Quirking it up the simon carter way

If you’re looking to wear your shirts and flaunt em too, throw on a snazzy jacket and accessorize the ensemble with an eclectic pair of cufflinks, look no further. Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Ltd brings to India, creations by Simon Carter, the quirky menswear brand from Britain. We dialogue with the designer behind the name, as the first stand alone store opens in Mumbai.

Tiny blue mushrooms on a white background. Cycle motifs on a white oxford shirt. On closer look, these aren’t prints. They are beautifully embroidered motifs. Elsewhere butterflies sing a happy tune. And these are just the shirts we are gushing about. The cinnamon-toned store with its warm colours, softly bright lights, eclectic décor pieces adorning walls, is the perfect mis-en-scène for Simon Carter’s beautifully quirky, playful menswear collection that encompasses apparel and accessories. Spirited shirts aside, there are stylish suits, blazers, jackets, and accessories, amongst which twinkle his signature cufflinks. The cuts are classic and exude svelte. It is evident that the brand is all about colour and expression. And the titled racks strategically positioned at the heart of the store that gently nudge the visitor: ‘Simon’s Pick’.

In person, Simon Carter is indeed dapper (like his clothes!), and very obviously garbed in his own creations. The effect is subtly eye-catching, when you don a rust red jacket peek-a-booing with a shirt that has splotches of colour. He is also soft-spoken and rather unassuming, the charming British character well in place.

Simon Carter is the designer behind the eponymous menswear retail brand based out of London that has got into an exclusive deal with Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Limited (ABFRL) to bring the quirky brand into India with stand-alone stores across Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore.

The man started designing men’s pewter brooches in London in the mid 80s. Soon after the Simon Carter story extended to other men’s products such as sunglasses, watches and cufflinks. Ten years later, Simon Carter had cornered the cufflink market through iconic designs. Ties, leather goods and then a full range of tailored and casual men’s clothing followed. Since the beginning, Simon Carter has struck a chord with urban professionals seeking to inject a contemporary lightness of touch in their own personal style.

We settle into the elegant armchairs in the brand new Simon Carter store at Phoenix Market City, Kurla (Mumbai) for a quick tête-à-tête.

Of his journey, he has this to say: “It’s been fun! Quite a ride actually.” For a guy who has a degree in immunology, it was a completely different path that he embarked on. There was no formal course or degree that he underwent or acquired, in what eventually became his life’s work and passion. All the learning happened on the job. Reminiscing about the Simon Carter of those early days, he says that one fine day it was a toss-up between his steady day job and his hobby; he took the latter route… and the rest as they say is history. The very first store he opened in Regent’s Street was tiny. (He points to the dressing cubicle of the first exclusive store in India).

From that first little store, to being named “Most Stylish Man of the Year 2015” and the brand being named “Menswear Brand of the Year 2013”. What do these awards and accolades mean to him – at a personal level and as a fashion businessman/entrepreneur?

He acknowledges them with a gracious modesty: “So it’s one thing to be told by your mum ‘Sweetie, you look very nice’ or ‘it’s fabulous what you are doing’. But when your peers celebrate and congratulate you for your work, it is indeed a very satisfying feeling. So yes, the awards feel wonderful.”

He is suitably chuffed about the deal with ABFRL. In his own words “I think India is going to be the most important market in the world, in the next 20-30 years. It is already big, and is just getting significantly bigger.  There is no doubt that some years hence it is going to the largest. The businesses in the UK are still slow to understand this. I think I am happy to be here associated with Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail.”

That brings us to his understanding of the Indian markets. What does he think of them? Still a tad conservative, he opines, they need to get more expressive.

His own inspirations can come from absolutely anything. “This one time I was in a boring meeting and started doodling on a piece of paper. By the end of it, I looked at it, and told myself ‘this can work for a shirt’.” We also speak about the Indian influences in his designs, and he avers that there haven’t been too many. Oh yes, there is the paisley motif, he smiles, which is an essentially Indian design, and I have used that in my designs, continuing “some years ago I was in Udaipur and I was fascinated by the use of colours.”

We get into slightly more personal waters: to know the man behind the label. Who does he enjoy wearing, other than himself? He names the UK designer Paul Smith and “stuff from Etro (the Italian fashion house)”. When we quiz him about the big names he has designed for, he names Gary Oldman, and “a bunch of known TV personalities and actors from British television (you may not be familiar with them in India but they are popular names there he quips)”. And he thinks it is Brit comedian-actor Richard Ayoade who looks best in his creations.

With an appellation like the ‘King of Cufflinks’ we can hardly desist from asking Carter which is his personal favourite from amongst his collection. He picks the ‘Aspirin Cufflinks’. What is his personal style like: “I just grab three essentials that can be put together, that pretty much sums it up” he banters.

In an earlier interview he has called himself a fan of “clutterism” and how it reflects in the styling of his home, with a strong leaning towards things that are crafts-based. India being a veritable treasure trove, a cornucopia of handicrafts, objets d’art, traditional arts and artefacts, we wonder if he has had a chance to explore, to which he responds ruefully: “not enough, but am hoping to get to do that.” When not designing or working, he plays croquet.

He has an affinity towards the colour cinnamon; he finds it warm and a colour that goes with most other colours. The garments and the store are both a reflection of this. And then there is the canine connection: Gervaise, his imaginary pet pooch, a whippet who is always up to some mischief. Gervaise scampers through the store in the form of sketches.

His take on global trends in menswear is that there has been a breakdown of boundaries between what constitutes men’s and women’s fashion. The distinction is disappearing, the lines are getting blurred. What were considered women’s colours even five years ago, are worn by men today with confidence. Accessories are worn equally by men today, something they didn’t do earlier (he uncovers his jacket sleeve to reveal a bunch of colourful beaded bracelets on his own wrist).

And what’s next for Simon Carter? More stores in the UK, and obviously here in India.

The footnote: any words of advice for the Indian male, his very potential customer?

He smiles broadly: Go bold. Bring out the inner dandy in you…is the parting shot from the Duke of Dandy!

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