LONDON — London-based architect Simon Mitchell was exposed to design at an early age, having grown up with a mother who was a seamstress and a father who worked in the printing trade. After winning a design competition in his hometown of Exeter, England, which singled him out as “Architect of the Future” at age eight, Mitchell went on to specialize in retail architecture and to cofound the architectural firm Sybarite — whose name alludes to his and his partner Torquil McIntosh’s love of good food and good wine.
“We have worked on more than 2,000 retail locations in the last 15 years; that could be from a shop-in-shop to a flagship boutique to a department store. So I’ve been exposed to hundreds and hundreds of brands and cultures,” said Mitchell, highlighting his firm’s approach of customizing each store design to represent the ethos of the brand rather than developing his own signature style. “What we want to do is reflect the brand and its consumer in a new way and create innovative concepts, so that the consumer understands the brand DNA and experience.”
Coming up in the future is a second department store for SKP, located in the town of Xi’an and spanning 19 floors and more than two million square feet, as well as a new Joseph store in Miami, which will channel the city’s architecture from the Fifties alongside Joseph’s signature monochromatic palette.
“We’ve re-created the black and white, masculine and feminine signature look for Joseph, in this industrial gallerylike space. We’ve got this huge black spiral staircase in the center, which acts like a giant sculpture,” added Mitchell, who says he is a longtime fan of the label’s minimalist aesthetic.
Here he talks to WWD about how he mixes classic pieces from Joseph with edgier ones from Rick Owens to develop his everyday uniform and how his design work inspires his style.
WWD: How do the brands you work with inspire the way you dress?
Simon Mitchell: I think my design work and my style are intrinsically linked because of my exposure to so many brands. SKP in China, for example, has more than 500 brands inside. So I’m absolutely spoiled [in terms of] my exposure. Joseph is another one of my big influences because of their monochromatic palette and also the asymmetric cuts — plus, I have a really great respect for the creative director Louise Trotter, who I have great design debates with constantly. We are always talking about politics, we talk about our children, about art.
WWD: Do you have a work uniform?
S.M.: I’m 6 feet, 6 inches tall so it’s very difficult for me to find clothes. Also [my height] gives me a presence when I walk in the room, so I can’t be too colorful. I have a “tailored ath-leisure” uniform. I’ve been wearing Rick Owens for a long time now, even before he became popular. So I wear his high-tops and some of his sweaters, which I mix with suits and jackets by Tom Baker, a tailor who has a boutique in Soho. I always wear a fedora hat from Bates on Jermyn Street. But also, I like comfort. If I’m going to a site meeting in the morning I’ll wear Lululemon slacks and maybe a Zara T-shirt.
WWD: Are there any dress codes in your profession?
S.M.: There is a quintessential preconceived idea of how an architect should look. In the Eighties it was a roll neck sweater, black slacks and black glasses. For me, I like wearing a suit, but I dress it down with high-tops and T-shirts. I’m not traditional. You’ll rarely see me in a shirt and tie. I’m also very hands-on and practical, so I need the comfort element. The culture here at Sybarite is that everybody should express himself or herself individually. I’m not dictating a certain style on anyone, and it’s the same with the way we work with our clients. We want to reflect our clients rather than dictating a style.
WWD: Do you have any style icons that inspire the way you dress?
S.M.: I had a lot of rock and Mod influences growing up in the Eighties, so Blondie, Sting from The Police, Paul Weller from The Jam are style icons of mine. Weller, even now in his Sixties, is still a quintessential, timeless mod; he is so elegant and looks just as good now as he did when he was 18 years old. If I was a woman I’d definitely dress like Blondie.
WWD: What’s your favorite purchase of the last few months and why?
S.M.: I bought a Tom Baker long winter cashmere and wool coat that has a signature leather panel. I’m a big fan of British tailoring. Something that I want to do more in the future is to work with men’s brands. I think tailoring is evolving and I’d love to do a mix on contemporary, traditional men’s store experience.
WWD: How do you dress now versus five years ago?
S.M.: I’m lucky enough that my size and shape hasn’t really changed much since I was 18. I actually still own a pair of Levi’s 501 that I had when I was 18. I’m not still wearing those jeans, but I still keep them in my wardrobe as a reminder that I can still fit into them. I do like investing in timeless designs, which rings true in the way I work as well. I worked on the design of the Comme des Garçons store in New York back in 1995-96 and when I went back to visit it two months ago, people were thinking that it was brand new. I love the fact that something can look new despite its years, or if it’s brand new, it can look 20 years old. Timeless is something that rings through the way I dress and the way our culture of work is here.