DAMAN Style Designer Interview: Ray Kelvin of Ted Baker

TED’S BEST FRIEND – DAMAN chats with the eccentric genius behind British fashion brand Ted Baker: the one and only Ray Kelvin

Nowadays, any serious discourse into British fashion would simply have to include a long, hard look at Ted Baker. The 30-year-old brand is now considered a no nonsense heavyweight in the industry, thanks mainly to its classic silhouettes and superior quality, to say nothing of its loyal cadre of high-profile clientele. Driving this success story is the brand’s enigmatic, visionary and quirky founder: Ray Stuart Kelvin CBE, who is also known for never showing his full face in any official photograph and sometimes—for example in this interview—refers to himself as “Ted’s best friend.”

DAMAN: First and foremost, congratulations on Ted Baker’s 30th anniversary this year. What does reaching this milestone mean for the brand?
Ray Kelvin: Thank you very much! I could never have imagined, just three short decades ago, that the idea that came to me on a lovely little fishing trip could have become such a phenomenon. I’m truly thrilled that it has.

DAMAN: We’ve also learned that Ted Baker has pulled three products from the brand’s archives for a 2018 revival—the branded anniversary T-shirt, sweatshirt and hoodie. What was the story behind the selection and revival of these three?
Ray Kelvin: Ted has always looked far and wide for the finest fabrics. In the case of these re-issued designs, the story started at a Portuguese mill that Ted found nearly 30 years ago, sourcing a rich cotton with a beautifully soft handle that instantly became hugely popular with his customers. The fabric was knitted on an ancient loom, which had a secret: It had missing teeth, endowing the fabric with its unique softness. Ted used this factory and this specific loom for many years, insisting that the loom remain unrepaired as it produced such a wonderful material. When he decided to pull the design out of the archive and recreate it, he got back in touch with his friends in Portugal who returned the loom to use, resulting in a fabric that’s as prized today as it was three decades ago. That’s Ted’s unparalleled eye for detail in action, as focused today as it was at the beginning.

DAMAN: Do you have anything else in mind as part of Ted Baker’s 30th anniversary?
Ray Kelvin: Watch this space…

DAMAN: Looking back through those 30 years, what would you say was the key to Ted Baker’s initial success and subsequent popularity?
Ray Kelvin: From the beginning, Ted has had a very clear, unswerving, focus on quality, attention to detail and a quirky sense of humor. So much so, in fact, that the first stores used to provide a laundry service for every shirt purchased—something that gained the quickly growing brand the title of “No Ordinary Designer Label.” Everything produced under the Ted Baker name has his personality woven into its very heart.

DAMAN: Are there any particular collections or even specific pieces that you would say have had a marked contribution to Ted Baker’s success?
Ray Kelvin: In the ’90s, Ted’s experiments with innovative fabrics led to queues out of the door at his stores. Since then, he’s always ensured that whatever the product, there’s a fabrication, a detail, something about every piece that carried the Ted Baker logo that makes it both unusual and unique in the marketplace. It’s what our customers have always loved about us, and it’s what keeps them coming back.

DAMAN: Since you mentioned experiments and innovation, basically change, how would you describe Ted Baker’s brand DNA as it is today?
Ray Kelvin: Ted’s DNA hasn’t changed, it remains as strong and unique as it was the day he opened the doors to the Glasgow store back in 1988.

DAMAN: And on a related note, how is that brand DNA embodied in Ted Baker’s offerings for the fall/winter season of 2018? How do you see that uniqueness developed since 1988 in the brand’s offerings that we see today?
Ray Kelvin: Ted’s eye for detail remains as sharp today as it was 30 years ago. And he knows that that’s what keeps his customers returning season after season for something a little different. For autumn/winter ’18, a versatile core palette of navy, khaki, grey and camel lays the foundations. These are then boosted with accents of pink and egg-yolk yellow. Key prints enliven more muted looks, with jewel-toned botanicals, geo mash-ups and wild animal paisleys giving the collection a louche, festival attitude.

DAMAN: Are there any particular styles or perhaps fabrics that the brand wants to highlight through this fall/winter collection?
Ray Kelvin: For autumn-winter ’18, Ted’s been exploring workwear, with utilitarian overshirts, field jackets, wider leg pleated trousers, and cords being key to the success of this look. Checks check in often, most notably on a statement wool overcoat that he’s particularly proud of. The wonderfully tactile waffle knits are a lovely twist on a winter staple, too.

DAMAN: Handsome shirts and dapper suit jackets have always been Ted Baker’s bread and butter. We were wondering, however, if contemporary trends like athleisure and sportswear will eventually become a major part of the brand’s repertoire?
Ray Kelvin: You’re right in that tailoring has—and always will be—a big part of what Ted does. His commitment to superbly-cut suits and beautifully-considered detailing is what sets his suits apart from the rest of the brands out there. But you may have missed the development of the menswear collections over the past few years: Ted offers a full collection of smart sneakers, as well as all sorts of fresh casual pieces with a unique twist that embody the way he thinks about clothes. Along with a specific technical collection for golf, there are sportswear-inspired details throughout Ted’s menswear, and while he might not offer full-on athleisure looks at the moment, he never says never.

DAMAN: Are there any specific approaches or experiments that Ted Baker will launch or is looking into for the near future?
Ray Kelvin: Ted’s always got plenty of plates spinning when it comes to his menswear, you’ll just have to keep your eyes peeled…

DAMAN: Yet another signature of Ted Baker is how no two stores are alike. Of all the unique designs all across the globe, do you have a personal favorite?
Ray Kelvin: Ted never plays favorites … but he does have to say that the new St. Pancras and London Bridge stores are looking pretty swanky.

DAMAN: Ted Baker has recently reopened its store in Indonesia—in Plaza Indonesia, Jakarta, to be exact— which was hailed for, among others, its unique visual flair. What was the idea that drove the design of this particular store?
Ray Kelvin: Ted’s refreshed store in Plaza Indonesia follows his approach to stores across the globe, taking local inspiration and combining it with something inimitably British from Ted’s homeland. Taking its inspiration from London’s iconic transport system, the store features cues great and small from the London Underground, including tiled backdrops, a retro color palette, and a unique selection of transport-themed props.

DAMAN: Ted Baker is also noted for its fast-growing e-commerce activity. How important is this element of the brand and how will it expand?
Ray Kelvin: E-commerce is of course a key pillar of the growth and success at Ted, hand-in-hand with the unique physical stores around the world.

DAMAN: Conversely, what are some of the most notable challenges that you and the brand have overcome in the past 30 years?
Ray Kelvin: Over the past 30 years, Ted has continued to focus on doing things his way and not paying too much attention to the competition. It was this approach that characterized the beginnings of the brand, and the mantra “would Ted do it that way?” that runs through everything that the teams across the globe follow. With this spirit, we’ve been able to overcome all manner of obstacles, large and small, to expand Ted from one store to over 530 globally today.