Sean Gilbert managed to grab a moment with menswear designer Kestin Hare about how it all started, James Bond and the great British lido.
It’s been a busy year for Kestin Hare. Since launching his eponymous label in 2014, his brand has been on a bit of a blitzkrieg; starting in Edinburgh, he’s opened additional boutiques in Glasgow, Soho and Shoreditch, with dozens stockists secured across Europe and even South Korea. I caught up with him during a very brief moment of down-time— though he clearly had much on his mind. Kestin was in the thralls of a pigeon crisis at the site of his new pop-up; he’d spent the day frantically securing a white van and some heavy duty, diesel-powered machinery in a bid to get rid of these aves interlopers. As he explained the intricacies of the operation, I gained a rare insight into the strange, multi-fronted challenges of developing a young label, the improbable crises can crop up at any opportunity. When I asked if if he had plans for further expansion any time soon, he replied emphatically: “No. It’s time to settle down”.
As a young designer, Kestin cut his teeth at a placement at Reiss, before making a name for himself as head of design at Nigel Cabourn and then creative director for Common People. Fans of these fashion houses will see a clear lineage in terms of aesthetics. The labels share a focus on clean, timeless designs; understated pieces that pay keen attention to practical wearability. Indeed, it’s this practical component that first allured Kestin to the world of fashion: “I wanted to design stuff that my mates would wear and that’s still the case” he states.
Beneath this functional approach, there’s also a wistful element underpinning his work. The collections proceed from a reflective place, a current of nostalgia inspiring the designs. The label’s first collection, White Noise, referenced the static of bygone televisions, while the current season looks at the heritage of British pool culture. “Everything about the past inspires me” Kestin states, “everything really — particularly finding new things from the past. To look back at periods of time, that’s really important in any creative discipline — whether architecture or any kind of design— to look back in order to look forward”.
The past has been an enduring fascination of Kestin’s, intricately tied to his approach. Reportedly while a student, he gained his first insights into his craft by de-constructing vintage garments. Now helming his own label, he can afford to broaden his scope. “The collections have always got a reference point, we always do a lot of research into a certain period, to inspire us to design a collection”. These reference points come in many forms; after chancing upon a book of ornithology written by James Bond, Kestin was inspired to produce an entire birdwatchers collection. His current season involved expeditions to abandoned lidos outside Edinburgh and Glasgow; the faded art deco designs providing a creative framework for a range of contemporary summer-wear. As he discusses these discoveries, one imagines his mood boards would make a veritable curiosity cabinet, worthy of Joseph Cornell.
Yet while these conquests into the past play an important role in his process, he’s also led by something far more tangible and basic: fabric. Time and again, our discussion returns to Kestin’s perennial hunt for good quality, interesting fabrics. It’s a topic he has obvious passion for; all lofty discussions of design inevitably lead back to a consideration of the materials themselves, “Fabric really inspires, besides this process of ‘looking back’, fabric plays such a key role”.
Indeed, this has already become on of the brand’s defining hallmarks. Throughout his career, Kestin has been a strong advocate of local manufacture and is known for paying close attention to the quality and provenance of the materials he selects. Here, his move to Scotland (carried out shortly after starting Common People) pays off in spades. The team works with factories just outside of Dundee and Edinburgh, the proximity allowing them “ to get down and dirty inside the factories; you can always make the most interesting new products by being hands on like that”. One recent innovation they’ve developed involves printing tweed on waxed cotton, marrying the best qualities of each.
Men’s fashion is going through a renaissance, the industry enjoying a year on year growth that markedly outpaces womenswear. As a designer, Kestin has certainly noticed this sea change “Men are taking more pride in their appearance… They are definitely more invested in in looking good and feeling good” he states, “It’s become a lifestyle and we try to cater for that in our stores”. In many ways, it’s this notion of a lifestyle that his brand aims to service as much as any sartorial needs. His shops showcase a range of products that share Kestin’s “philosophy and approach”, they’ve even starting buying in bicycles. Browsing them, you feel you’re being offered a vision of leisure itself, one that echoes the past, without being relegated to it.
Illustrations by Alice Griffin | Words by Sean Gilbert