NOTE FROM PUBLISHER-
WASITGOODFORYOU is never just about sex because sex isn’t just about sex. It is about story telling. Anyway Everything’s about sex and sex translates into power and who feels more powerful than when they are wearing a suit ? Mark Powell came from a society that was heavily influenced by sex and this society (70s) is heavily stitched into every fabric of his finery and the finery he creates for others.
So read and gorge in Melissa’s fabulous story enquiring.
Mark Powell, Carnaby street tailor and Soho face. You’ll find him sat in a high backed leather chair in his Marshall Street shop; serving respected clients or choosing fabrics for new pieces. With a glass of whiskey clasped in what he confesses as a recently manicured hand, it’s obvious that Mark takes care of his appearance and style down to every last cufflink. But it’s no surprise that Powell takes such pride in his image, with over 30 years of heritage in the tailoring business behind him, he’s put suits on the backs of gangsters, rockstars, and supermodels alike. In 2017, a time when streetwear brands are on the rise, and classic tailoring is becoming more of a reminiscence than a reality, i wanted to speak to someone who’s area of expertise lay in a style that remains timeless and enduring to the perpetual motion of the fashion industry.
In the world of fashion, we are constantly fixated with the past and drawing from old trends. There’s a lot more care toward style, a lot more passion and political implications behind the clothes worn. There’s a much greater complacency nowadays with style tribes, maybe we’ve been satiated with the easy availability and more affordable clothes on the market? Or maybe we are simply stuck in a vicious cycle of stylistic nostalgia? For someone who’s reached such a level of success in the fashion industry, and experienced first hand a number of pivotal moments in fashion history; what would you say is the most poignant subculture for you?
Mark Powell: “Well.. I did grow up through a lot of the big ones… soul boys, suede heads, skinheads, they were the big street cultures. I mean I was a working class boy and that’s really where a lot of the fashion came from and started, it was a backlash against the establishment. I was a bit too young for the teddy boys, but In the 80s I did reference that style..”
…he shows me a photo of himself ,on what he confesses is his “glory-wall”, of him in his early 20s donning a dogtooth suit, another a few years later wearing a 40s/50s “Americana” inspired get up matched with the classic oversized tie, and a later image of young Powell “with the boys” decked in pinstripe and a pencil-moustache.
On this right wall of his shop he has an impressive collection of images of not only of him and his friends dressed to the 9s over the years, but the remarkable number of clients that have approached him to get their own taste of Powells’ needle and thread artwork. And it isn’t just the big players in the world of television and film like George Clooney and Harrison ford who come knocking… Powell has dressed icons like David Bowie, Naomi Campbell, and infamous East-End gangster Ronnie Kray…
“… so I guess it was that pre punk period, we were going to clubs and really dressing up, going to gay clubs, and cool clubs in suburbia , where they would play funk soul and jazz. But it was before punk. So I was wearing plastic trousers, mo hair jumpers, blue hair… that was about 1975 I was 15.. bit of makeup ya know.. we were doing that then. So I guess that was the period pre-punk,1975..and then when punk happened course it brought that tribe out in the open but then I’d already sort of embraced that punky look by the time it had become a mainstream thing I’d already moved on. It was then that I started to get very influenced by 40s and 50s style. People started asking me where I was getting my clothes made, i’d been going to tailors and designing stuff myself. I’d already been working in and around Saville Row. And then I thought actually I could make a living doing this… During that time you could of thought you could do it, you didn’t need as much money as you do today. I had a dodgy mate that was a bit of a face round the west end and he had an old sex shop and told me that I he could use it. I was about 22 at the time.. ..he points to a painting on the wall; Est.1984 Powell and Co. Archer Street ,his first shop, done like a “proper” gentleman’s outfitters… and thats when it all started for me really. I then started to delegate and work with tailors, designing clothes with them and then it just sort of grew from there really. By the 90s I was sort of doing everybody, the press began to get involved, I was being featured in ID magazine, the Face, and Arena.. my name and confidence had grown with the times.
In 2017, with our third wave of feminism and steady backlash against misogynistic views and traditions, what does a girl in a proper suit mean to you?
“With tailoring for women, for me, it always has to celebrate the androgynous look. You still want to make it look very sexy and empowered, and I do believe that I’m one of the few tailors who can do that better than most because i feel i achieve that masculine edge whilst retaining a feminine sexy look- and that’s what a lot of ladies buy into. They’ve got a better perception of shape and style. They certainly make you work for your money. We had an evening at the shop, a party about 3 months ago, which was a whole promotion of my female tailoring line….As for female icons, well.. I’ve done ‘em all really. Naomi Campbell, Bianca Jagger, Keira knightly, all great people to have dressed and represent my clothes.”
…Notable is one of the paintings that Powell has had commissioned for his shop, by London based artist “Luke Francis Hasele”. The painting titled ‘VAMP’ depicts Savannah Gee Baker- a British/Jamaican boss-lady and rising star in the world of creative direction, styling and photography. Savannah is shown wearing a glamorous 70’s flared pant suit; and everything from the aloof stance to the confrontational gaze allures to the dynamic strength of women. Powell says this piece was created to “shine a light on female tailoring and deliver on the expression of power a woman can attain when wearing a suit. Like a suit of armour to a Knight; it represents the style characteristic of a modern femme fatale”… I contacted Luke so as to find out the keys exchanges between him and Mark in lead to the creation of the painting, and to hear first hand the compositional features that he included to devise such an indicative piece of art.
(Voice of Luke Francis Haseler, London based portrait artist ) “I had discussed with Mark a painting that would express the versatility of character that his style embodies, visually. Now, without straying too far from the nest and creating something heavily conceptual or abstract, what I felt was missing in representation in the shop (which is by default reflective of the male dominated industry and clientele of tailoring), was a salute to the female. That being said, Mark is not without counting women among his clients, and is vocal of his inspiration for female tailoring, I believed it a matter of it being in general, too niche. So simply put I wanted to create a piece that would celebrate female tailoring. For the sexually exciting ambiguity of androgyny that gleans from the likes of Helmut Newton’s work to Tilda Swinton or Grace Jones, and that wearing a suit elegantly, anyone can attain that mythic modern visage of power.
I hoped by doing so to bring attention, shine a light (literally) on the matter and as a result more women might consider it a desirable part of their wardrobe.
The composition was chosen to emulate a mirror, as though in a tailors shop, the model was being confronted with her ferocity, suited and booted (heeled). (can you beat a good pair of trousers and heels..?)The suit was chosen for the palette i picked, purple in the background is the complimentary of yellow (colour of the shop floor), it stood out the most. With neon signs as part of the Mark Powell identity, and his love of disco funk soul, I was looking for that “fever” look. The model is a friend, Savannah Baker, I suppose I chose her as i thought she could work with what I was thinking above, half Jamaican she has a wonderful head of blonde curls that is almost afro… in general I am interested in the meeting of cultures, where we meet in the middle, and that supported the androgyny theme in part. It could almost be a self portrait, as I share such a head of hair”….
So, in light of your apparent support and advocation of “powerful” clothing for women, why do you believe that many “old school” tailors shy away from, or are less inclined to dress females?
(Mark Powell) “Well i think they don’t feel comfortable in doing women’s tailoring and are a bit out of their depth. I think Saville row is sort of stuck in that male-centric, slightly repressed, and old fashioned mindset. It’s only really been the more maverick type tailors like Tommy Nutter that have celebrated good female tailoring in the past. Edward Sexton who’s still around- he was an original cutter who used to work for Tommy, so he helped create that look.. but there’s very few tailors really.
(Nutter and Sexton were distinguished British tailors who pioneered the idea of putting women in the Row’s suits back in the 60s)..
You were a renowned name in your field decades before the use of social media was born and used to promote businesses. When you did decide to use platforms like Facebook and Instagram, did you identify any acceleration or change to your business?
I’ve got to say, as a businessman, you suddenly felt like you had to do it. I was quite late with using Facebook, but when we did around 2010 we notably started having more people coming into the shop. With Instagram I’ve got a guy who does it for me, he knows when and what images to put out to represent the business as best as could- he helped me grow my media following as I would be unable to do it myself. I regularly send him the images that I want to portray Mark Powell tailoring best – photos that i’ve taken; clients who’ve come into the shop you know? .It has become an extremely useful tool to the modern business because you can upload current content but you can also put some good bits of history there too. Instagram’s probably the best way to boost your business nowadays, much better than Facebook. You can get negative side-effects with it though.. say I “liked” a cufflink link makers post from Mexico, they might turn up at the shop saying things like “ah you like my pictures, do you wanna do business?” I think that’s quite sad actually… Designers will come in as if they know me, greet me as an old friend and i’ll just be thinking “who the f*ck are you mate?” It’s because you’re going out to such a mad number of people I guess, such a big audience- which is definitely a positive too of course.
Whilst Powell’s business does use social media, it lacks the superficial edge that many brands and designers are habitual of exhibiting on their accounts. We see images of aesthetic details of his ready to wear range, closeup shots of the elegant fabrics and materials used, and compositional creations of Mark’s various pieces.What I personally found to be a unique and endearing element of Marks shop, was his aforementioned ‘glory-wall’. In the modern world of fashion, where designers flaunt their work on online platforms seen by thousands ,or justify their celebrity clients and connections with an Instagram post, hashtag or tweet- there is something remarkably humble about the simplicity of Marks wall of pictorial history .Whilst it not only showcases his own personal transgression of style through the ages, it also shows the genuine friendships forged with his distinguished clientele. If their’s something that modern designers can take from the likes of Powells’ work, it’s his avant-garde attitude towards female tailoring, and his successful balance between exaggeration, subtle details and style -but with the old school panache that can only be obtained with experience and historical referencing. So to new designers I say, you might have thousands of Instagram followers, or modern “influential” figures like Jordan Vickors, Skepta or Cara Delevigne posting a photo wearing a piece from your new t-shirt startup.. you might have top of the top PR and marketing, you might be “family friends” with all the right people… but heritage, experience and artful adaption to the times is a truly inimitable skill and one that should be respected and remembered by old and young alike…