British heritage brand Daks is looking back into its history for inspiration as it celebrate the brands 125th anniversary. By Chris Cotonou
Since its inception in 1894, Daks has been bestowed an impressive three Royal Warrants (only a handful of others have managed to do so) – but the brand’s origins were far from regal, originating in London’s East End during the Victorian era. With a century of entrepreneurial skill (Daks were the first to invent the elastic waistband) and Hollywood fans, for much of its time the brand called the city’s Simpsons of Piccadilly building their home. Today it is a Waterstones bookshop. But until closing in the nineteen-nineties, thousands flocked in each year for the British cuts and patterns that the recent collection pays tribute to.
Based on the architectural design of Simpsons, the new 125th Anniversary Check, a distinctive, bold and adaptable pattern, is being used on coats and accessories. It’s apt for a Simpsons of Piccadilly collection to showcase the beauty of the original building, which is itself in many ways distinctive and bold, and has adapted naturally to becoming a bookshop. In a video produced in December by menswear aficionado and influencer Mathias Le Fevre, Daks looks back to its roots, modelling the collection on those famous stairways and balconies. The video reveals the symmetry of the Simpson’s building – the stairs and large rectangular windows; the high ceilings, and block-shaped frames. ‘It’s these features that informed the pattern’, he tells Country & Town House, ‘the heritage of the building, and the Daks character’.
Along with overcoats, the 125th Anniversary Check is printed on accessories, including handbags, totes, scarves, skirts, and more – all of which are available in-store and on the brand’s website. The video evokes the mid-century cool that the Simpsons site became associated with – as a democratic temple to style, where Londoners of all ages and backgrounds could shop, and with designs that were cutting edge for their time. ‘There’s certainly a sixties, Carnaby Street vision behind the pattern’, agrees Mathias, who – along with his girlfriend, the singer-songwriter Cinderella – modelled the new collection. ‘We tried to properly show off the Englishness, and eccentricity of the range – and bring it back home’.
The Simpsons building is a London landmark, opened in 1936, when it was the largest menswear store in the country. Even today, a plaque remains on the side of the building, commemorating the site for those long-time returnees who re-discover it as the flagship Waterstones bookstore. Simpsons also happens to be a Grade I Listed Building, due to the innovative construction on the façade devised by architect Joseph Emberton; the interior, with its art-deco, block and horizontal features that make creative use of the space. Before long, Simpsons became a hugely popular retail destination, famed for the politeness of its staff, and the classic English cut of the clothes – inspired by nearby Savile Row. Unlike Savile Row, however, both the Simpsons tailoring and Daks products were created for the emerging middle class, who enjoyed a period of wealth before the Second World War.
It is rare, perhaps, to find so many brands tied to specific buildings outside of Savile Row. Future generations will not remember Simpsons of Piccadilly, but associate it as the home of Waterstones – a great British brand in its own right. The 125th anniversary check is designed to remind consumers that this was once (and perhaps remains) a temple of British entrepreneurial spirit; a vision of excellent design and craftsmanship that continues into the future. ‘In some ways, at least it became a bookshop and not a McDonalds’, says Mathias, ‘it is somewhere people come to learn, and Waterstones has plenty of heritage itself. In that sense, the collection doesn’t look back longingly, but rather acknowledges the heritage that architecture played in the brand’s history – and how in turn the brand cemented its place in London with this magnificent building. Simpsons is Daks, but it also belongs to the city (and whoever occupies it in the future). We’re celebrating that chapter of not only Daks’s history, but of London’s too’.
Shop the 125th anniversary collection in-store or online.