“I like clothes where form follows function” – Richard Illingworth of Hawkwood Mercantile talks to Umbrella

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There’s something very modern about clothes brand Hawkwood Mercantile. With an aesthetic that takes in both military clothing and technical outerwear, it’s managed to become a leading player in menswear without a bricks-and-mortar store or flashy website. 
 
Instead, its founder, Richard Illingworth has built the company up through posts on social media and through that most valuable of networks, word-of-mouth. Simply put, the clothes are too good not to be popular. 
 
Here, Richard talks to Umbrella about practical clothing, the influence of Japan and what it’s like to create a design icon.
 
Hi Rich. For the uninitiated, how would you describe Hawkwood Mercantile?
We’re a menswear label which has up to now been based in India (although I’m from north-east England originally), selling made-to-order clothes. We’ve just started selling a ready-to-wear collection in Japan that will be in UK stores later in the year. I’m also moving back to London in a few weeks, so it’s all change.
 
How did it start? 
I actually studied textile design at college, but did everything except fashion for the next 20 years before starting Hawkwood in 2013. When the opportunity to move to India came up, I was working in recruitment London and saw it as a chance to get back to doing something more creative. I didn’t ever think it would take off the way it has.
 
There’s always been ‘practical’ element to HM’s clothes. Why’?
I think that’s just because I’d been into military gear since I was a kid, dressing up in camo, collecting Action Man etc. Then as an adult, I got into rock climbing and mountaineering, and all the gear that goes with that. I’ve always liked stuff that’s well made and where form follows function.
 
What’s been your most successful garment?
Probably the Tryfan anorak. It’s our signature piece and most recognisable as a Hawkwood piece too, with the three pockets across the chest – although it’s actually been copied a few times now by other labels. I’ll keep making it every season, just tweaking the details and fabrics. I like the idea of garments evolving, rather than doing a totally new collection each season.
 
What are your influences, design-wise? Do you design the clothes yourself? 
My main inspiration is vintage military gear, with a bit of outdoor stuff, too. I’ve got a rapidly growing archive of original pieces from WWII up to the Cold War. I do design everything myself, although with some pieces, I just remake the original piece in a different fabric & change the odd detail to make it more wearable.
 
You’re known for being social-media- savvy. How does that help you reach customers?
I still do all of the posts myself, and answer questions and reply to comments. People have responded to the fact that it’s not a brand just trying to sell as much stuff as possible, it’s someone who’s like them, trying to make stuff they’d wear themselves. I’ve been really lucky being able to talk to clients from all over the world directly – I’ve actually got some great ideas through working with them, too. I’ve never had to advertise, which is great. There was no grand plan, I just got lucky and worked hard to make the most of it.
 
What’s the story with the new-season collection? 
Just a gentle progression really, nothing revolutionary, just wearable gear with even more emphasis on functionality. My favourite piece at the moment is the Peninsula overshirt. It’s quite understated, has five pockets, although you can only see two, and works well as a stand-alone or layering piece. It’s also got taped buttons, which look good and are also really practical. When I look at it, it reminds me more of some of the Japanese and Korean brands that I really like, rather than any British labels. 
 
 







“I like clothes where form follows function” – Richard Illingworth of Hawkwood Mercantile talks to Umbrella Comments












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