Interview: Kent & Curwen Creative Director Daniel Kearns
Using cross-cultural references to embolden a British menswear heritage brand, with David Beckham's help
For every captivating new debut to the world of apparel, there's a heritage brand out there fighting to demonstrate relevance and resonance. One year after Britain's Kent & Curwen relaunched under the watch of part owner David Beckham and creative director Daniel Kearns, there's no denying its success, from both a business standpoint and style one. For those still unfamiliar with the brand, Kent & Curwen pioneered traditional, luxe men's sportswear, going so far as to make the cricket sweater famous. It stakes claim to an archive of delightfully British items, including topcoats, caps and V-necks. Kearns—whose resume includes an artistic director position at Façonnable and time with powerhouse fashion names like Louis Vuitton, Alexander McQueen, and John Galliano—set off to bring the value imbued in that heritage to a younger generation. With a new autumn/winter collection rolling out today, Kearns has much to say about casual charm and contemporary relevance and how it's applied to Kent & Curwen.
"One of the reasons why this project intrigued David Beckham and me, so much, is that it's a heritage brand with real traditions," Kearns explains to us. "It can say it invented a lot of iconic British sportswear—from the striped tie to the cricket sweater. It really can make claim to so many associations with those key, iconic items." Because of this, in many ways Kearns feels like a gatekeeper, protecting the past identity of the brand as it moves forward. He spends time sorting through extensive archives, not only looking at pieces but imagining the ethics and ethos of people wearing them. "It’s about finding these fantastic things and reinventing them with a new soul—giving an aging look to them, washed or created in such a way where they already have a life of their own."
It doesn't end there, nor should it, as culture has ways of growing in unexpected directions. "For me, when we talk about British heritage," he continues, "our references are now different than previous generations. When we think of the striped blazer we think of Mick Jagger or Paul Weller. When we think of subculture or counter-culture, it's just as important as sporting heritage. Re-appropriating these items has become part of their identity and lends them continued relevance."
Kearns notes that there's a strong masculine identity to the new collection, as an extension of the masculine DNA of the brand since its inception. "We strove for authenticity and functionality in the product. In terms of the future, we want to create a new generation for this heritage brand, drawn from the e-commerce and social media generation." They plan to do this by conveying an attitude to the brand rather than target an age demographic. Clothes can cross generations by appealing to a lifestyle.
As for this multigenerational consumer, Kearns says they're "a garment-lover true to their own person style, who is not scared of new shapes and colors but still wants to keep a masculine look." He cites Beckham and son Brooklyn as ideal examples of people who mix and match styles. And with that, Kent & Curwen further appeals with their authentic use of materials. In some ways, Kearns has been looking to recreate the essence of originals through archival materials and in other ways—with fabrics like traditional Japanese cotton—he's appealing to the interests of today's educated shoppers.
From simple, quality logo T-shirts (featuring an embroidered English rose, and the founding year, 1926) to various rugby and henley shirts, the impact of heritage on the brand is evident. The sweaters—crewneck, cable-knit, cardigans and more—further this amalgamation of past and present. It's with the jackets and trousers, however, that the brand's luxe detailing and commitment to pushing style forward becomes most evident. "It’s a British heritage brand. It’s about British heritage," Kearns adds. But he concludes with the notion that this heritage encompasses so much and "It’s really all so rich and diverse."
Kent & Curwen's A/W 2017 collection is now available online. In New York City, Saks Fifth Avenue has dedicated seven of its 50th Street windows to the collection. It's also hosting a Kent & Curwen pop-up shop, featuring select items, from 12-27 September on the seventh floor of the store.
Images courtesy of Kent & Curwen