If there is a street more exclusively dedicated to men's sartorial style in London than Jermyn Street, then I haven't found it yet. Ever since Jermyn Street was created in 1664 by Henry Jermyn, 1st Earl of St Albans, it has been synonymous with gentleman clothiers, fabric merchants and tailors. It has largely been a street populated by men producing clothing for men, something of a well-dressed old boys' club, reinforced by the statue of dandy Beau Brummell that still stands there. One of the oldest of the current residents is of course bespoke shirtmaker Turnbull & Asser, which moved to the street in 1903 and has remained in the same building ever since. Time moves at a different clip with heritage brands, I suppose because they always have one eye trained over their collective shoulders, not peering at their competitors but rather at their own heritage, ensuring they never deviate too far from a formula that has perpetuated their longevity through the refinement of a unique expertise. In Turnbull & Asser's case, fine shirt-making. But as Bob Dylan once sang, "Times, they are a changin'". Recently, Turnbull & Asser installed Becky French as the brand's creative director, becoming one of only a few British heritage brands to have ever had a female head of design. French has an excellent history of working in both menswear and womenswear and for some of the sartorial world's finest brands, so it was not only a coup for Turnbull & Asser, but also a statement of intent. Wholly cognisant of the brand's storied history, French has nevertheless brought a fresh new eye to the 135-year-old shirt maker with big plans on the horizon.
With tied back blonde hair and a freckle-flecked face, French speaks effusively but softly, hands neatly folded in her lap. Her eyes disappear when she smiles, which is to say often, and she has a calm and elegant poise. I spoke to her recently at the Turnbull & Asser store on Jermyn Street. It was a quiet Tuesday morning, with the occasional customer coming in to pick up their orders. We discussed her past but also her vision for the brand and how she sees it evolving in the coming years.