Tony O’Connor joined Marks & Spencer in 2008 as Head of Design for Menswear. His vast experience and vision worked to create a strong, contemporary and masculine menswear collection for M&S.
Tony studied for a degree in fashion design at Newcastle University and his career in retail began at Next as an assistant designer where he worked for 11 years, working his way up to Head of Design. In 2001 he joined Moss Bros as their Creative Director where he worked across their franchise department, with brands including Hugo, Canali, and Armani. Our London Fashion Editor, Cristina Planelles interviewed Tony during LC:M for our latest Client Style Guide (Issue #10) and talked all things British…
1.The Best of British line by M&S was shown in a model presentation at LC:M in June 2014 and it was really successful. Tell us about the experience
The experience has been really good for us, because not only did we show at the Conde Nast college, which is a great London venue, but we also had fantastic support from the press. That has been great because it can be quite scary, we’re a mainstream brand and for the Best of British collection we work with our own archive as well as with lots of British mills and manufacturers to produce a premium line with a signature British style. It’s either Irish Linen or British Wool and then we get it made in the UK, so we try to keep a complete British style from the fabric, to how we make it to how we style it. I think what is exciting for me is to get these guys looking kind of cool and modern in quite classical clothes, but with new twists.
2. The collection is made entirely in the UK, how is British manufacturing different from others?
The way that it works is, there is a lot of traditional techniques still being used in how sleeves are made and how different kinds of canvases are crafted. So there’s a lot that are kind of traditional and they feel different, the suits feel very easy to wear but they still feel quite elegant, and that’s in the craftsmanship that we still get in the UK – that comes through in what we’ve done with suits, what we’ve done with shoes, what we’ve done with shirts and knitwear. We still work with some outerwear pieces, but there’s just a lot of strong tradition in the UK, it’s quite nice to rework these traditions into the right modern shapes.
3. This is a premium line with high end finishing but also an accessible price. Tell us about it
We do work with the best fabric mills and manufacturers in the UK, producing suits for £700, with the fine attention to detail usually found on premium suiting. For me, that is the accessibility, but I love the idea with the collection that they feel quite like investment pieces as well.
4. Can you explain to us what is The Best of British Line concept?
It’s our own brand, it’s our archive, but it’s reworked for today. It’s got retro roots, but it still feels relevant and modern. I think that gives it its newness.
5. How would describe the M&S menswear customer?
The profile of the M&S customer, has a very broad base, from a guy who is buying his first suit to a man who is in his 60’s or 70’s who is retired. So we’ve got a very broad spectrum. I think where Best of British comes in, we’re offering classicism for younger guys and possibly the older guys as well. But we do have a very wide customer base, that’s why the range is so vast, that’s why it’s really exciting to make sure we can do things at LC:M.
6. The menswear industry is growing so fast for the under 35 market. What do you think is the main reason?
I think there is more of an appetite with menswear because more people are conscious of fashion. I also think guys are getting more confident in their own style, so they want to be trying new things all the time, I think that is why there is more of an appetite in menswear for style than ever before.
7. Where is your inspiration for the upcoming SS/15 coming from?
I got that from our archive. M&S has an archive in Leeds where we can see what the company did in the 80’s, 70’s the 60’s. I went to the 70’s archive, and I looked at what I would call sexy tailoring. That’s where it came from.
8. Tell us about your hobby as a photographer and runway fan?
My new hobby at the moment is actually my new baby boy! His name is Bram and he’s nine months old. He keeps me very busy but I love photography too. I follow runway shows as I’m interested in what we do in fashion in this country. I know people who design and I like to see their shows. I’m very interested in how we work
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