It has been a busy 2011 for menswear designer Simon Spurr. Along with his signature line of tailored clothing and his sportswear label, Spurr, Simon is consulting on his second collection for the prep stalwart Tommy Hilfiger. And all that hard work, it seems, is paying off. The English-born designer, who cut his teeth working with Hedi Slimane at Yves Saint Laurent before becoming creative director of Ralph Lauren’s Purple and Black labels, won the CFDA/Vogue fashion fund award in 2008 and was nominated last year for its Swarovski Award. So it should come as little surprise that on March 17th Simon was nominated (alongside Patrik Ervell and Michael Bastian) for the CFDA’s top 2011 prize: Menswear Designer of the Year. We caught up with the very busy man to give him his kudos, and to see how he still finds inspiration within his hectic schedule.
Congratulations on the CFDA nomination. It is very richly deserved.
Thank you, yeah. Another year, another nomination. We get a little bit higher each year, which is nice.
You just got back from Italy. How was it?
We manufacture both of the collections in Italy, so I’m there so much. My frequent flyer miles went from silver straight to platinum. I’m there almost every three weeks, between my lines and the Hilfiger line. It’s a pretty easy trip, actually. I have a routine—I snake my way through from Milan through Parma to Florence and then a couple of factories just outside of Rome. It’s nice. It gives me a chance to clear my head.
When you have boots on the ground in such a different space are you seeing things differently? Do things occur to you when you are immersed in the building of the pieces?
Yeah, of course. I’m a big fan of factories and working with the people there—the pattern makers, the tanners, people like that. I think a successful business or a successful designer is someone who embraces people who have complimentary skill sets. So, if I go to the leather factory and they are showing me different skins, it tweaks an idea that I want to do a version of that thing. So I will develop that thing and it will be the older or younger brother of what we found in the leather factory. It’s pretty inspiring; it’s an opportunity. I go with the collection pre-sketched and the ideas pretty well-formulated, but also I am very flexible when I’m there. There is a lot of modifying on the spot. All of a sudden you have this different yarn that has a particular characteristic. I’ve gotten pretty good at thinking on my feet.
That’s an exciting thing. It is such a three-dimensional medium. The pieces are almost alive.
You have to treat the collection as 3D—it’s not just sketches on a page, it’s also a living, breathing thing. It almost has a heartbeat. It’s like nurturing a newborn child to teenage years. You have to pay attention, take care of it—the more love you give it, the better.
It’s exciting to know that there is improvisation going on. Having so much on your plate, you probably have to have the whole regimen down to a science. Do you ever find something that surprises you?
Well, we definitely work with a calendar and there are check points where we know we need to launch the line on this date to get product on this date, to allow enough time. That’s sort of ingrained after 16 years. But I think I’m definitely aware. I try to train myself to keep my eyes open. I could be walking into a factory and see a backpack and think the buckle on the backpack would look great on a trench coat. It can happen anytime, any place. It’s interesting, because this is what sets designers apart. Even if you give the same five images to two designers, they’ll read those images in a different way. Some of it comes down to experience. Your brain might take you in a certain way but you know that that pattern works, has worked in a certain way at a previous company, and you want to take it forward. That’s where experience comes in.
It gives you permission to trust your instincts.
Yeah, and it could be anything. It could be markings on a road or some crazy old guy who has mismatched colors because he wasn’t paying attention and you realize, oh that works. I mean, it was a mistake for him but…it works. I definitely start with a loose theme but I’m really driven by fabric. That’s one of the successes of the brand. I don’t skimp on fabric. We’re at a point where the company is growing at a rapid rate—which is fantastic—but I’m not as big as some brands that can develop a fabric in five colors, because it costs too much money. In the sportswear there’s a little bit of working with what’s available from the fabric mills—not necessarily letting their fabrics dictate my color palette. When it comes to suiting, which is what everyone knows me for, that’s where creativity really happens. I rarely use something that’s out there in the market or custom made. We do a lot of engineering with stripes and things like that. To have a point of difference in a suit—there are only so many things you can do, the shoulder, the cut, the lapel, then what else? Fabric becomes a more vital component in suiting than in sportswear.
You have a reputation for having the best cuts and the best fits in modern American suiting. How do approach your cuts? Are you your own fit model?
For the first four years it was myself. The company of one. I was going to the factories and the best way to comment on the fit was to put it on myself. Thankfully, I was built in reasonable shape and well-proportioned. A lot of the fitting was done on me but we’re just now transitioning to using a fit model. I can’t be present for everything. Fit’s important. I try everything on. Once you have the blocks set up, it just takes a little modification. But fit is about understanding how to construct a garment. Fortunately I studied pattern making. I’ve gone to school, studied construction, how to cut a pattern, learned why something fits, why it feels good, where it touches you. All of that gives me a leg up. Especially in these modern times when a lot of designers haven’t done that and don’t have a formal education.
Speaking of fit, there was a little bit of kick in your pant legs this Fall. Are you playing more in that direction, or are you coming back to the skinny high-waters? You’re my fit guru so I am trying to figure out where you’re going…
I’m still not into the flood pants to be honest. A lot of what I build the brand on is timeless elegance. But there is a reality that you have to keep it modern, keep it contemporary, so if men out there are wearing it a certain way, I don‘t think it hurts to embrace it a little bit whilst staying true to the brand’s DNA. My jeans are probably a bit shorter than they have been in the past, but it works with the Chelsea boot, which goes back to that ’60s, Beatlemania silhouette. I love the ’60s. I think it’s the last decade where clothes fit and guys took care in their appearance.
I couldn’t agree more. If it looked good in Antonioni’s Blow Up then it works for me. It’s still the same.
Exactly. That’s in my top five. I love that film.
In taking on Tommy, there must be a zillion challenges. What about the process has been inspiring?
It’s all a challenge, of course. Working within a corporate structure you have to realize there’s a little bit of red tape. There are a few processes the collection needs to go through. A few people need to sign off. It’s designing a product that’s right for their brand. I have my freedom on my brand and I work with Hilfiger on a consultancy basis. A good thing is the money that the company has allows me to say, can I do that in another color? And they’re like, do it in three colors. Me, I’m scrimping and saving. I have to be so precise with my collection. What you see, that is 95% of the collection. After the runway is put together for my collection there are ten garments hanging on the rail back at the studio. For Tommy we make multiples. That’s partly because of working with a great stylist like Karl Templer, who has opened my eyes to a lot of things. Like, that each garment has to have a strong point of difference. Because, even though we put it together on a runway, eventually it will be split apart, and when it’s on a page in a magazine it needs to have a certain point of difference so it will remain as strong by itself as it was on the runway. He’s been amazing. The whole team out in Amsterdam is great. It’s a very positive experience working with them and I’m really enjoying it.
Do you ever get time off anymore these days?
No, I don’t. The day after the show, Stephen, my design director, and I were on a plane to Milan to go to look at the fabric fair. We haven’t stopped since. I went to Italy, I put Spurr and Simon Spurr in the works. I came back and sketched Tommy. Go back to put Tommy in the works, that’s where I was last week. Then in two weeks I’ll go back to fit my prototypes, then I go back to Italy to fit Tommy Hilfiger prototypes. It’s relentless.
Well, something makes me think that with a doctor wife, you are not going to get away with complaining about your workload at home.