You’d be forgiven for disbelieving that a tiemaker could find itself at the center of the menswear zeitgeist in 2022. Of course, it’s no longer accurate to describe Drake’s—which was founded in 1977 by the titular Michael Drake and made its reputation on printed scarves, pocket squares and ties— as being chiefly a purveyor of neckwear.
Since creative director Michael Hill took the reins from Drake in 2010, the UK brand has become a head-toe-toe outfitter with its own retail spaces on Savile Row, in Seoul and a recently inaugurated shop on Canal Street in New York City. Along the way, there’s been a noticeable tilt to the label’s assortment. What began with Harris tweed jackets and cable-knit jumpers has grown to incorporate boucle fleece vests, denim chore jackets, dad caps and multiple collaborations with buzzy streetwear-ish designer Aimé Leon Dore.
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It’s a change seemingly reflected by the design of its latest store: Whereas previous spaces employed the dark wood and Persian rugs of traditional menswear emporiums, Canal Street features a checkered rubber floor and a charming work-in-progress aesthetic typified by the use of plywood storage units and industrial trolleys for shelving. There’s a self-contained “made-to-order pavilion” that replicates the look of the Savile Row store and, in keeping with the studio theme, it will host rotating exhibitions from contemporary artists (the first is a series of whimsical sketches on hotel stationery by Michael McGregor) and live events.
“I suppose you’d have to say it has,” Hill responds, when asked if the audience for Drake’s has changed over his tenure. “In a sense, it has to.”
And though Drake’s has changed significantly from a neckwear wholesaler to a whole-wardrobe retailer, Hill doesn’t believe the label has broken with its raison d’être for the past 45 years. “You want to retain your customers, no question about it, and the first priority for me was always continuity from what came before, from my time with Michael Drake,” he says.
For Hill, Drake’s is a family affair. His father Charles joined Drake as a business partner in 1982, and the younger Hill came on board in 2003 at 26. Under Drake, Hill learned what he considers the “foundation of the business”: A commitment to sourcing quality textiles, whether for use in foulard scarves or hooded sweatshirts, from suppliers that in some cases have a decades-long relationship with the brand, spanning generations of ownership on both ends.
“We’re very passionate about ensuring that we’re working with the right mills, the right knitters and the right weavers, no matter what category it is,” Hill says, pointing to the brand’s recent expansion into jersey loungewear. “That’s another example of doing things the right way, with the right people. Mills and suppliers who’ve stood the test of time and who we know can create something that is very much in line with the values we’ve put into our product historically.”
While the tie stands on shaky ground globally, Hill is adamant that neckwear will remain a vital part of the label’s assortment. “The neckwear industry has been quite hollowed over the last couple of years and we’re determined to support that fundamental part of our business,” he says. “To lose that, I think, would be us turning our back on the things that made us what we are today.”
But beyond supporting the tie as a heritage product, Hill is convinced that it—and other neckwear alternatives—are still relevant to our post-pandemic moment. “Guys are still going to want to dress and enjoy dressing. So maybe there’s less ties, but there’s other elements—we’re making a lot more scarves,” he says.
Despite its expansion into casualwear, Drake’s has continued to champion suiting, just cutting it for a dressed-down world. “We’re selling a lot of tailoring, especially our ‘Games’ tailoring, which is casual and relaxed, and I think it looks great with a soft, unlined tie,” he says.
And though Hill admits that the brand has accelerated its evolution over the last two years, the launch of a new Perennials collection may help to reestablish a sense of permanence. Constituted of everything from UK-made oxford shirts to Japanese denim to brushed Shetland sweaters, the products are a snapshot of where Drake’s stands in 2022—and where it reliably will stand in the future, too.
“We’ve approached this with the mindset of putting together something that feels right for us now, but is not necessarily the finished article,” says Hill, reflecting on the new Canal Street shop’s design. Change will come—but as ever, Hill isn’t in a rush to effect it. “Slow, quiet evolution has been the plan,” he says. “Whether we’ve always succeeded in that, you will be in the judge.”
Asked to make that call, we might say that the more Drake’s changes, the more it stays the same.
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