It’s hard to remember meeting two more different people in the same room, let alone the fact that Graham Green and Michael Keech have worked together since 1991, when the former interviewed the latter for a role at Ralph Lauren’s burgeoning interiors department. Every bit the skilled yet softly spoken orator, Green sits opposite me in the stunning Linley store on 60 Pimlico Road in the heart of London’s Chelsea, hands tracing smooth gesticulations in the air in front of him, recounting the pair’s early years with the American designer. Green is a confident, eloquent speaker who is also charmingly prone to chasing tangential narratives down conversational routes that don’t always wend their way back to the original path without a little nudge. Keech, not entirely on the other hand, seems at ease letting his business partner do most of the talking, but when his lips do part, it is either to impart dry, witty interjections or pensive ruminations on the nature of design. Dressed all in black with swept-back hair, Keech strikes me as a sort of turn-of-the century French philosopher, replete with that uniquely Parisian sense of almost-angst, which is really just a form of very English intensity, only without the Gauloises balanced on his lower lip.
Their beginnings were not on the Left Bank however, nor particularly left field. Ralph Lauren is where Keech and Green met, where they were to cement a working relationship that has stood the tests, trials and tribulations of some three decades. Green, who actually dropped out of an architectural degree to study geography in London, was developing Ralph Lauren’s interiors offering: “I placed a tiny advertisement the size of a postage stamp in the Evening Standard for an assistant,” he explains. “I had perhaps 70 applications the next morning. I eventually managed to whittle them down to a few candidates, none of whom were perfect, when an antiques dealer we both knew suggested Michael for the job. And so I called him into my office. Michael was sitting in the window with his back to me, and he had the most immaculate hair in those days. It was quite wavy and thick and dark. And he looked so well-groomed and cropped. And I thought, I think that's the one. I didn't even see his face. He didn't have to open his mouth, he'd already gotten the job. And then we just went for a cup of tea, which is kind of what we've been doing for the last 35 years.”
Despite many obvious differences in their outward personalities, there is one very charming asset that they share: that disarming sense of self-deprecation. From the wrong mouth, it can sometimes sound conceited, but from them it seems to come from a place of almost shy understatement and yet they have, for all the world, every reason to laud themselves without any sense of faux modesty: their architectural design nous and impeccable execution of vision is highly sought-after by some incredibly discerning clients who, once under the Keech and Green spell, keep coming back for more.