British clothing brand Ben Sherman has always been associated with classical looks, with the brand’s heritage shirts being its signature staple. For the spring/summer season of 2018, however, creative director Mark Williams injected bold colors and rich patterns. The collection is inspired by the so-called Peacock Revolution in the ’60s which brought about numerous changes in society, and also in fashion. Surely, this is a most exciting time for Ben Sherman and Williams, as both the brand and its creative director keep making huge steps forward with new collaborations and fresh ideas for the world of fashion.
DAMAN: For Ben Sherman’s spring/summer 2018 menswear collection, you introduced something lively, playful and colorful—particularly through the Peacock Revolution print. What was it that first inspired you to go in this direction?
Mark Williams: The inspiration began with some great ’60s psychedelic vintage posters from the Isle of Wight Festival. I wanted to convey a similar aesthetic and vibrancy of the art into the collection. The original psychedelic movement also reminded me of how icons such as Mick Jagger wore bright flamboyant shirts in the ’60s and how his peacock style stood out. It was a powerful look.
DA: What were the major challenges that you faced in creating the looks for spring/summer 2018?
MW: The main challenge was ensuring the concept also retained a strong commercial aesthetic. Making a statement is often far easier than creating a commercial style that’s reflective of the story.
DA: Do you have a favorite piece from the collection? Something that really represents the essential ideas of this season’s lineup…
MW: Yes: The Peacock Hero ’50s style shirt is one of my favorites. The design incorporates a beautiful original artwork which became the focus for the summer range within the collection.
DA: What, would you say, was it that made the Peacock Revolution of the ’60s so important for fashion in general and menswear in particular?
MW: In the ’60s during a time of revolution, experimentation and self-expression, guys also became more confident in wearing pattern and bolder colors. In some ways today, nothing has changed. Being a peacock is about having a sense of individuality and personal style. This can also been seen from formal wear to streetwear: Boundaries are being crossed and also merging, but the message is the same. Ben Sherman always sets itself apart with creative distinction and our continuation of individualism over the decades resonates deeply with our customer.
DA: The typical—or perhaps stereotypical—man might hesitate in incorporating more vibrant and expressive pieces like these as part of their day to day attire. What advice would you give to those who would like to delve into the more playful side of Ben Sherman fashion?
MW: I would like to say it’s all a question of how you wear and style the bolder items. For example: Pairing a statement item with a classic outfit is the best way to ease into dressing up your style. Wear the playful piece with an outfit that you are comfortable in.
DA: Was this theme something that was already in the brand’s archives or does this represent a new design language for Ben Sherman?
MW: The theme and concept are new for the brand. Our concepts always incorporate a modern twist each season. My philosophy is to draw inspiration from our DNA and our past to support our ideas. Ben Sherman himself was always original in his thought process and we try our best to emulate that.
DA: You’ve been working at Ben Sherman for more than a decade now. What are some of the most exciting changes that you’ve witnessed throughout your tenure with the brand?
MW: The company has undergone a few changes over the years, the most exciting has been since Marquee Brands acquired Ben Sherman. The strength and vision under our new ownership has been extremely positive for the brand. We are starting to break new ground and see a bright future on a global scale.
DA: Conversely, what would you say are the core and basic essentials that have defined Ben Sherman since its founding and remains a recurring element every season?
MW: At the core of the brand we have always had the iconic Ben Sherman button down shirt, a classic which stays true to the original designs. The key details include the collar shapes, box pleat and back collar button, which are signature features that still remain today. We recently relaunched an Archive shirt program which brings back original Ben Sherman prints from the ’50s, ’60s and so forth, which our customer looks forward to every season.
DA: On a related note, how would you describe the typical Ben Sherman wearer? What kind of man do you have in mind when designing?
MW: Our customers are actually very diverse and range from guys who are looking to buy into our heritage and appreciate iconic British menswear, to guys who love the more interesting fashion items and want to discover something new from our seasonal collections. We design for a wide variety of customers yet always stay true to our DNA.
DA: Speaking of which, Ben Sherman has long counted many prominent musicians among its fans. Do you have any amusing anecdotes or perhaps memorable stories of encounters with the brand’s celebrity devotees?
MW: When I first started at Ben Sherman we did an interesting project with [English singer, songwriter and musician] Paul Weller. He came in and talked about how he had a specific favorite Ben Sherman shirt that he loved from back in the ’80s. He couldn’t find anyone who did something similar, so he approached us to team up with him and design a selection of his favorite candy stripe shirts. I remember he was so specific in wanting the stripe a certain size, the collar had to be right—you had to get four fingers between the collar and the button—that’s how he had remembered it from his original ’80s shirt. It was such a success we had people queuing out the door for them.
DA: Looking ahead, what’s in store for Ben Sherman? What can connoisseurs of the brand expect in the foreseeable future?
MW: Looking ahead, we’re excited to be collaborating with Henry Holland—House of Holland—for a second season and showing at London Men’s Fashion Week again in June. It’s important we have that brand stretch. We’re offering fresh and edgy designs just as Ben Sherman did back in the ’60s when he sold shirts to the likes of Mick Jagger and David Bowie.
DA: Are there any particular trends, inspirations or styles that you would like to one day explore for a Ben Sherman collection?
MW: I’ve just recently been doing a Parka-Shirt hybrid as I call it. I love creating totally original designs, ideating styles that haven’t been done and that ticks the all the boxes for the brand in a big way.
DA: For this year’s fall/winter season, Ben Sherman collaborated with House of Holland on a capsule collection. Will we see more partnerships like this in the future?
MW: Absolutely. As I mentioned, we are very excited to be doing season two with Henry Holland. It’s been great fun working with him and expanding our brand to new customers.
DA: What do you look for in possible brands to team up with?
MW: I look for the right fit to start with. It’s important that both parties benefit from such collaborations and feel it’s worthwhile. This usually includes ensuring the DNA of a potential collaborator is a great match to us and will bring something new to our brand, which doesn’t always have to be in an obvious way.
DA: What have been some of the biggest and most important shifts of focus in fashion that you’ve observed in the last couple of decades or so?
MW: Menswear is growing at a fast rate. Even womenswear brands that previously did not have menswear are now adding men’s lines to their offerings. There are more options for dressing now than ever before with the ever growing streetwear and sportswear market being so popular. Dress codes are becoming less important, and as such, the flipside is that fitness and health are becoming more important. As a result, a more nimble and casual approach to menswear has naturally evolved.
DA: For any aspiring designers looking to follow in your footsteps, what would be your advice?
MW: My advice would be to “do what you love.” I’ve always had a passion for all aspects of menswear and design and never limited myself. I think that has helped me to be as well-rounded as possible. Knowing as much as possible about the details in fashion is what makes a good designer great.
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