When Mr P. launched at the end of last year, the move from online retail giant Mr Porter heralded an exciting new endeavour for the company. Having overseen a huge retail operation which was able to pinpoint exactly what men were looking for, and where there may be gaps in the market that needed filling, Mr P. was a disruptive force, and with the promise of five new drops each year, their aggressive approach to constantly updating and refreshing what’s on offer sounded very appealling.
But could they deliver another line so soon?
We caught up with Mr Porter’s Style Director Olie Arnold in Sydney last week, to go through the latest range, and talk about how the brand is already evolving.
Olie–straight up, tell us a bit about the inception of Mr P., the brand.
It’s something that we’ve talked about as a business for a few years and it’s all been about timing for us really. It’s always been a “when” with timing, you know. We decided that we’re at a place now as a brand with Mr Porter where we’ve got pretty much everybody we want, as a retailer, and it felt like it was the right time for us to institute our own thing.
We sat in a room not much bigger than this and we just brought in things that we love that we’ve owned for years. It was everyone from myself to the managing director–we all sat in this room and we just spent a day just talking about it, and then formatting what it was going to look like.
We sort of felt that there was a little gap as well, so it sort of fits nicely between the kind of casual and the contemporary world of Mr Porter’s offering, and we felt that we could probably do something that was more complete and comprehensive.
Once we’d established that it was like, “Okay. So what else can we do with it?”
The idea of bringing five drops a year where there was a bit more opportunity to kind of look at slightly more “designed” products, but still keeping it very much within the sort of grounds of what Mr P. is.
It felt like a very savvy move, really.
The first season very clearly covers wardrobe basics and staples–things that every guy should have. Do you think the second one has followed that theme quite strictly as well?
Yeah the first one we did was very much the launch, there wasn’t so much like a “capsule one” kind of thing, it was just the launch.
We wanted to establish the continuity part of the business, so that was our opportunity to do so. We did this really beautiful double-breasted black, jumbo cord suit with that pleated pants, and it was quite strong–it was very conceptual. And from the outset as well, some of the overcoats we did, like one with a herringbone and one in a kind of dog tooth, which is like a kind of red … it was a standout. Quite striking.
It was interesting because we weren’t sure how that was going to resonate, because that wasn’t continuity. Continuity is things like your classic white cotton shirt, your chambray shirt, your chinos; things like that. These bits were kind of … were sort of the icing on the cake, I guess. And the reception was incredible. Especially those pieces which were sort of more interest pieces, which you know, there was a bit of a surprise to it, in a good way.
We always wanted to sort of focus on outerwear, knitwear; that was a real opportunity for us to sort of own lots of areas. And we did what we were trying to do, which was great.
I know there’s an idea of trying to fill in the gaps from other designers, with regards to what other brands aren’t doing. Obviously you would have a good understanding of that being a retail giant with access to sales figues–do you think that following trends might be a bit of an inevitability though in future? When you can see what other brands are doing that’s working?
I mean it’s no secret that we’re an internet business. We have access to so much information. We can really speak to our customers, and that’s what we try to do. So we really try to look at areas where we feel, you know, that maybe there are gaps or maybe areas that we feel really resonate with our clients. We make no secret of that, and you know, it’s like, who wouldn’t? What business wouldn’t look at your strengths and say, “How can we sort of improve on that?”
You have to look at where menswear is going and be part of that conversation. You don’t want to be doing something that everyone is turning their back on, and be like, “Oh, we’re doing this now!” We spend a lot of time at the fabric fairs, and that’s how all these trends come up anyway. Everyone, all the designers are seeing the same subjects as everyone else. That’s how the trends are normally born. We’re just trying to create our own path.
We want to inspire guys so every time a drop comes in–we want them to be into it. We want it to feel like something new, but something that they can get on board with. Nothing that’s going to be too out there, nothing that’s going to freak them out. There’s plenty of other brands that do that.
So nothing too outlandish in the future?
Yeah, no. Nothing like that. You know brands like Gucci, they’ve got that whole world sorted.
How about accessories? Belts? Shoes?
We’ve got big plans.
Yeah. I’m gonna leave it at that. Yeah. We’re ambitious. We want it to talk to a lot of people. We want it to be global. We want it to … yeah we’ve got big plans.
I know you mentioned that this (second round) was a bit easier than the first drop. What would you say are the lessons you learned from the first drop?
I think we really had a clear understanding of what the brand was going to be and how it was going to look. We’ve learned a lot about manufacture and we’ve really tried to make sure we get the best factories on board, and get the best fabric from wherever possible. That’s been a massive learning curve for us. You know we’ve had some real wonderful moments working with some amazing people and then other moments where it’s a little more challenging where, because we are working with Japan, we’re working with Italy (most of our stuff is from Italy) and each of those cultures and countries have different ways of working, you have to kind of blend into that.
Like I said, it’s still a part of that journey. That’s why we have a team, a great team. They’ve got experience in that world.
But yeah, we spent a lot of time at the start getting silhouettes right, getting cuts right, and we’re a little bit more efficient with our time now.
How does the design of a drop work? Who’s involved in the actual process?
We have an in-house team of designers. And my role: I work with the whole team, to ensure that the Mr Porter message and DNA is carried through across both brands. We’re very much part of Mr Porter, we’re not trying to separate from that. We’re very proud of the brand that we already have and our customers trust that and they believe in that and we want to make sure it continues that way. We’re not trying to just move away from it.
So I work with a design team to talk about what the pieces could look like, what they should look like, and ultimately they will come up with the ideas.
Where we do some of the more brand imagery, we need to make sure that things work together as a complete look as well. So that’s quite a lot of time and we need to bring things into make it consistent. Because we want a guy to come back and put the shirt on and it’s the same fit. He knows that fit. We’re very keen to make sure of that.
I f*cking hate that. It’s the biggest stitch up from so many brands where nothing fits twice.
It’s crazy! I mean it’s so frustrating. It’s like, for us, we hear a lot of that from our guys. It’s something that we’ve done really well in our support room, and on the site in our product editorials, we really spent a lot of time measuring everything and making sure that we tell people what it is, whether to go a size up or size down. It’s tricky, but especially when brands decide to just change it up.
Touching on that, there are a lot of expensive things on the site and buying something online when you’re talking several thousands of dollars could be quite a daunting thing if you don’t know exactly what you are getting. I wonder, how does that work at your end?
I think one of the things that we’ve worked really hard on is to make sure that we’ve created the best service. Our service is, and I’m not just saying it because I work there, I’ve never had service like it from anywhere. No one else does as good as we do.That’s because we realise that, if you are spending a lot of money on something you want to it quickly, you want to see it, you want to try it and if it’s not right then you want a no-hassle return system. You don’t want it to be like, having to go to a shop to return something. So we take care of all of that. And I think our customers … it really resonates with them.
They feel like they can trust that, wherever it is in the world. We’re going to do it as quick as possible. You know we’ve got our distribution network growing. You know we’ve got some really grand things coming out in the future that are going to mean that we can be more efficient and better. The service is so key to us, and that’s what a lot of the feedback we have from people says.
Last thing I want to touch on is the fact I’ve heard that Dennis Hopper was an inspiration for this particular drop. I’m not overly au fait with his films, but I’d love to know how he ties in to Mr P.
Okay so what we’ve done is, with each of the capsules, sorry, with each of the drops … We try and use the word “drop” rather than “capsule” because we got some feedback from some guys. They’re like, “Capsule?” It’s such an industry term. It’s a very industry thing. A capsule is supposed to be a smaller range that fits into a bigger range. We’re a bit different.
One of the things that we spend a lot of time on, my team and I, is we build these narratives and the story-telling. So when we started Mr P. it was like, “Okay how is it going to tie into Mr Porter? How is it going to look like Mr Porter?” So we initially started thinking about doing these drops, we started talking about bringing in these narratives.
With the second one we very much looked at LA and we looked at kind of some key icons around that time, and Dennis Hopper was one of a few. There were people like him: there was the painter Ed Ruscha, Andy Warhol, even though he was New York based they kind of did that whole build that was sort of fixed in ’60s Pop Art. And they would hang out together and they just had this sort of crazy time exploring. I think the ’60s were generally the time for everyone, but especially for men. The kind of coming out of the shadows of their forefathers, it was kind of much more of a free time.
And we just love that sort of romance of the time–’60s LA where we’ve got that kind of beautiful light. The lovely faded colours. A little bit, kind of hedonistic but in a kind of fun way. We tried to not be literal with it, because we don’t want to be a vintage brand. We want to be a contemporary brand. We want it to be modern.
But I think some of those guys kind of helped create a look–different sorts of styles and a look that we felt would work with our guys. So yeah, it’s loosely based on a few different figures.
I’d think there’d be a whole generation of people who probably have no idea who Dennis Hopper is, especially in Australia.
Yeah with Dennis Hopper, the great thing about Dennis Hopper is that he really came to the forefront with Easy Rider, and that was like his big break. That’s when he became the mega-star that he was. Pre-that he did a film with James Dean, and a couple of things. He played very small roles. And he was a photographer. He did photography. If you haven’t seen it it’s amazing. When he was in his 20s in the ’60s he was just going around taking pictures of everything. And that was his thing. And he’s collecting art and he’s hanging out with artists and he’s got this little group of …
US bohemian …
Yeah, exactly. They kind of … You know it was all very free and easy. And there is something quite romantic about that kind of time. You know, now these names are huge, but then they were just sort of starting out in their careers. And we felt that kind of related with us, that we were just starting out. It was nice to contrast ’60s London. Where we’d started the cinema thing with the School of London, that group of artists, then to go to ’60s LA where we had a very different aesthetic but still had shared some common ideals.
Any hints on who you might be using as inspiration in the future?
Uh… Let’s just say we are going to carry on this idea. We are trying not to pinpoint too much on individuals. It feels like it sort of confuses the message a little bit and people might be able to see it in their mind and they’ll see and be like “Oh that’s not exactly what I thought”. You know the idea is we don’t want to be too literal. But we will … We’ve got some … That’s been part of the fun actually (finding inspiration).
But yeah, when you start that research path, when you start looking into these men and who they became; what they did and that sort of impact on menswear today, and how it still has that legacy, it’s quite fascinating.
It will be interesting in like 60 years from now to look back and say, “So what … who are these kinds of guys now?”