Simon Spurr’s father remains his one true fashion hero.
“He worked for an American bank in London,” the menswear designer says.
To Spurr, his father’s late-’70s tailored silhouette will always remain in his mind. “He was wearing slim cut, single-breasted suits with narrow lapels and narrow shoulders with slim and pegged-leg pants, with vents in the back. They were understated and very plain silhouettes. That was the aesthetic that stuck in my mind as I started to develop my own sense of fashion.”
We are in Spurr’s studio/office, which overlooks Chelsea Piers and the Hudson River skyline, discussing how Spurr got to where he is today: one of fashion’s most celebrated menswear designers. It is a quiet, cold, sunshiny day between Christmas and New Year’s.
“As I approached my teenage years, I wanted to stand out from my peers and get my own clothes with the money that my parents gave me,” Spurr says. “I used to save up and go to London and buy English brands like Joe Casely-Hayford.”
But growing up in Kent, a tiny pastoral city not far from London, meant having little knowledge of the styles and fashions of the big city. London held a certain importance for the designer. “For those who live in London,” explains Spurr, “where fashion is constantly changing, fashion takes on a more central role in their lives. There’s an endless freedom of expression in London where it was normal if you wore punk clothes. No one would look at you in a weird way.”
Spurr attended school at Middlesex University, where he fell into men’s fashion design. “The technical aspect of fashion was very crucial,” says Spurr. “We had pattern-making and draping classes. I learned the importance of how to construct clothes from illustration, to pattern, to actually making a sample. At the end of the semester, we had to make 13 outfits and every one of them had to be sewn by ourselves from scratch with no outside help at all. At the end of the third year, you have to complete a small collection to be presented at the student showing.”
Spurr’s hard work paid off, and his timing couldn’t have been more perfect. “I graduated in 1996, at a time when London fashion was making a comeback.”
In the decade leading to the inception of his casual line in 2006, Simon Spurr accumulated an impressive résumé. He worked for a year-and-a-half at Nautica in New York, before moving back to London to work for the licensee of Yves Saint Laurent menswear. It was there that Spurr met Hedi Slimane. “He was then the menswear Creative Director in Paris for the Rive Gauche main collection,” recalls Spurr. “We were building a synergy between the main collection and the diffusion lines. That was my lucky break in a way. Even though I worked for the licensee, I was interacting more with Hedi and the Paris office. Hedi Slimane has a very precise aesthetic. We developed a real friendship and he taught me a great deal about proportions and colors.”
Besides being a technical influence, Slimane taught Spurr about the value of independence. One particular moment has stayed with Spurr throughout his career. “At the Paris office, he took all the trend books and threw them in the trash bins nearby and said, ‘We make our own trends, and we do not follow anyone.’ I think it’s very crucial to stick to your own particular point of view. You really can’t dilute what you do by constantly trying to be fashionable or trendy. Hedi was adamant about that.”
After leaving Yves Saint Laurent, Spurr relocated to New York, first working for ck Calvin Klein. “Calvin Klein’s aesthetics were all about the very small details and subtle changes where less is really more. In a way, it was more difficult for me as a designer because I have less to work with when the garment needs to be simpler. There is no trick I can hide behind because the clothes have to stand on their own in terms of design details and quality.”
Spurr moved over the Ralph Lauren Purple Label in 2003. “Ralph Lauren is probably the biggest fashion brand in America—probably worldwide,” says Spurr. “Certainly menswear is a big part of the overall business. Purple Label is right on the top of that business, dictating the directions. The whole pressure for the men’s brand lies in the Purple Label collection.”
At the time, the team was tiny but talented. He helped start Black Label about a year after he joined—working directly with Ralph Lauren himself. “I worked more on the tailoring side of the collections,” says Spurr. “I really understand how men dress and buy clothes. Purple Label has specific hourglass shapes to the silhouettes and Black Label has a leaner shape, but it is slightly less constructed. It was very hands-on, from selecting the fabrics to making the final garments. And Mr. Lauren is always very involved in the entire process.”
Working for giants such as Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren can have its benefits—good pay and genius bosses from which to learn. But Spurr felt the desire to branch out, so in 2006, he created his own line, SPURR. “There’s a freedom that comes from working for yourself,” he says. “These past five years have been incredibly hard. It would have been the same amount of work had I stayed working for another brand, but I would not have had the freedom to do what I really want.”
Jeans seem like the riskiest item to launch with—they are usually only introduced into an already established brand—but Spurr’s first move was to bring three pairs of American-made selvage jeans to Bergdorf Goodman Men. The store became SPURR’s first retailer and the jeans have remained bestsellers for Spurr ever since, including this season’s limited edition five-year anniversary jeans. “I have worn denim since I was three years old,” Spurr says of his unusual launch. “I don’t come from a denim background, but it was something I was passionate about, and I know how I like a pair of jeans. Jeans is a category that is accessible for most guys. It is a way of creating a strong foundation for a brand, one basic garment to build from. Also, I wasn’t leaving Ralph Lauren to launch a line to compete. There are no jeans at Purple Label.”
From that first style of jeans, Spurr began to add other items, and by 2009, he had a full collection. “I was seeing how well the denim was doing, and I didn’t want to become a denim contemporary brand. I was starting to add more tailored pieces, and then it was time to launch SIMON SPURR separately from the SPURR line in 2009. With both lines now, I have a capacity for distribution at different price points than before.”
At his first presentation, Spurr displayed 15 looks of refined, tailored clothes that felt light and easy to wear. Key looks included a charcoal peak-lapel single-breasted suit with an icy blue cotton shirt and a gray three-piece suit with a black V-neck T-shirt.
The following year’s Spring collection’s inspiration came from French actor Alain Delon’s tough guy look from Le Samourai (1967). It was a showcase for the designer’s trademark tailored, slim single-breasted suits, which came in dark navy blue or light orange. Tropical wool or leather safari shirts accompanied white tailored jeans. A light pink dress jean matched well with an icy blue cotton shirt. And the white trenchcoat worn over a light gray suit gave off the swagger of the lesser-known Delon contemporary Jean-Claude Brialy.
The inspiration behind that collection was quite conceptual, but Spurr maintains his themes come from an organic and natural process that unfolds as he works. “At the beginning of each season there is not one particular image or theme that immediately pops out at me. It’s a combination of working with color and fabric, coupled with staying true to the brand’s British DNA. That normally results in a theme slowly emerging. When a brand is establishing its position in the market, I feel that it’s critical to show progression, but also to underscore the DNA that has been shown in previous seasons.”
In Fall 2010, Spurr’s runway consisted of a complete range of wardrobe choices ranging from dressy single-breasted suits in purple, pink, gray, and black to navy peacoats and fitted black leather jackets. The Simon Spurr classic single-breasted suit has moved beyond traditional gray. His suits would incorporate pointed lapels with piping and idiosyncratic colors like green-brown plaid—a nod to his more avant-garde customers.
Simon Spurr is wearing a black crew-neck sweater and slim black jeans. A black peacoat hangs on his chair. It’s ironic, since Spurr is best known for injecting color into the drab world of men’s fashion. “Every man is different,” says Spurr, “and it’s important to remember that what works for one guy might not work for another. Fashion is so subjective: it’s like art. There’s never really a right or wrong way of expressing yourself. It’s a different type of man who wears color. A man who wears color is usually more self-confident, expressive, and understands his fashion boundaries. I think men are ready for more experimentation and we should all push our fashion boundaries every six months or so.”
Menswear is notoriously hard to navigate if you want to be drastic and skirt the edges of the safety zone. “Menswear has many rules that some may see as constraining creativity,” says Spurr, “but I like to work within the rules as it gives me the boundaries to keep the product real. Taking traditional techniques like bonded seaming from inside garments and applying them to the outside of the garment injects newness. The bonding theme and hybridization of garments is something that I have built upon over the past few years.”
Spurr still looks to traditional fashion magazines to tap into how the American man is dressing. But he is aware that the tides are changing there, as well. “Fashion magazines are of course still a great influence, but with the surge of multimedia communication and bloggers, social media platforms have become such a strong part of many men’s daily lives and how they dress. I feel that the way brands communicate through social media almost has more direct influence than traditional advertising in magazines. The celebrity is also an ongoing source of influence on how men dress. Especially in downward or tough economic periods, the celebrity is a form of escapism as well as being an aspirational role model of style. Historically, I think men had strong role models that had unique and clearly defined senses of style such as David Bowie, Tommy Nutter, and Steve McQueen. But now, with the increase of anyone being able to become a celebrity, the melting pot of influencers has exponentially grown and diluted the mix, making it less clear to pinpoint iconic men of style.”
No matter how many Ryan Goslings and Bradley Coopers (often seen in SIMON SPURR) sport your gear, retail support is the most important factor for any new designer fashion company. It is the true indicator of the brand’s ability to grow. SPURR and SIMON SPURR are sold at leading retailers worldwide, including Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Jeffrey New York, The Webster Miami Beach, Harrods, Luisa Via Roma, and Nordstrom. “We used to buy his denim line,” says Eric Jennings, VP and Fashion Director of Menswear at Saks Fifth Avenue. “We found out that he was doing a full designer collection, and we have been supporting him ever since.” Jennings is in between budget meetings and preparing to depart to Europe for Fall 2012 orders. But even a man as busy as Jennings can find a few moments on the phone to praise Spurr’s rising star.
“Spurr is an expert tailor and, in his background, he’s known for his Black Label clothing for Ralph Lauren,” continues Jennings. “This is how he became known as a master tailor. We really focus on the dressier tailored components of his collection. We have knits, sweaters, trousers, and outerwear. We house SIMON SPURR with our advanced designers. SIMON SPURR is next to Burberry Prorsum, Michael Bastian, Marni, Viktor & Rolf, and Alexander McQueen. He has a really advanced designer brand customer—someone in the know who wants the up-and-coming, new designer.”
Jennings goes onto explain that the single-breasted suits are his best sellers. He also mentions that Saks is doing a capsule collection of dress clothes exclusively for the store, citing his slim fit as the main reason behind locking him in for the collaboration. “We like Simon Spurr because he has a sense of sensibility,” Jennings explains. “His clothing doesn’t have a too stuffy, British feel, but more of a raw, New York edge to it.”
One of Spurr’s edgier pieces is his jacket, and it is also the piece he feels the most proud of. “The design of the jacket is really just 25 percent of what the jacket really is,” Spurr explains. “It’s the fit, the cut, the way it folds, the buttoning—all these small things that make up the quality of a jacket. I manufacture in Italy for the collection. There’s a passion of making a jacket there. The pattern-makers and the sewers—how they cut and sew a shoulder—matter a great deal in how the jacket is made. Each factory has a particular way in how they actually assemble the jacket. Even if the designs are different, you can tell where a jacket is made from the expressions of how the seamstresses and tailors construct them. I bring this European touch to my collection clothes in the American menswear market as I am English. All the fabrics for collection are made in Italy and 80 percent of them are specially developed for me.”
It’s a lot of work for a jacket. It begs the question: Are men paying attention to these things? Has the direction of menswear changed to the point where men care about construction and fabrics?
“Without any doubt, men are more discernible and knowledgeable about fashion than ever before,” Spurr asserts. “There’s so much fashion information out there now. We have more knowledge to make more expert choices about what we buy. I mean all the rock bands are wearing three-piece suits. Even Justin Timberlake. We are no longer in the Nirvana grunge-era.”
Spurr gave new life to the double-breasted jacket in his Spring 2010 presentation. His double-breasted jacket is cut shorter and closer to the body. It has the visual effect of showcasing the male physique, namely a V-shaped gym toned body. The “Kent” cut double-breasted suit, named after Prince George, Duke of Kent, featured lapels that extended to the waistline, allowing for the effect of a shorter jacket. Using thin tropical wool, these Simon Spurr double-breasteds resembled a fitted shirt outlining an hourglass body shape rather than the boxy “DB” designed to hide a plumper figure.
“Psychologically, the customers see DBs as something formal or something that their grandfather would wear,” explains Spurr. “It is very easy to get it wrong. It can be too short, too long, too boxy—all kinds of problems can make the DB look out of date. I personally love double-breasteds. Mine are cut closer to the body to eliminate some of the lumps-and-bumps that can happen when you button the jacket. I always advise people to go for the single-breasted first before trying the double. I prefer a shorter length DB with a wider lapel, but proportioned.”
It’s all to say that Spurr has mastered the casual, yet dressy, menswear arena. Now is the time to strike while the iron is hot. It’s time for him to expand. “We are developing sunglasses and shoes,” says Spurr. “We just started e-commerce as a foundation for a future physical store. We are not yet a destination brand, but I think we are on the way.”
As well, Spurr has taken over design of higher-end products at Tommy Hilfiger, where he was hired in mid-2010 after a recommendation from Vogue Editor in Chief Anna Wintour, who attended Spurr’s first runway show. “I think they selected me because they understood that there would not be any overlap between my label and theirs,” says Spurr. “I can bring a new sensibility to this American brand. I mean, there is a road map laid out by Mr. Hilfiger. I meet with Tommy regularly to plan the collection.”
Tommy Hilfiger says he hired Spurr because of Spurr’s European sensibility that complements the brand’s American sportswear aesthetic. “I approached Simon because I admired his vision,” says Hilfiger. “I was impressed by what he is building in his own labels. Simon incorporates elements of modernity and youthfulness that we felt would be great for the menswear collection. I respect Simon as a person and as a professional; he’s dedicated and great to work with.”
In September of 2010, Hilfiger and Peter Som, a former designer of Bill Blass and his own eponymous line, created the women’s runway show collection, in an effort to modernize the Hilfiger brand as it celebrated its 25th anniversary. Hilfiger banked on Spurr’s vision to rejuvenate his menswear brand and cater to the new crop of consumers in the high-end spectrum of the market where business is still brisk. Hilfiger showed the first collaboration in February 2011 at The Lion, a restaurant in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. The collection retained the Hilfiger sportswear elements—large stripes on duffle coats, for instance—but Mr. Spurr’s handiwork could be seen in the slim suits and black blazers.
In a sense, it’s Hilfiger’s vote of confidence that best demonstrates how far Spurr has come. Spurr has firmly established his five-year-old label as a top American menswear fashion brand, albeit one enmeshed with what the designer insists as his English taste and sensibility and, above all, his fond memory of his father’s habiliments.