Michael Hill, Creative Director at Drake’s
Michael Hill grew up in the clothing business. His father, Charles Hill, was a tie-maker of some distinction. In the 1980s, Michael Drake, who’d founded Drake’s in East London in 1977 as a maker of shawls, scarves and handkerchiefs, decided to add ties to his offering. Charles Hill was the man to go to, and soon the Hill & Drake necktie was a must-have for any well-dressed gentleman. As a teenager, Michael Hill would accompany his father to the factory where they were made, the car full of bales of silk. It made an impression and seems to have laid the path to his future. Soon, he’d taken time out to go to Italy, where he worked for Drumohr and weavers near Como. After a year, he returned to London to go to the London College of Fashion where he studied textile development, working Saturdays at Richard James in Savile Row.
Eventually, Michael found himself at Drake’s, working alongside Michael Drake for years, until the business was passed on to him. Since then, Michael has concentrated on expanding Drake’s’ global reputation as a true artisanal haberdasher. As Creative Director, he works with a small team of designers to create the brand’s range of shirts, ties, apparel and accessories each season. All fitting Drake’s ethos of ‘Relaxed Elegance’.
We spoke with Michael to find out how he combines elegance with work and relaxation.
Were you always destined for a life in the world of clothing?
I suppose you could say that, but then again, I have a brother who isn’t involved in the clothing industry. It’s that nature, nurture conversation. I do know that I was always fascinated by the business and still am. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do, so I feel very lucky to have made this my life and career.
Who was the single biggest influence on what you do now?
The obvious answer would be my father. I spent a lot of time in his tie factory growing up. I’d go with him to meetings and to visit customers, so I guess I got a bit of an eye into the world that I now work in, which has obviously evolved quite a lot. But in terms of figuring out how I thought I could make something work, I guess I got that sort of kernel from those early days with him.
Then the other major influence, not necessarily in terms of dress style, but the style of approaching everything, whether that’s life, or work, or whatever it is, I suppose that came from my mother. So a combination of the two of them.
Do you think of Drake’s as being part of the fashion industry?
I believe we’re carving out our own path and doing things our way. We’re not particularly influenced by trends or the more relentless aspects of what you might consider the modern fashion industry, but I suppose we are still a part of it.
Did you learn more in your time at Drumohr or studying textiles at college?
I’ve always learned more on the job. I was fortunate enough to apprentice at a couple of great Italian silk mills, which was an incredible education. You’re immersed in it, the reality of the business. Practical work has always been the most beneficial in my view.
How do you describe what you do?
It seems to change every day! I’m a creative director, so it’s a combination of design, meetings, conversations with, and travelling to see suppliers, partners, planning, referencing, strategy, testing fabrics. What I love about my job is that I work across all aspects of Drake’s as a business. If I’m lucky, I might be able to fit in a lunch from time-to-time, too.
Do you ever get hands-on with the making of items?
Absolutely! I’m involved in all of the practical elements of each item that comes out of Drake’s. Fabric sourcing, sampling and design. We’ve got a great team, but I work very closely with them on all the making. It’s something that is essential for us. It has to be well made.
What does Drake’s do better than anyone else?
I wouldn’t want to be so bold, but I do think we make clothes that people want to wear, and own, for a long time and that improve with age. I think that comes down to how meticulous we are with fabric quality and fit, while also thinking about the clothes that we love and actually want to wear, rather than chasing trends or fast results.
Where do you look to find ideas for each season?
It varies massively, there really isn’t one approach or source. We have a small cork board with a few images on it that I, or the design team, might have seen, otherwise it’s mostly from lived experience. Travel, art, our friends and the cities that we’re in.
What do you think makes for relaxed elegance?
I like the idea that it’s fairly subjective, but in essence I think it’s about looking and feeling confident in your clothes and not being afraid to mix a few different elements together. New, vintage, colour, classic, affordable and an item that is maybe more of an extravagance. It’s smart, but not fussy, and centres around really wearing and enjoying your clothes!
Could you tell us a little about the look and feel of your physical stores?
They all reflect their local area and community, but there’ll always be great furniture and art in there, a welcoming presence behind the till and on the floor – we never want a customer to feel intimidated by coming into Drake’s. It should feel like coming in to see a friend. We’ve worked closely with some great architects and designers over the years to make each space unique, but warm and welcoming. Hopefully interesting. Not too sparse, but not overflowing or cluttered. Somewhere tactile and educational. too.
Where do your own everyday clothes tend to come from?
If it’s not Drake’s, it’s a bit of vintage, a bit of my dad’s. I’m wearing Yuketen shoes today. I might occasionally have a bit of Real McCoy’s, Arts and Science in Tokyo. Japan in general is where I love buying clothes. Beams is in there, too.
What advice would you give someone just starting out in your industry?
The one that comes to mind is that you’ve got to make sure you go and work with, and for, good people. The company’s got to be good, the people who own the company have to be good people, otherwise you might come unstuck. You have to work with people you trust and you believe in, and who are building the business in the right way.
Which is the best way to tie a necktie?
I’m a staunch advocate for the four-in-hand knot. A classic for a reason. No need to overthink it.
What are your plans for the future?
To keep up the hard work that everyone contributes to Drake’s each day and to continue making clothes that last and can be enjoyed for years to come. We’re working on building out the retail side of the business more, with a new physical location in Japan, and websites in both Korean and Japanese. We want to make our own clothes in our own factories and tell a lot of good stories along the way. There’s plenty to do, but I’m excited for all of it.