Brent Cross has never seen anything like it. Men who would ordinarily be shuffling through the centre in the wake of their born-to-shop spouses were suddenly parading like peacocks across the marble floor. Strutting and twirling in their own clothes for an appreciative crowd of onlookers, these Cara Delevigne wannabes were all vying for the title of “Best Dressed Man” at the instigation of a British fashion veteran — and he was loving it.
Jeff Banks has always known how to draw a crowd. Long before Gok Wan was able to accessorise, girlfriend, this Welsh-born designer was doing make-overs on the public as host of BBC’s The Clothes Show. With Banks at the helm, The Clothes Show was instrumental in the creation of the supermodel genre and the then young Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista and Naomi Campbell appeared in numerous campaigns for Warehouse, the high street designer label Banks started in 1976.
Flick through his soft-back biography and you can see the diminutive designer in bell botttoms opening his Clobber boutiques in 1964 or hugging Vivienne Westwood in 87 when he helped her to establish her own fashion label.
“I got everyone to do everything for free for her first show at London Fashion Week, though it was touch and go. She was still sewing just seconds before the show was due to start,” he recalls. ‘I’ve just got to finish this last dress,’ she said, and sent her models out in Harris Tweed crowns.”
After dressing Annie Lennox, marrying Sandi Shaw and snapping Carla Bruni in a smock and woollen tights, it was time to focus on the fellas, which he has been doing with Debenhams since the sale of Warehouse in 87. And now this stand-alone store in Brent Cross.
“We only thought of doing this last December and if it hadn’t been for a delay on getting the fixtures made, I’d have been here sooner,” says Banks, who slips effortlessly into the stylist role for the benefit of inquisitive shoppers — and my husband Neil.
“I was in jeans when I arrived,” said James, a wide-eyed customer who exited in a suit plus new haircut courtesy of HOB.
“Should I be scared?” asked Neil sheepishly. “Not at all,” enthused Banks. “James is walking out of here a gentleman. Did you know that 70 per cent of men’s clothing is bought by women? And that’s the problem.
“Women always take over and presume to know everything. Gentlemen need the room to express themselves and I like to create that space.”
Once alone in “that space” with Neil, Banks went into bespoke tailor mode, proffering bunches of fabrics and linings, while explaining the benefits of using the wool from Australian sheep .
“They eat grass that is less coarse, so the wool has a thinner micron.” This might have made a another man’s eyes glaze over but my husband is in knitwear, so it was Merino from heaven.
According to Banks — and you might want to pass this on to your partner — a narrow lapel and a short jacket is very modern, window-pane check is bang on trend and long side vents in a jacket provide a bit of flash and flair.
“You have to know why you want a suit.Do you want something sharp and black for going to a concert? A mohair suit for weekends and racing? Or is it for work?”
As Neil considered his needs, Banks went off to judge the Best Dressed Man contest.
“Fashion has changed a lot,” he observed as the men lined-up before him.
“It’s a lot less cut and thrust. Everyone wants to be famous before doing their time and young designers do catwalk shows thinking they will become stars. Six months later they ‘re bankrupt. No, I’m not a fan of the way it is now but this is what I do.”
And judging from the gathering crowd’s response he is still doing it very well.