Simon Carter founded his eponymous brand in 1985. We chat with him about today’s fashion climate and what luxury means to him.
How would you describe the Simon Carter man?
He is somebody with his own sense of style who is not that swayed by big brands. He is somebody who seeks out individuality.
Why do you think that English heritage has been a recurrent reference point for your designs?
I think the English have always been very innovative, sometimes in a subversive way. If you go back to the 1790s, Beau Brummel [the original dandy] completely transformed the way that the people dressed across Europe. I think we are still affecting and influencing the way people dress.
How has the expansion of your jewellery ranges developed over the last few years?
I’ve always done ladies watches and with the launch of our men’s jewellery, there’s a real crossover [between men’s and women’s jewellery]. People love to use the phrase gender fluid, and I think that’s true now of a lot of jewellery. For instance, my best-selling designs on ASOS are men’s earrings, so the distinction really in the accessories world now between men’s and women’s jewellery and accessories is pretty blurred.
When you were first getting started, you would visit shops and markets around London – do you still get a chance to do this today?
I still do that but perhaps not necessarily around the process of design, more perhaps if I’m looking for fixtures for my own shops, then I’ll spend a lot of time at auctions, antique fairs, charity shops, car boot sales and things.
Was there was a moment when you felt like you’d ‘made it’?
I can remember the shop opening for my Covent Garden flagship store which we opened the day before Lehmans crashed, which was not a great time to open a flagship store but I can remember we had this big opening party. It was a big store, about 1,000 sq ft and it was beyond filled; it was spilling out onto the pavement, and my PR and I were having to rush round to Tesco every twenty minutes and buy more drink. And I’m standing on the other side of the pavement looking at this shop full of people having a good time with my name above the door and I thought, ‘yeah – I’ve made it now’.
You’ve created lines specifically for ASOS and Harvey Nichols – what is it about a brand that makes you want to work with them?
I get approached quite a lot to do collaborations, but ASOS really intrigues me because it’s a customer who, generally speaking, is younger than my typical customer. I like the challenge of producing a range that would appeal to a man in his teens or early twenties, and then, with Harvey Nichols, I like the challenge of working with very fine materials that have almost no limit on price.
Today, the meaning of the word luxury has become muddied – what does it mean to you?
Time. Luxury means having more time. Sophisticated people are always reinventing the word luxury and I don’t think it’s a word that anyone should really use. Its currency has become devalued. If you can buy luxury toilet paper, where is the luxury in that? Brands that position themselves as luxury aren’t because there’s nothing luxurious that you can buy in every airport in the world, surely? And increasingly the customers want very versatile garments, so they want, say, a jacket that could team up with their best pair of jeans and go to a wedding with a smart shirt, or they could wear with shorts and go to a beach party. I think today the idea of luxury is having the luxury of wearing a garment for many different occasions – that would be the definition of luxury, wouldn’t it?
“I think sometimes you need a shake-up to generate a creative boost actually…Some of the most interesting designs historically have come out of periods of chaos.”
Which designers are you a fan of?
I’m always cautious about using the word designer because I think a true designer invents – there are very few of them. I’ve always admired Paul Smith. For designers, you’d probably have to look to somebody like John Galliano, Issey Miyake, Alexander McQueen. They are designers in so far as they could design something that you’d never seen before, that was fresh, that was genuinely different and genuinely pushed the fashion business further down the road.
How do you begin your creative process?
With a large gin and tonic.
In today’s turbulent political climate, what’s the significance of creativity?
I think sometimes you need a shake-up to generate a creative boost actually. I think that when times are easy you can get a bit self-satisfied and a bit lazy in terms of design. Some of the most interesting designs historically have come out of periods of chaos actually, so I will be quite interested to see particularly what the young generation of designers coming through are going to do, perhaps in terms of protest fashion or fashion that reflects the times that we’re in. So actually, I think that it could be quite an exciting period of creativity.
When you aren’t designing, what do you enjoy doing?
I do play croquet competitively at a pretty high-level. I have, at my peak, played for England. I’m not sure whether I’d get back to that stage. I’d have to retire and spend a lot more time practising.
What are your future plans for Simon Carter?
The plan is to eventually open eighty shops including really important emerging markets like Latin and South America.
Find out more at simoncarter.com.