As an outsider to Drake's, it’s difficult to describe Michael Hill in a way that does him justice. Many readers will of course be aware that Hill is the Creative Director at Drake's, the individual that with his small team of designers, creates the house's extraordinary range of ties, shirting, apparel and accessories each season. What is generally less well known is how this came to be.
Well, to cut a long story short, Michael's father Mr Charles Hill was one of London's last artisanal tie makers, and when Michael Drake (of Drakes) decided to take his 'shawls, plaids and handkerchiefs' business into neckwear in the late 1980s, there was only one man he thought of approaching. Thus, the Hill & Drake necktie came into being, made in London under the supervision of Michael's father. "Every Saturday and every holiday I'd come up to the factory and get a sense of the place" he explains. "Seeing all the cloth was fascinating, and I used to go to the factory and to our outworkers with my father. We'd fill up the car together with bales of silk and I just loved being in that world." It was this passion that set Michael on the path to where he is now, as the creative force behind one of the world's last true artisanal haberdashers.
""Michael Drake always used to say to me 'it’s not just about the tie, it’s about the look'."
Why am I telling you this? Quite apart from the fact that it’s utterly charming, it also sheds a lot of light on the design process at Drake's today. Michael moved into the business and spent years working with Mr Drake himself before the company was passed to him, and before that grew up alongside him as his father's business partner. So, when it comes creating Drakes' signature handmade, quirky, cosmopolitan collections today, the starting point is always the same, as Hill explains; "Michael Drake always used to say to me 'it’s not just about the tie, it’s about the look'. Here was a man that travelled the world, who always looked great, and who was totally passionate about what he was doing. So when all those years ago I came to start to put together the look that we're known for today, it was really just a question of manifesting Michael Drake. I'm not claiming to have done that justice, but his style was my interpretation of what makes Drake's special."
There's a sense of honesty and of genuine respect that underpins this thought process, it’s an incredibly refreshing thing to hear. Not that this is all that Hill tries to achieve in his designs; "of course its about creating a beautifully made product and our people have been making it for years, and its made in England and we are totally connected to our factories - all of which is important, but it is not enough. I knew when we started that these things were all pre-requisites, but that that we had to create clothes which at the end of the day just had something that was a bit special about them." Achieving this imperceptible sense of something special is Hill's main priority today, and it’s a philosophy that transfers to everything that Drake's does. As he puts it, "When we do something new, we have to do it properly."