackets; the Dunhill buttons; the botanical prints of fern and magnolia; the kit bags in rich, natural vegetable dyes.
Ray identified the idea of escape as central to the Dunhill ethos. The entrepreneurial Alfred Dunhill built his business in the late 19th century on motoring accessories for drivers of the first cars. Imagine the escapist rush they must have felt. And maybe Ray felt the same when he fled Gucci almost a decade ago. Which promises—perhaps—a personal spin on the comeback of this particular old house.