❚ WACKIEST AMONG THE 80s BLITZ KID RACERS was Stephen Linard, the Essex boy who nevertheless graduated from St Martin’s art school with a first-class degree in menswear 30 years ago this summer. Modelled by six of his hunky clubland pals, his collection titled Reluctant Emigrés featured swishy draped greatcoats, pinstripe trousers and city shirts that all evinced an Edwardian air of immaculate tailoring while declaring edgy details with organza and contrast patches. Amid the women’s outfits shown by most of the other fashion graduates, Linard’s chic street-savvy lads had a gasp-out-loud impact, as commentator Suzy Menkes noted after the show. The influential South Molton Street shop Browns immediately wanted to develop the range, but Stephen decided instead to sell his original garments to a short-lived synthpop band called Animal Magnet. “I needed the money,” he says now in a shocking confession of short-termism.
A hugely original and resourceful talent, Stephen was feted by the fashion press upon graduation. His high-visibility fashion leads were key among the 15 sharpest Blitz Kids who shaped the New Romantics silhouette from Covent Garden’s Blitz club — Stephen Jones, Kim Bowen, Lee Sheldrick, Helen Robinson, Melissa Caplan, Fiona Dealey, Judi Frankland, Michele Clapton, David Holah, Stevie Stewart, Julia Fodor, Dinny Hall, Simon Withers and über-wag Chris Sullivan were the others. Most significantly, Linard advertised his bizarre imagination by changing his appearance on an almost daily basis, from his foppish Fauntleroy dandy, to the Endangered Species outfit made from animal skins, to the Bonnie Prince Charlie tartans copied for his character in Worried About the Boy, last year’s TV biodrama on Boy George, who became a soulmate the moment Stephen walked into Billy’s club, where the Swinging 80s were hatched in 1978.
So… where is he now, the dignified Stephen Linard pictured this month sporting a three-button, three-piece linen suit in a faded shade of indigo, and handmade in Venice? Well, since 1989 Stephen has been on the design team at Drake’s, the respected men’s haberdasher which has just opened its first shop at No 3 Clifford Street, just off Savile Row, the global epicentre of serious tailoring. Those with fond memories of Bowring Arundel & Co — for whom Stephen’s late father once supplied handmade leather goods — have welcomed the arrival of the new shop. Though Drake’s was founded in 1977, the firm has never had its own retail outlet.
Michael Drake, a former head of design at Aquascutum, was its co-founder (and incidentally, “my grandmother’s nephew,” Stephen said). He began making the finest accessories, from cashmere scarves and printed silk handkerchiefs to knitwear, shirts and the elegant neckwear that has made Drake’s the largest independent producer of handmade ties in England. It enjoys a prodigious export market, by designing collections for international luxury shops and collaborating with such style-leaders as the Japanese fashion label Commes des Garçons.
Today the creative director Michael Hill encourages his designers to refresh the seasonal ranges with new textiles, both for readymade production and for bespoke handcrafting at Drake’s workrooms in the artisan quarter of Georgian Clerkenwell. A revival of bespoke suit-making has seen a new appetite for accessories in raw shantung and Indian tussah silk — its slubbed texture playing well with both formal suits and casual jackets — as well as traditional madder silk from Macclesfield in Cheshire, where Stephen is a frequent visitor ensuring that exacting standards are met.
A stylish touch to Drake’s new strategy has been to recruit the impish graphic artist Adam Dant, whose witty drawings adorn the shop and the stylishly written Drake’s website. In particular it commissioned him to create one of the Hogarthian “mockuments” which won him the Jerwood Prize. Rather like flowcharts, these reveal the inner workings of an institution and its people, and Dant’s depiction of Drake’s Clerkenwell factory provides the lining to one antique vitrine, formerly property of the Victoria and Albert museum and now in Clifford Street, displaying shantung ties and enormously long (in the Italian style) knee-socks.
Included among Dant’s portraits of colleagues who are said to have influenced Michael Drake is Stephen Linard’s and it echoes an emblematic photograph published in i-D magazine in which he wears a Yohji jacket and jaunty Confederate Army leather cap, “bought in Anchorage airport in the days when I was rich — bathtubs filled with champagne”. This is a reminder of the period 1983–86 when he lived in Tokyo designing for Jun Co, the fashion giant, on a salary which, he liked to boast, exceeded the prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s. In the mid-80s, to be an English designer brought you popstar status in Japan, as those fellow Blitz Kids Stephen Jones and Lee Sheldrick also discovered.
Long before he joined the “Japanese invasion” effected by Britain’s emergent new wave of streetwise fashionistas, Stephen had gained the admiration of the international fashion glossies. With 1983 came his collection Angels With Dirty Faces, inspired by the Bogart-Cagney gangster movie set in the 30s depression. It was both pretty and poignant and it sold worldwide. That year, the snappiest magazine of the day, New York, headlined a special fashion section The British Are Here, and selected as the UK’s five leading lights Jean Muir, Zandra Rhodes, Katharine Hamnett, Vivienne Westwood — and Stephen Linard, “one of the most creative of the young designers”.
Stephen’s clothes had always been sought after by his popstar contemporaries from Spandau Ballet, Boy George and The Slits, to U2, Womack & Womack, even Cliff Richard and Johnny Mathis, and ultimately to the great god David Bowie himself. (Stephen had to turn down the invitation to go on location to appear in the Ashes to Ashes video in 1980 “because I was on a disciplinary warning at St Martin’s over attendance”!) His Reluctant Emigrés collection enjoyed a curiously long life and in 1984 we see Neil Tennant lording it in one of the black linen topcoats in the Pet Shop Boys video for West End Girls, their first single which went to No 1 in the UK and US.
Many Linard looks have been coveted by the fashionistas but, as with so many gifted designers, let’s say a head for business came second to his eye for fashion. The timing of funds hit the rocks in more than one of Stephen’s creatively successful ventures, and decades ago he complained loudly that the St Martin’s fashion department didn’t do enough to equip graduates with basic business skills. (This, we are assured, has since been addressed by the college.) In the end it wasn’t surprising that he accepted the offer to join the Drake’s family, which seems to have dealt him a lucky hand.
One tip for wearing the perfect handmade tie? “Never tuck the smaller blade through the ‘keeper’— the loop on the back of the large blade. Much more stylish to let it flap free. Like undoing the button-cuff on your jacket, to show you don’t care.”