A vast future-proof HQ in Milan, the launch of a new kids and sports line, the inkling of a London homecoming show – Brit-born designer Neil Barrett gives Alice Franklin the lowdown on his eponymous label.
Practice makes perfect, so the adage goes. In the fickle fashion industry, it’s a sad fact that practice is the one thing a lot of designers aren’t afforded, as bigname brands choose to discard those leading their labels after only a couple of short seasons if immediate acclaim isn’t on the cards. It’s now or never.
If success seems instant – think Alessandro Michele at Gucci, who stunned with his debut collection following the abrupt departure of Frida Giannini – then it’s a premature pat on the back and hurrahs all round. If success doesn’t arrive in the first or second season of a leadership change (see the talented Bouchra Jarrar, formerly of Lanvin womens wear), growing trends suggest designers be shed and replaced.
Where does the practice end? At the door of the independent brand. Enter Mr Neil Barrett; Central Saint Martins and Royal College of Art alumnus, and a designer who has been dedicated to building his namesake label since its inception in 1999.
Barrett is Devon-born, but his career flourished in Italy; five years at Florentine based Gucci preceded a move to launch Prada’s menswear line, before Barrett struck out alone debuting his eponymous label on the 2000 Pitti Uomo runways. Throughout the years, his visual code has remained resolutely steadfast – cleanlined, rigorous, progressive design is his DNA.
Detractors would say fashion needs a constant cycle of newness, but the cult following Barrett’s collection boasts tells a very different story. For this man (and woman – since 2006 Barrett has offered a womens wear line), Barrett’s contemporary cycle of intelligent, precise separates is a refreshing antidote to the assaulting excess of other labels.
Seasonal inspirations add a new dimension to the label’s inimitable stripped-back aesthetic, building the brand’s identity without dismantling its minimalist backbone. These are garments designed to work hard, standing out for their fit and technical spec over any superfluous detailing. It’s not hard to see why men buy into the brand.
“I really believe in that concept of repeat clothes that you can wear as a uniform,” Barrett explains as we speak on the phone one afternoon. “I find I’m going into a moment where I feel a whole wave of simplicity coming back.”
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