Results of the Readers Awards 2023:
- Best customer service: Anglo-Italian. Runners-up: Anderson & Sheppard, The Armoury
- Best product: Private White VC. Runner-up: Anglo-Italian
- Best styling: Drake’s. Runner-up: Rubato
- Best artisan: Corcos. Runner-up: Ciardi
Whenever Jake (Grantham, Anglo-Italian founder) and I talk, we seem to return to themes around British retail, and running small businesses.
Last time we went for a pint the topic was retail in the sixties: the burst of new stores like Granny Takes a Trip and others around the King’s Road. I believe he was reading a book on it at the time.
I have to say I don’t find it as interesting as he does. Although we both agree that people in menswear should have more awareness of what came before them – a realisation that Dougie Hayward was doing no-padding shoulders before any of us were born – the things that interest us from these periods in the past are different.
I’m mostly taken with aesthetics, with style. The things I’ll find interesting from that era will be something like the use of suede, or mixed-gender clothing. I’m the same whether it’s 50s sportswear, 80s Armani, or 90s J Crew.
Not that Jake doesn’t love that stuff too. The stack of reading material in Anglo-Italian might be the most visually stimulating in any store.
But the thing we always come back to when we talk – and argue about, usually – is the business side of retail, the entrepreneurship.
Why were people like the British chef Marco Pierre White so successful? Or another hero of his, Terence Conran (below)? What drove them and how did they achieve what they did?
This might seem like a random inspiration for a menswear brand, but if you’re looking for it, there are a few parallels.
The extent to which menswear brands simply copy things from the past, for example. Not just blatant things like ripping off Loro Piana Open Walks, but more nuanced questions like the use of Native American patterns, or mimicking another tailor’s lapel shape.
Marco Pierre White (below) talked consistently through his career about his relationship to French cuisine and this tension – how he saw himself as channelling the tradition but also guarding it, in service to it. Few brands today are as honest or modest. (Japanese craftsmen being the obvious exception.)
However, from our conversations I’d say that the most direct link between chefs like White and fashion is how they ran their restaurants.
A restaurant run by a well-known chef is seen as an extension of their personality. Not just the recipes, but the direct management of the cooking, the service and everything around it.
Many chefs these days have multiple restaurants, even franchises, and White himself became an owner/operator after his retirement. But if a chef has one restaurant, we have an expectation that everything is part of their persona – and that was certainly true of White.
The same should be true of clothing shops. We expect a particular vision from the founders or designers as to what clothes should be like, how they think people can look good.
Yet with the majority of brands, there is very little of that. Certainly with the staff, and how things are sold, but even with the products themselves – with most mainstream fashion, you’d struggle to see an identity running through it all.
Jake thinks more shops should be run like this, and I tend to agree. I also think it’s a reason so many Permanent Style readers voted for Anglo-Italian as the best customer service brand this year.
The team of people that now work in the Anglo store (above) don’t all have the same background – not the standard couple of years of retail experience, or the fanboy type that just wants to be close to the brand, but doesn’t perhaps understand the gruelling side of retail.
Yet the customer service is always consistent, always good. The atmosphere in the shop is always a friendly one, professional but relaxed. In the words of one reader: “You get the impression that absolutely nothing is too much trouble, even with a relative novice, like myself, asking what I’m sure are some pretty dumb questions!”
Another said in the poll: “I find them relaxed and friendly (shout out to Martin and Jeremy in particular). Happy to chat, give advice…talk with your significant other while you try things on. The vibe in the store perfectly matches the vibe they are trying to create with their clothes.”
Note that the staff are always named individually: Andrew also gets a mention in another vote. There are few stores today where customers would do that, but it used to be much more common.
Jake just takes retail very seriously. I’ve heard him (I promise he didn’t know I was listening) describe what he did as “running a shop in Marylebone”. You could certainly see some false modesty in there, but I find it significant that it’s the shop he focuses on – not which industry, or owning a business.
I know that’s one reason he finds inspiration in chefs like Marco Pierre White. Although, actually, in another way I think this underplays things.
Because much as chefs can be great at getting everyone to do things how they want, they can struggle to delegate responsibility – for exactly the same reason. This is often the struggle menswear brands have when they grow too: founders struggle to duplicate themselves, to train people to be just as good as they are at communicating the product, and trusting them to do so.
The most impressive thing about Anglo-Italian might be how much people like Martin and Andrew make the experience feel the same even when Jake isn’t there.
Not that Jake’s any good at giving up control. He even worked his wedding day – something he’d definitely say today was a failing. But the size of the business today means that he can’t always be there, and in the view of PS readers he’s clearly done a good job at training people to take his place.
Well done to everyone at Anglo, and to every other shop (Anderson & Sheppard, The Armoury) that drew similar praise for its quality of retail experience. There should be more shops with that kind of personality.
This year when it came to covering the PS Reader awards I decided to only write about one category in depth – this one.
That made sense to me because the people that did well in other categories (quality, style, bespoke) were familiar names where I couldn’t see something we hadn’t covered. I completely agree on Rubato styling, or Private White quality, but I think I’ve written about them enough.
I love the awards and enjoy reading all the nominations (all 20,000 words!) but wasn’t sure they needed another three in-depth articles. If you think that’s wrong, or there’s an angle you would have liked to have seen covered, please let me know.
Reposted from www.permanentstyle.com