Those crossed horizontal and vertical lines _ the chequers or "checks" _ belong entirely to the Brits. Behind these little squares that come together with a combination of camel, vicuna and black lies the history of a brand that has steered its long-cherished legacy through more than a hundred years _ two turns of the century and two world wars. Like its uber-luxurious, influential counterpart Burberry, Daks is on its way to resurrect its massive archives through a modern presence.
Of course it's unfair to compare Daks to its British heritage house predecessors, be it Burberry or Aquascutum _ both were founded in the 1850s, while it wasn't until 1894 that Simeon Simpson began to offer his bespoke tailoring service on London's Middlesex Street. As Burberry and Aquascutum have enjoyed their modern success through their designers' contemporary vision and popular marketing cliches such as superstar presenters (Pierce Brosnan, Suede's Brett Anderson, Gisele Bundchen and model Jamie Dornan for Aquascutum, and all the high-voltage English roses du jours from Kate Moss, Agyness Deyn, Emma Watson to Rosie Huntington Whiteley for Burberry), you could say Daks is on its way from heritage house to modern fashion corporate, and it sure has come the right way.
Take, for example, its triumphant show at London Fashion Week last month _ during which American designer Sheila McKain-Waid delivered her sublime third collection for the brand _ marrying Daks' celebrated house check with American sportswear, innovative material rendition and understated chic. The star of the show _ the house check _ is reworked into layers simulating brushstrokes of abstract expressionist painters: it's revitalised in the modern era by McKain-Waid as fluid movement of lines, and through the use of glitter embroidery and textile innovation.
"I called a few friends that I knew, they are artists, and I said, 'Take our check, take a huge piece of fabric and see what you want to do with it'," said McKain-Waid during an interview with the Thai press after her show in Daks' Old Bond Street flagship store.
"It's quite an interesting process and I've never really done that. I got three different ideas back like a friend repainting it in a very painterly fashion, which you see on the catwalk. She just took the idea of the house check and repainted in energetic brushstrokes. I thought that was so fresh _ a way to make house checks summery and modern, giving it some kind of an energy. It's something you know, we all know about house checks, but it just has a new life to it."
Joining Daks in 2010, McKain-Waid understands that she carries a huge load of expectations and has become part of a significant movement, if not also for the British fashion industry, for one of the country's much-cherished heritage house that has long-celebrated close relationship with the British royal family. McKain-Waid is a torch-bearer, and her role is to lead Daks into a new modern era without losing the brand's roots and heritage.
The house check, as McKain-Waid reflected, has always been one of the biggest challenges she has to tackle each coming season.
"Obviously the most iconic element of the brand is house check, and I need to make it feel fresh and relevant because it's iconic and it needs to be part of the collection to send the message, to tell the story. But it also has to be updated all the time to appeal to customers and give them another reason to buy."
McKain-Waid's involvement in Daks also marks another interesting direction, which probably occurs more with British heritage brands than others. With Daks' root in bespoke tailoring and its pioneering role in creating self-supporting trousers, and the brand's name that suggests its origin as men's clothing: a combination of the words "DAd" and "slacKS", McKain-Waid also has to work on womenswear collections from archives and historical pieces of menswear and men's fashion. The US designer, who used to work at Halston, Donna Karan and Oscar de la Renta, is unfazed by that limitation of reference materials. She cherishes Daks' history, and enjoys experimenting with the menswear tradition in her collection.
"Every season I look into [the archives] and it's just brilliant right now because they just had a chance to put a lot of it online, so we can access it from our computer, typing keywords and things will come up," McKain-Waid said.
"Actually there's this pair of shorts [in the new collection] that come from a picture I found of a skort in original Daks advertising from the 1950s. Things like that are quite fun and I always think it's good to look and reflect on it. Every season I start, I kind of stop myself and ask, 'Is this Daks?', 'Is this right for Daks?'. You always need to take a moment to make sure you're respecting the heritage.
"It's amazing that any company has been in business for over a hundred years and succeeded. I keep that at the forefront of my mind and am respectful to it."
About the author
- Writer: Samila Wenin
Position: Muse Editor