Jeff Banks and the perfect white shirt collection
THERE is something special about designer Jeff Banks which sets him apart from his fashion industry peers.
While some love the allure of exclusivity and the razzmatazz of showbiz which comes with dressing red carpet events, Jeff admits he prefers to gets his kicks out of making fashion accessible to all.
So while he offers a visiting tailor service making made-to-measure, bespoke suits for actors, footballers and TV stars – he’s currently working with former England and Arsenal striker Ian Wright – he’s also very proud of his long-standing collaboration with high street retailer Debenhams.
Jeff has just launched a definitive white shirt collection into all of Debenhams stores, including Cheltenham and Gloucester, which is described as ‘the ultimate collection of eight white shirts which every man needs’ and they come in varying choices of fit, cuff, button and collar detail.
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“The first idea of it came from watching the TV series Mad Men which was really all about Madison Avenue guys in the Fifties,” explains Jeff. “The guy who played the lead was based on David Ogilvy and I knew him back in the Sixties.
“In the show, every time he went into a meeting he would put on a brand new white shirt which was in his desk drawer and change his suit and that’s actually what David Ogilvy was like. “He would wear a new, crisp white shirt to give him confidence.”
Jeff researched fabrics and the way the shirts are made and finished so they’re soft to touch but stand the test of time too.
“They’re a good price, I look at what shirts in other stores are and they’re all kind of £50, £60, £70 and these are £25. It’s genuinely fantastic value which everybody can afford and that’s really important to me. I’ve never wanted to be elitist,” he says.
“I’m hoping lots of people are going to enjoy it. It’s always the simplest things which can become the most successful.”
Jeff opened his first boutique, Clobber, in 1964 in London, before founding The International Clothing Company and the Clothing Export Council, the forerunner to the British Fashion Council, to promote British clothing abroad.
He had departments in all the major stores including Harrods, Selfridges and Liberty.
In 1979 he was named British Designer of the Year and won the accolade again in 1981 which sparked a successful television career.
Jeff became a fashion presenter on Pebble Mill and was the star of the hugely-popular Clothes Show which had millions of viewers.
More recently, Jeff was chosen from an eminent list of British designers to design the clothing that 130 members of the Olympic bid team would wear in Singapore to help secure the bid for London.
They included the likes of Tony Blair, Lord Coe and David Beckham.
For the London 2012 Olympics he kitted out the team from Belize.
“It was all Great Gatsby inspired,” says Jeff. “A guy who was part of the shooting team for Belize actually tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I’d do it for the opening ceremony.
“I did the clothes for the winning team that went to Singapore and won the Olympic bid. When they asked me to do the stuff for Belize which was only 10 athletes, it was a nice number so I was able to do everything made-to-measure.”
One of Jeff’s assistants flew to Belize, Houston and LA to measure up all the athletes where they were training.
“They were all a really lovely bunch of people who were delighted at being given something special,” he says. “Belize is a very poor country.”
Jeff was so pleased with the project that he let his assistant go to the opening ceremony while he headed straight to the velodrome. When he’s not working, Jeff is a keen cyclist. He’s currently working on a redesign of the professional cycling kit in Australia and knows many of the team well.
“I get really cranky if I don’t get out on my bike,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity to think. I will ride on Saturday and Sundays, probably 150 miles at the weekend. It’s a good way to get yourself focused, think things through and come up with ideas.”