New British design, Part I: Kit Blake founder Chris Modoo
What there is to know about design in the world of luxury – and where it’s heading.
It has existed, conceptually, ever since prehistoric nomads first fashioned crude drinking vessels from clods of clay. The Latin ‘designare’ meant to devise or mark out, while the Italian verb ‘disegnare’ added more senses to the word: to contrive, to intend, to draw and to paint. Since the Industrial Revolution it has referred to a formal process executed by trained professionals: a noble creative endeavour, indeed, that shapes every minutiae of our lives.
So what does a word long since sucked into the marketer’s lexical arsenal (see ‘design hotel’) actually mean today? And how is design changing, as a concept, within the luxury realm? To find out, we profile eight hand-picked, of-the-moment designers from various fields, and glean their insight into what the design zeitgeist is right now in their own professional milieus – and, crucially, where it’s heading.
What does it take to launch a new menswear brand today? Particularly a brand in the ‘classic style’ space, where upstarts – in London at least – have to contend with dozens of tailors, shirt-makers and outfitters with centuries’ worth of heritage behind them?
The answer, in short, is to change the game. Hence, Kit Blake’s creative director and co-founder, Christopher Modoo, has launched a British tailoring brand for men who don’t wear suits. And if that sounds like a contradiction in terms, bear with me. “Most tailoring brands are shackled to their history, constantly trying to re-invent their story to make it relevant,” explains Modoo. “When we started work on Kit Blake we didn’t have any baggage.”
Perhaps that’s why Modoo, who has designed ready-to-wear collections for five Jermyn Street and Savile Row brands in a career spanning 20 years, realised that trying to sell suits under his own name was a doomed enterprise (‘Kit Blake’ is an amalgam of his shortened first name and the street on which he grew up).
“It sounds dramatic, but the suit is dead,” he explains. “Dress codes are less relevant than they were; men mix tailoring with casualwear nowadays and the suit’s been relegated to a corporate uniform. Plus, the younger generation don’t differentiate between separates and suits. Today, if you want to create an impression, a dark jacket and flannels is sharper than a two-piece suit. It’s more considered and practical, too.”
This menswear culture change informs one half of Kit Blake’s manifesto – “To make tailoring that can be worn fluidly, all day every day” – while the other half is more of a personal crusade for Modoo. “Dressing better requires no more effort than dressing badly,” he says. “Like any new brand, Kit Blake has a job to do – to educate men in how to dress. Swapping your skinny chinos for a pair of tailored trousers is an easy upgrade and they’re more comfortable. You don’t need a lot of clothes to dress well, either. A good blazer, a smart coat and some well-fitting wool trousers transform a wardrobe – and each piece can work with the others.”
While Modoo’s first collection, which launched in November, includes a crisp navy blazer, brown checked sports coat and a handsome navy overcoat – no suits, of course – the main focus is what he calls “proper” tailored trousers: cut to sit on the top of the hips, with deep double pleats and generous but tapered legs. Why pleats? Again, Modoo’s determined to change the way men think about their dress sense.
“I love old cinema – it’s always influenced my personal taste. The classic pleated trouser was a go-to for Cary Grant, Sean Connery in the early Bond films and Michael Douglas in Wall Street. Pleated trousers represent the best of Savile Row style, but don’t have to be old fashioned – they’re both elegant and versatile. Kit Blake’s can be worn with morning dress or a sweatshirt. Good flannel trousers are also exceptionally comfortable. I find jeans uncomfortable now I’m used to wearing flannels.”
Kit Blake’s only been active for three months, and it’s already got quite the following among London’s style cognoscenti. The launch collection has almost entirely sold out. Modoo would seem to be onto something.
Kit Blake founder Chris Modoo