August 29 2014

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A New History: Jason Basmajian Talks Gieves & Hawkes


Jason Basmajian and the Spring '14 Gieves and Hawkes collection

Gieves & Hawkes—the centuries-old British tailor that holds three royal warrants and owns a prestigious “corner office” at No. 1 Savile Row—is getting a facelift. In January, the brand hired Boston-born Jason Basmajian to take the creative helm. Basmajian’s new role will require him to carry on the tradition of dressing Prince Charles and his kin (baby George can’t be too far away from his first suit, can he?), as well as military, political, and regal grandees, which, over the years, have included Winston Churchill, J.P. Morgan, David Niven, and Laurence Olivier. Basmajian’s mission? To dust off the formidable patina of the brand and turn it into gold dust—English-style. Here, Basmajian talks to about preserving Gieves & Hawkes’ storied past (so storied, in fact, that the brand employs a full-time archivist to this day), while pushing it into the twenty-first century.

You are American-born and developed your design chops in New York, Paris, and Milan with Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Brioni, and so on. What can you bring to such a traditional British brand?
Funnily enough, that is why I think I was chosen—because I brought an international style perspective to the table. Gieves & Hawkes comes out of a military/equestrian background, which is the anchor of Savile Row. But we also have a loyal clientele in Asia and America where that military and formal tradition isn’t as richly stepped. It weighs heavily on a brand, how to carry that tradition through, but I think my role is to celebrate the brand and move it forward to what today’s man wants, which is a lot of personality and not just body cover.

Gieves and Hawkes Spring '14Thirty-one years ago, Prince Charles descended the steps of the Lindo Wing in a formal suit and tie, carrying the newborn William. Last week, Prince William descended in a blue shirt rolled up to the elbows, chinos, and a Navajo belt. What does this mean for today’s generation? Are formalwear and bespoke suiting still in the cards?

That’s a good question because it is the challenge we are facing now: How to apply the spirit of traditional tailoring, but in sync with the demands of this generation. True, men wear jeans and chinos day-to-day, but they will always need formalwear, something smart to travel in, something for a wedding or a funeral, and my job is to be open about how today’s gentleman approaches his wardrobe. How I address it is to expand the brand into a lifestyle—I needed to go to the foundation of tailoring and build on it. I want our customers to feel like they are walking into a closet full of potential and ingenious ways to approach every event in their lives. It’s funny, you wouldn’t believe how many young and posh people we have coming in looking for morning suits or formal attire. Amazingly, they are looking for tradition, but they want to put their own individual stamp on it.

There is currently a heat wave in London, and Manhattan is always a sauna in the summer, as are the Asian capitals. When are shorts going to be acceptable in the workplace?

If you are going to wear shorts, I would advise to do so in a way that is refined, meaning the rest of the kit has to be perfect: a shirt, a tie, a jacket, the right shoes and accessories. I am a big fan of lightweight summer wool, seersucker, and linen, which you can wear easily in the summer without suffering heatstroke. Ditto with the loafers and no-socks conundrum. I believe to carry off things that are not strictly by the book requires a real sense of style and confidence. But these days, there are fewer rules. Personal style, never mind the world, is changing and evolving, which is what makes design so exciting.

It seems like Gieves & Hawkes brought you on board to turn its fortunes around. Do you feel you’re under a lot of pressure?
Well (laughing) I do a lot of yoga, so it’s fine. But the reality is I have an incredibly supportive team behind me. When I came on board in January, I saw that season’s collection and thought it needed a reboot, so I started from scratch. We created a whole new collection in three weeks without compromising on design or quality. I could never have done that unless the team was behind me 100 percent. What we all realized collectively is that we want a better, not different, version of what we have. I think the goal is to keep it steady, yet turn up the volume. I think it would be awful to do something radical and shocking that is not in sync with the brand, which rightfully demands a certain respect and gravitas.

What do you hope to bring to the brand in the coming years?
I feel I am helping with a style vocabulary, to add important bits and build around the core of the brand. That’s why the shop is being refurbished, why we introduced a shoe collection. We are also coming out with an eyeglass collection and soon will be unveiling a few short films shot by Mike Figgis, which will appear on our Web site as chapters, if you will. My goal is to keep the brand fresh and to reach out to different generations. Simply put, I want to keep the British accent, yet make the Gieves & Hawkes language more international.

Photos: Courtesy of Gieves & Hawkes