Ten Questions For Michael Hill
We talked to Michael Hill, Drake's Creative Director, and asked him ten questions.
1) Tell us about your time in the clothing industry. What led you to Drake’s?
Well, before university, I went to work in Italy – doing work for Drumohr, and then some weavers and printers in Como. After about a year, I went to study textile development at the London College of Fashion. During my college years, I’d work Saturdays for Richard James on Savile Row.
I suppose I got into the clothing business because I grew up with it. My father, Charles Hill, had a tie company with Michael Drake. And every Saturday as a teen, I went up to their factory, which was making private label ties for other brands. We’d see the people at the factory, as well as the outworkers. It’s funny because, during those weekend trips, there was always music and bales of silk in the car. My brother went into the music business, and I went into the textile side of things. So maybe it started with those car rides.
2) Can you tell me about the history of Drake’s?
Well, in the beginning, there were two strands – my father, Charles Hill, and Michael Drake. As I mentioned, they had a tie manufacturing business. When my father decided to leave the company, however, Michael had to figure out what he wanted to do. He decided to keep the manufacturing side of Hill & Drake, which is how Drake’s was founded.
Interestingly, at the time, Michael was also going around the world representing Belvest. They’re a suit and sport coat manufacturer, with a beautiful factory located just outside of Venice. Michael found great success doing that, but as Drake’s picked up, it made sense for him to focus on his own company. In some ways, it feels like its come full circle, as Belvest now makes our sport coats.
3) How did you come about also taking part ownership of the company?
When I originally joined Drake’s, I wanted to get into the cloth side of the business. It probably sounds a bit ambitious, but at some point, I started to wonder where this work would take me. Michael and his partners were in their 50s. Michael had such great taste and incredible integrity, especially when it came to manufacturing, but it was clear he wouldn’t be doing this forever. So, after some time at the company, I wondered if I could help bring it into the future.
I spent about four or five years trying to take on the business, but it never worked out. It wasn’t until I met Mark Cho that things came together. He and Alan were still working on setting up The Armoury back then, so they came to Drake’s for ties. When I told Alan about my problems, he perked up and said he’d talk to Mark. Mark turned out to be interested, so we all got together for a drink. I told them: “Look, if you guys are serious, I’m in.” Mark is as good as his word, so everything came together pretty quickly after that.
Our stuff is a little classic, and at times a bit formal, but we’re trying to do them in a way that’s a little softer and more comfortable. It’s about a certain sensibility.
4) Drake’s has remained steady and true to its roots over the years. Given how quickly fashion changes, how have you guys been able to do that?
I think it helps to remember where we came from. My father and Michael used to work very closely with their suppliers. I was fortunate enough to witness a lot of that growing up, which I think gave me a deeper insight into the business. And today, we still work with those same mills, which have been our partners for decades now.
I also think we have to stay true. If we didn’t, our customers would notice. As the Japanese would say, they look for “authentic brands.” It’s an overused term, but you have to stay authentic. These days, we’re making more than just ties, but we feel like we’re taking that Drake’s philosophy and applying it to other things. It’s about doing things our way and, hopefully, bringing our point-of-view to the market.
5) What do you think makes Drake’s special?
I remember when I first met Michael Drake, he was wearing a button down shirt, 50oz English foulard tie, and Solito sport coat. At first, I thought it was a bit strange, since he sold to half of Savile Row. But no, looking back, it made sense. Michael built this incredible business in Italy and was there often. He also loved that softer approach to tailoring – he’d wander around in his Solito jacket with his shirt collar flying out. Those were just things he took on and made into his own style.
I’d like to think that’s what we’re doing. Our stuff is a little classic, and at times a bit formal, but we’re trying to do them in a way that’s a little softer and more comfortable. It’s about a certain sensibility.
6) Why is it important for Drake’s to manufacture in the UK?
We don’t make in the UK for the sake of making in the UK; we go where we can find the best producers. One of the reasons why we make our own shirts and ties in the UK is because we’re based in the UK. And since we’re located here, making things locally allows us to have more control over the process. We can study things and improve the work, which allows us to produce the best goods possible. On some level, making in the UK won’t mean anything if it’s just about a label. If people love our things, it’s because we’ve made them well. In that sense, we’re very product focused.
7) You manage the design process for a wide range of products. Where do you start each season and what influences that process?
It sounds cliché, but it’s really the work of many people. Designs come from an accumulation of experiences – going around the world, seeing what people are wearing, and building a color story. This morning, I talked with the women on my design team. I spent about thirty minutes explaining some of my ideas, and they discussed how those might be technically possible. That sort of back and forth is important. Similarly, we work very closely with our mills. They might show us a new technology they’ve developed for printing on grenadine, or suggest something from their archive. It’s never the same thing, it’s about an evolution – how you can make something feel fresh again.
I think sometimes we can get carried away with giving certain people too much credit. We all contribute. I don’t think of myself as a great designer or whatever – my work is just as much about editing colors and patterns. We’re not reinventing the wheel here.
The rules can be guides, but you can also make up your own rules. Yes, you have to fit your environment, but it’s good to have your own sense of personality.
8) What’s your favorite item this season?
I like the series of prints we’ve been doing, particularly the one with slightly random spots this spring/ summer. It’s not for everyone, but I think it’s fun. And it doesn’t have to be worn in a crazy way. It can be worn in a conservative way, with a navy suit and white shirt. At the moment, I like that one a lot, and I think I’ll also like it in twenty years time.
9) Looking forward, what are you most excited about?
We’ve just opened a new store in Tokyo and setting up a permanent location in New York City. This is in addition to our two locations in London. I’m really proud of those, not just because they’re a way for us to properly showcase our work, but also because they’re a way to celebrate our guys back at the factory.
I remember, as a kid, I’d go to Barneys with my old man. I was so proud of seeing his ties there, but they all had labels from other companies. It was normal to do private label work back then, and my father was reluctant to start his own brand. It’s just a different kind of business. But now I feel like we’ve come a long way in presenting the Drake’s vision, with our name, and carrying on the legacy of the people who started this company. Having our stores, in a way, is a way to celebrate those people, as well as the people who manufacture our things.
10) You have a very clear sense of personal style. What inspires it?
Oh God, there’s an old photo of me standing next to my dad. I’ve got shaggy hair and I’m wearing tartan trousers – clearly not a good example of personal style. But I was thirteen at the time and thought I’d like to wear tartan trousers that day. I enjoyed that stuff. It’s good fun, isn’t it?
I think Drake’s has to be careful about that sort of thing as well. We make things carefully, and design them so our customers will still like them in twenty years, but our goods are also for relaxing and enjoyment. Bring your own little quirk to things. The rules can be guides, but you can also make up your own rules. Yes, you have to fit your environment, but it’s good to have your own sense of personality. Hopefully we make great clothes, but they’re also just clothes.
The Drake's NYC location is now open No.39 1/2 Crosby St, NY, 10012. You can shop our collection of Drake's here.