In Conversation With...
In a wide-ranging conversation with writer Paul Gorman, Mark talks about maintaining his core values of independence and individuality in 2023.
By subtly evolving your offer, does that mean that you’re shaking off the lazy associations people have made with you and one style, whether it be Gangster Chic, geezer tailoring or the Mod/60s slimmer silhouette?
Sometimes I foregrounded the gangster thing myself, but that’s all a long time ago now; the fact is that I don’t like being pigeon-holed. I think a lot of my customers are the same. Even growing up I was into certain styles but was never part of a particular scene, whether it was the Soul Boy look of the 70s or New Romantic with the zoot suits in the 80s. While I liked and wore the clothes and the people and went to the clubs and listened to the music, I was never a fully paid-up member of any group, which I think has helped me and the business maintain independence and individuality over the years. Also I’ve never been that commercially out there, which has had its benefits: I’ve never had to stick to one particular idea. Although I’m known for my style and my look, it’s a lot more flexible and open than
other tailoring brands. Through the 90s and 00s I was constantly lined up with the Britpack of new British tailors but by doggedly doing my own thing I escaped going out of style, because I’ve never been about fashion. That’s meant fresh waves of customers are
constantly discovering me and tuning in to what I’m about.
And then of course there are your deep connections to the art worlds and high fashion.
I go way back to dressing many of the YBAs such as Damien Hirst and Kate Moss wore my white linen shirt for the famous 3rd Summer Of Love shoot taken by Corinne Day and styled by Melanie Ward for The Face. David Sims is another major photographer who featured my designs while the great Isabella Blow used my pieces in her styling for Bryan Ferry. And people such as Ozwald Boateng were also around me early in their careers. In fact Ozwald modelled for me in a catwalk show I took to Russia in the early 90s.
You’ve always been internationally-minded, with Japanese licences, exhibiting at Florence menswear show Pitti Uomo and selling through Barney’s in New York. Now you have a presence at trunk shows in Korea and source fabrics from Italy. How is that going?
As the result of an approach from Villa Korea, which represents a lot of international brands, we’re showing our made-to-measure work in Seoul three or four times a year and the response has been great. I’m also paying regular visits to a fantastic mill outside Milan where
I can buy short runs of interesting fabrics to produce, say, half-a-dozen or 20 suits in each. That’s perfect for me. The shop is constantly refreshed and I’m not selling the same suits as everyone else.
And you’re continuing to branch out in new design directions, such as your celebration of the pioneering Soho menswear outlet Vince Man’s Shop. The Vince suit is chic but wearable; is this a new relaxed Mark Powell?
Not necessarily, but it is a development which I think matches the times. Nearly always a new phase comes from me and my personal experience. I’ve got to an age where I’m not wearing a suit every day, so I’m gravitating towards a still smart but more casual way of
dressing, and that has naturally filtered through to the work. The suit I’ve called The Vince is in corduroy or linen and looks very much to the Rivera's golden age, with nicely tailored shirts, cravats and wide-cuff, high-cut trousers. But like the rest of my designs, this isn’t a
nostalgia trip. I’ve always been interested in the 1950s notion of Continental fashions. Vince’s English take on French and Italian casualwear made it something else, and of course the owner Bill Green opened his first Vince Man’s Shop in 1954 just a few doors down from where I am now, so it’s a tip of the hat to him as well as the two things which are constants in my work: Soho and a constantly contemporary take on style history through tailoring excellence.
Paul Gorman is the author of several books on design, style and visual culture, including Straight with Boy George, Nine Lives with Goldie, The Look: Adventures in Rock & Pop Fashion, The Story of The Face: The Magazine That Changed Culture and The Life & Times of Malcolm McLaren.
A conversation with Mark Powell
Mark, you’re now well established in Newburgh Street; how have things changed since you moved in?
We arrived after the pandemic struck, and in a way the lockdowns had given me an opportunity to reflect on what I do and how I could redefine myself and my designs at the same time as maintaining my core values. By physically moving here from Marshall Street after 10 years, there was an opportunity for reinvention. To some extent I’d already started that process by employing younger people, particularly Lydia Sharpe and her boyfriend Ryan Brown, who is the manager here and really the new face, representing the young idea of what we’re about. The clientele is now a healthy mix of age groups, with lots of younger clients coming through, particularly from the creative industries. We’d always attracted those from Soho’s advertising and media circles but these days a lot of visitors are arriving in the shop from around the country or contacting me online because they’ve seen what I do on Instagram and are interested in our balance of bespoke, made-to-measure and ready-to-wear.