There’s a picture from the new high summer 2020 Drake’s lookbook where a young model, a sort of preppy Neapolitan tailoring-clad Dickie Greenleaf, holds a slice of pizza dangerously close to the lapel of a beautiful white suit. A Margherita come-hither that makes you wince from the stain-to-be. It’s a picture that accurately surmises the Drake’s ‘look’, carefully cultivated over the last few years: irreverent, stylish, a bit Italian.
“It’s funny you mention the lookbooks, because I’ve definitely started hearing that they’re popular from a few different sides” says Michael Hill, the creative director of Drake’s, over the phone from his house in Devon. “I’d never seen a lookbook in my life, but I wanted to put together a thing where we weren’t taking ourselves too seriously to show the personality of who we are. We are only talking about clothes, but we love clothes and it’s an opportunity to express ourselves a little bit.”
Drake’s, which started out in 1977 as an accessories maker in the East End, before evolving into both an international tailoring house and reputable fancy man haberdasher, has turned the lookbook – a once-rote piece of fashion industry standard practice that shows off a brand’s clothes for the season ahead – into something of a wry extension of its ‘brand universe’. A fan favourite, each new shoot is pored over by social media followers, industry types, tailoring heads and users of forums like Reddit’s Male Fashion Advice. It sells a vision of a world where one can own various kinds of unstructured linen tailoring. Where cable knit merino jumpers in shades of sea green are tossed artfully across shoulders and people wear ties to the shops. A world where the piazza is always warm and sun-dappled and Negronis are always on the menu. A world where wearing a suit is cool, whatever the occasion.
“To an extent we were just making clothes that we liked,” says Hill, “whereas now maybe it’s a bit more thematic. We now think through from the start of designing the collection to how and where we shoot it.” Recent lookbook locations and subsequent themes have included Palm Springs, Northern Ireland, Lisbon, the Shetland Islands and Lanzarote. “We were supposed to be in Greece for the latest one, but then we saw that this ‘thing’ was coming and we had to adapt.”
That adaptation ended up being a rush around Little Italy in Clerkenwell the day before lockdown. The pizza shot was taken outside of Da Michele, the old-world institution founded in Naples. “We thought, ‘you’ve got to have that pizza shot with the white suit!’ Did we think it would be memorable? Maybe we’d be sounding a bit too sure of ourselves, but I guess we quietly hope it will be memorable.”
Along with the rise of the moodboard, where brands like Officine Générale, The Row and Aimé Leon Dore flex their taste in mid-century modern design and figurative painting on their own dedicated blogs and Instagram pages, the lookbook has gone from a back-end catalogue to be passed around offices and trunk shows, to an integral piece of the fashion puzzle. An opportunity to show the world (or at least your loyal customers) the appeal of your clothes in a context that you see fit.
“Brands need to create standout lookbooks to cut through commercially and editorially, and it has also become important to make your campaign imagery work harder for you,” says Holly Shires, brand creative director at Lyst, a global fashion search platform. “A behind the scenes shot can be teased on Instagram prior to the launch, and the lookbook can end up as an archive to live on your site forever. The most powerful lookbooks will become super valuable brand assets, so it’s worth investing maximum effort to nail the creative.
“I love when brands like Palace champion their community, and when Supreme creates viral brand images that need to be shared. I predict that the lookbook trend for using real people and ‘lo-fi’ locations will become even more prevalent in the current climate. The need for stretching budgets will push brands to think more creatively, and travel restrictions will change how we view location shoots.”
While Palace may recruit photographers like Jeurgen Teller to create deliberately low-res images featuring deadpan skateboarders with chipped teeth and, sometimes, even the photographer himself modelling the clothes, on the other end of the spectrum there is the likes of Hermès, the French label famous for its obsession with craft. In Le Monde d’Hermès it has created a kind of seasonal catalogue/coffee table magazine/lookbook that is printed on immaculate paper, now 76 issues deep. Everything about it exudes a lot of hard work and thought.
Fundamentally the lookbook is just a bit of fun, a chance to see lovely clothes from designers that you like in a memorable location. Especially with everything that’s going on right now, they feel like a source of stylish escapism while scrolling at lunch. In the world of Drake’s you can jostle up against locals in a Florentine cafe while sipping a so-strong-you-might-die-right-here-on-this-spot espresso in a seersucker suit, or hunch low in a Seoul dive bar in dark red needlecord. Window shopping in a universe where, you know, wearing an actual suit makes sense.
“We’re not claiming to change the world or do something bizarre,” says Hill of his brand’s lookbooks, “but we’re hoping to show clothes that present our point of view in a way that is fresh.”
And what if the pizza had been spilled onto the white lapel?
“I guess we go with it! If some mozzarella slides off, so be it.”
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