Chances are, there’s a piece of Dunhill clothing – or one of their slick accessories – kicking about in your family. Dunhill is a subtle household name that has stood the test of time. Here, 5' ELEVEN'' speaks with their Creative Director, Mark Weston, on connecting the historical and cultural dots.
Words by Charlie Newman. Mark Weston's portrait, courtesy of Dunhill.
Grooming by Christabel Draffin using Benny Hancock for Men.
Hair by Ernesto Montenovo at London Style Agency using Tigi.
It is universally recognized that good teachers stay with you for life. For Mark Weston, the Creative Director of Dunhill since 2017, his eyes were first opened in the early ’90s by a friend’s brother, “I was getting into a whole new world of music... Discovering early Mo’ Wax releases – the artworks by Ian Swift linked to my graphics obsession – Portishead, and rare records bought from the likes of Soul Jazz and Record Shack in London.” Having grown up in Maidstone in Kent, the rush of culture in the capital opened his eyes “to see how style and music came together”. The collision of the arts as a whole was and remains essential for Weston. He quickly clashed with the “restrictive” nature of Graphic Design, his chosen foundation course at college, until he connected with his “cool” tutor Jane Howarth, who helped him discover textiles with their “experimentation and freedom of possibilities.”
Weston reminisces with us about how “unassuming, but full of knowledge” Jane was and notes the extent of her dedication when you consider how lengthy her commute was from her flat in Brixton to Maidstone Art College every day. Jane’s enthusiasm was infectious, and Mark delved into “magazines like i-D, The Face as well as Straight No Chaser. Ray Gun had just started I believe. I was learning a lot, seeing how this universe of street style, music and graphics all connected – how that could relate to a world that I was really into and the realization that I could personally relate to it too.”
Fashion doesn’t always feel relatable, but that fine line between magic and wearable simplicity is what makes Weston tick. During Weston’s second year of studying Fashion at Bristol in 1993, Helmut Lang was at his peak and pushing utilitarian minimalism. “His vision of fashion for men and women made sense of everything I was going through creatively. I can’t explain it fully, it was such a visceral response and a realization that the subtleties of style, cut [and] casting was possible at that level and in menswear, which I was most interested in. Fashion didn’t have to be crazy and loud – an approach that was discreet, confident and precise could be seductive and far more influential. I wanted to be part of that universe and this was what resonated. That realization changed everything for me.” Weston’s stint at Bristol was invaluable, giving him the opportunity to immerse himself in the small-but-mighty music scene (he favoured Massive Attack, Portishead, Smith & Mighty and Roni Size) and perhaps most importantly, the time to explore “what I was about creatively and developing my own point of view”, a vital part of a creative’s journey that is often overlooked.
Fashion didn’t have to be crazy and loud – an approach that was discreet, confident and precise could be seductive and far more influential.
Yet another female teacher, the indomitable late, great Louise Wilson swooped him up during his Masters at Central Saint Martins and pushed Weston to his full potential, “we often had strong conversations with differing points of view, but I valued that she really gave a shit to go to that length. It was important. To make me think in different ways or just to really stand behind an idea that I believed in. She always had an informed urgency in everything she did... Her directness is something I miss.” Wilson’s spirit is evident in Weston’s collections for Dunhill, immediately you get a grip on his streamlined aesthetic, crisp silhouettes with a whiff of monastic qualities and all tied up in anonymity – you won’t be seeing any flashy labels here. Weston’s designs manage to feel timeless and yet simultaneously contemporary, a winning formula for a 127-year-old British heritage brand that counts Frank Sinatra, Michael B Jordan, Kanye West, Lewis Hamilton and Global Brand Ambassador, Yang Yang, as devoted fans.
Fashion can, of course be, fickle, but Weston points out that “the thing is with Dunhill, it’s all there. There is a sense of modernity and tradition; there’s a constant tension” and it’s this ongoing and developing conversation between the two that keep a brand alive for over a century. When digging through the archives for inspiration, Weston often turns to a specific “photograph taken at Langan’s Brasserie in Mayfair during the late ’70s. On the table in the foreground you have The Sex Pistols and just behind them you can see Michael Caine. It is a scene that perfectly captures the zeitgeist of London around that time – the collision of the establishment and the anti-establishment.”
Anarchy and fashion have always gone hand-in-hand on Britain’s streets. Look at the punks, the rockers, the romantics, the mods, they’re all out there on your doorstep, and there lies the beauty in finding your identity within fashion. Weston may have dallied in American brands post CSM, (he was Design Director at Donna Karen from 1998–2002 and then at Coach from 2002–8), but he was destined to return to the freedom of design that can only be found in Britain. “There is not a single way of being British, there are many; there is classicism and tradition as well as an idea of the contemporary and of change. British people have a very identifiable way of dressing, something really not seen anywhere else, something more messy but stylish, practical yet formal. There is an idea of confidence to it. London has always been a diverse melting pot of culture and style. There are so many iconic areas within the city, each often linked to a distinct subculture. It’s fascinating when these different tribes overlap and collide, creating an energy that is palpable in the clothes you see on the streets. It is important for me to show this idea of Britishness as something crucial to Dunhill, and the way we approach style here.”
Weston has achieved just this. Whilst other brands struggled from a lack of inspiration at home during the lockdown, Weston decided to gather up his Dunhill community of musicians, actors, DJs, editors, athletes and tastemakers, and via Instagram live, bring the inspiration home for us all to share and enjoy in a series of weekly discussions and a reciprocity of ideas, all with the intention of raising money for CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably). This concept of a collective collaboration was not just for the lockdown but is a pillar of Weston’s design principles, “it was important to me to create the Dunhill community – an organic and genuine connection to my work with collaborators that excite me. I believe in authentic relationships and find inspiration in a number of fields linked to fashion, with art and music being the most interesting to me. This has led to us working with a number of talented individuals, including digital artist Kenta Cobayashi and musician Moses Boyd, who I have regularly collaborated with on music for shows.”
This is a piece's extract. Find out the full version in the Spring Summer 2021 Issue 6.