Every season, accessories brand Penrose rents a showroom next to Liberty on Great Marlborough Street to show off its new collection. Walk in there, and you get an invigorating shock to the senses. So much fresh, vibrant colour in that clean, white space. Co-founder Mitchell Jacobs calls himself a colourist rather than a designer, and you can see why.
The second thing that hits you, no less forcefully, is the patterns. I’m naturally more conservative than the target audience for most of these designs, but many are so intricate that they completely take me in. Think subtler than Paul Smith and cleverer than Duchamp (Mitchell’s old brand). Think “lace archives in France, church ceramics, wallpaper in Florence, Viennese water marks, tiles in coffee shops” – the list that fellow founder Michael Whitby-Grub reels off as recent inspirations.
The tie patterns are more elaborate than most – something that means the weavers down at Vanners in Suffolk take up to week to transfer them to the loom, where a standard pattern would take no more than a day. And, for me, the intricate cuff links – which also take disproportionate time to create – remind me of ornate wrought-iron railings.
Yet they’re not too pricey – around £80 for a tie, £110 for a scarf (popular with Liam Gallagher and the Kaiser Chiefs, apparently). It helps that Penrose doesn’t do any advertising or marketing.
On the geeky technical side, Michael points out that the silks are not bleached before being dyed – something that means Vanners has to do Penrose silks separately. It takes longer, but Michael feels it adds greater lustre to the colours. He also uses 350-end, seven-ply silk, which also helps hold the colour better (most silks are 4 or 5, occasionally 6-ply).
And, if you remember back to the feature I did on Vanners about how silks are spun, you’ll remember the role of the warp as opposed to the weft. Michael doesn’t use a black warp, unlike most tiemakers, but varies the colour between designs. That creates a shifting, two-tone effect.
I first met Michael back in 2009, when the first Penrose collection (A/W 09) was in full swing. Since then, the brand has grown enormously. It is now stocked by Selfridge’s, Liberty, Bloomingdale’s (this winter) and around 35 independents around the world, including in France, Greece, Cyprus, Russia and Japan. Mitchell had sold Duchamp, the brand he created, in 2006. After a short break as a ‘gentleman farmer’, he returned to world of men’s accessories, to be joined by Michael, former international wholesale manager at Aquascutum.
Mitchell says that if he hadn’t left Duchamp, this is the brand it probably would have become – subtler, refined but with that innate love of vibrant colour and sophisticated pattern.
If there are designs that even a conservative like me can love, there’ll be something for everyone.