Kilgour: From Savile Row to the Runway

Carlo Brandelli plans to open a second Kilgour boutique and debut a new more-fashionable line the designer hopes will garner wider recognition.

LONDON — Since he took the helm eight years ago at Kilgour, the venerable Savile Row tailor to icons from Cary Grant to Fred Astaire, Carlo Brandelli has earned his fair share of accolades for his radical modernist interpretation of the British sartorial tradition.

Influentials like Jude Law, Daniel Craig and Nick Knight (who also shoots the company advertising) have become clients, the British Fashion Council has awarded Brandelli the men’s designer of the year prize, and Brandelli has emerged as one of the most identifiable symbols of new cool on the Row.

But despite his achievements, Kilgour—at least in the world of gargantuan fashion conglomerates—has remained largely a succès d’estime, a relatively intimate affair with one store on the Row and 12 wholesale accounts around the world, including Lane Crawford, Harvey Nichols and Barneys New York. (Sources estimate Kilgour sales around $10 million.)

Now, however, Brandelli is ready to step on the accelerator. On Sept. 10, he plans to christen a second Kilgour boutique, contiguous to the existing one, which will be stocked with a new more-fashionable line that the designer hopes will garner wider recognition. To wit: He plans to show it on the runway (probably in Paris) next June, which would be a first for the brand.

Also under consideration is the opening of freestanding Kilgour boutiques in key European cities, according to Brandelli, who suggested that either Milan or Paris would be a likely first choice.

Meanwhile, rumors continue to percolate that Kilgour, which is privately owned by a group of investors that includes Brandelli, may be in play—or at least looking to finance growth with an additional capital infusion.

“We need to grow it,” conceded Brandelli, 37, without ruling out the eventuality of a financial partner—if it’s the right fit. “I want to grow Kilgour into a major brand.”

But, as is typical of Brandelli, who founded the influential Squire label in the 1990s before joining Kilgour in 2003, he hopes to achieve this ambition with idiosyncratic verve. For instance, his new line—which he bills “fashion unstructured”—is anything but a diffusion line, the path most brands adopt when in search of a wider audience.

“I’m too stubborn for that,” quipped Brandelli, who added that he wanted to consolidate the luxury appeal of the brand rather than water it down. Prices of the new line (a jacket is around 795 pounds, or $1,590) are equivalent to Kilgour’s existing, more classic ready-to-wear.

“Fashion unstructured,” as its name suggests, is about taking the stuffing out of the suit, with jackets, depending on fabrics, coming entirely unlined.

That concept may not sound revolutionary. Sack jackets have existed forever. But Brandelli’s achievement is that he has managed to keep the structure of the Kilgour silhouette in a jacket with no visible architecture. In other words, it’s no sack.

“I wanted to get the lightest, most comfortable jacket,” he explained. “There’s nothing but fabric. You can sit and work in a jacket like this all day. But it had to have the correct Kilgour line.”

Brandelli explained that he used the house’s so-called No. 5 silhouette, slimmer and slightly shorter than the No. 8 silhouette already deployed in the classic ready-to-wear, as the blueprint for the line because it was in keeping with the trend for sleeker suits.

“I think this is the future of Kilgour,” said Brandelli, explaining that the concept took three years to perfect in work with tailors.

Brandelli, known for exploring men’s style with the precision of a pointillist painter (his choices of patterns are dots and stripes—period), has always been obsessive about details and quality.

Fashion unstructured is equally fastidious in construction. But it opens Brandelli’s design vocabulary. And with jeans, T-shirts, knits and even luggage, it is by far his fullest exploration of the modern man’s wardrobe to date.

Jeans come in darkest navy with a subtly contrasting stitching. Cardigans come with one button, as do waistcoats, giving them an alluring, modern feel. Voile shirts are lined with contrasting fabric to create an almost imperceptible sheen.

“Our first store catered to our bespoke heritage,” he said. “Now people know what that is, which allows us to do a bigger collection.”

The store in which “fashion unstructured” will be showcased promises to be striking. Designed by Brandelli, the 2,000-square-foot boutique’s central flourish will be a huge tank with three rare black-and-white polka-dot stingrays.

“I thought it was fantastic that in nature we found a mirror of our designs,” Brandelli said in reference to the signature dot pattern he brought to Kilgour.

With limestone floors and dark wood fixtures inlaid with white pearl (another nod to the dot), the store will be equally unusual in that it will have no visible mirrors.

“I don’t want to hijack customers with a sales environment,” explained Brandelli. “I want them to be more intrigued, like it was a gallery space.”

Mirrors will exist, however, and will pull out from walls near the changing rooms. “It’s about making the experience special, like a salon experience,” he said. “When the mirrors pull out, the customer will feel like something has been revealed.”

He continued, “I wanted this to be a chic, minimal store, but as experimental as it could be. Twenty years ago this wouldn’t have happened on the Row. I think we are progressing in a real sort of way. We’re conscious to be individual, but we want to be experimental. What we want to do is push the boundaries.”