When Mark Thomas was appointed head of menswear at Anglo-French label JOSEPH by Creative Director, Louise Trotter, in September 2013, their challenge was to translate the label’s DNA into a new and unique vision of menswear. A graduate of Central Saint Martins’s prestigious MA Fashion (menswear) course, the man then honed his craft at the likes of Neil Barret, Burberry and then at Givenchy, before taking up the reigns at JOSEPH and crafting his first collection for FW14.
Established in the London of 1972 by Casablanca-born hairdresser Joseph Ettedgui, JOSEPH was the first to promote labels like KENZO and Castelbajac to a UK audience, as well as to champion the likes of Yohji Yamamoto. Describing itself as 'high contemporary', the label prides itself on its use of premium fabrics that are worked in European factories to craft instantly wearable yet undoubtedly forward-thinking pieces.
Now, with the opening of its first stand-alone location for menswear in London’s illustrious Savile Row, the label’s menswear line is clearly entering a new phase and we thought it appropriate to sit down and talk to the man who, along with creative director Louise Trotter, has helped bring this about.
Tell us about your latest collections, both for SS16 and FW16? What should people look for?
JOSEPH is known for its luxury essentials. The menswear collections are made up of iconic pieces that form the foundations of a man’s wardrobe. Collections aren’t thematic as such, but embrace the nuances of fashion through fabric, fit and subtle details. We’re an Anglo-Franco brand, the clothes have a sense of classicism; a simplicity in their style and cut, but styled with an English irreverence.
The SS16 collection combined technical sportswear with a minimal attitude reminiscent of the '90s. Performance fabrics and technical details are prevalent: a sportswear stripe on a poplin shirt; a denim jacket and jeans updated in nylon gabardines. The FW16 collection explores everyday classics, visualised through '70s silhouettes and a '90s indie style. We looked at Perry Ogden’s Pony Kids – we really wanted to explore the diversity, individuality and personality of this character and create a look which embodies those sensibilities. The standout pieces for me are the double-face cashmere coats and the abstract cable knitwear.
What does a traditional work day look like for you?
This really depends on the time of the season. If I'm in the Paris atelier I'll be working on building the collection through research, colour, fabric and fittings. If I'm travelling to the factories, which are mainly in Florence and Venice, this would also be for development and fitting. Fittings are a huge part of the development process, it's when the collection comes to life three-dimensionally. If I'm London it’s usually to launch the collection which involves styling and meeting with the sales team.
Savile Row is traditionally associated with the classic, almost traditional sartorial world, whereas we also see JOSEPH stocked in smaller, contemporary boutiques like Berlin's Voo Store. What message does this new location mean to you?
The opening of our first JOSEPH stand-alone menswear store is a significant moment for the brand. Savile Row is an iconic setting and presents the perfect space to demonstrate the brand’s 'classic versus contemporary' sensibilities. This store marks the first stand-alone location for JOSEPH menswear and allows us to showcase the full collection. JOSEPH is sold internationally through wholesale and our franchisees who often stock a small selection of the full offer. Savile Row is the ultimate platform for us to showcase both our ready-to-wear and future accessories.
What are your biggest influences?
I’m always attracted to British youth cultures. I think it stems from the idea of identity and the sense of belonging that comes from being part of a gang. From teds and mods to punks and skinheads, it's interesting to see that element of fanaticism each subculture has in the way they dress. The obsession of a certain item of clothing that makes you part of the gang and creates a uniform. It's that subtlety that allows each gang to set themselves apart from the others that is fascinating – the borrowing from another generation, the way a trouser falls over a shoe or how a sleeve is rolled up, the use of a collar pin. It's how certain items of clothing have become iconic and have a point of view.
You're a Central Saint Martins graduate – a school famous for its contribution to fashion. Describe your own personal journey from graduate to where you are today.
The MA Fashion course at Saint Martins is a unique platform for a career in fashion. The late Professor Louise Wilson was a formidable force who strived to extract the best from you during your time there. My career has given me the opportunity of working in London, Milan and Paris over the past 15 years. Each city gives a very different experience and expertise and affecting design sensibility. Living in Milan for nine years gave me the opportunity to work with some of the best tailors and some of the most highly skilled craftsmen that really only exist in Italy. It was a schooling in how to construct and understand garments and how to balance for fit and proportion.