Who, where or what, you cry, is Devonport? Until a couple of weeks ago, I hadn’t the foggiest idea either. Google searches for ‘Devonport’ assist little. In fact, when you search for ‘Devonport clothing’ most of the results yielded are connected with New Zealand. So it transpired that I, sat in the smart waffle carpeted, leather chaired, better-decorated-than-Hackett Piccadilly store (at present the only store), searching on my phone’s internet for clues as to the origins of this perplexing arrival on one of London’s most famous and notoriously expensive streets, came to the conclusion that I had wandered into a Kiwi export.
Having smiled at the pleasant shop assistants in a way that conveyed more surprise than ease, I approached them for more information. I had believed that New Zealand had something to do with the store, so vague was the online information to hand, but the shopkeepers informed me that actually Devonport was an English company which manufactured most of its wares in Portugal. I informed them I had not heard anything about the store before and that its arrival was something of a revelation. They replied that this store was, at present, the only store and that the firms marketing had not yet stretched to an online presence.
The approach is slightly strange, although not illogical. Strange because to manufacture clothing, purchase a pricey Piccadilly lease and open shop without the slightest hint of marketing or PR seems extraordinary. I reasoned that the website was clearly still under construction and also that their address, the envy of dozens of retailers, would surely begin to draw in the right crowd of potential buyers, although when I visited on a sunny Saturday afternoon, the store was empty apart from my entourage. The store assistants assured me rather calmly, when I enquired about the success of the store, that they have experienced custom and that some buyers had even made repeat visits.
Despite the bewilderingly non-existent marketing and public relations campaign, Devonport will surely be a welcome addition to a street in London that was, appropriately, formerly known as Portugal Street. The style is simple but graceful. Fabrics include fine Italian cloth, chunky Scottish wool and cashmere. The suits are not shiny, small-lapelled fashion-oriented things; they are crafted out of fine materials – wool flannels and linen – and are offered in a very large range of styles and colours.
The suit room, one of three carefully planned ‘theme rooms’ (the others being a hunter’s cabin style casual wear section and a bright and airy front room for shirts, ties and accessories), is spacious and well appointed. As well as offering standard alterations on all suit stock, Devonport also offer a made-to-measure service that includes the possibility of adding a waistcoat in the same fabric to an off-the-rack suit. Detail on suits is excellent and finely executed; the canvas is horsehair, the corduroy suit buttons are smart knots of brown leather and I also noted with pleasure that the default aesthetic for the wool suit trousers was turn ups, though of course this can be altered according to the wishes of the individual customer.
Trousers, casual blazers, knitted waistcoats and cable jumpers are also on offer, as is an astounding array of shirts all neatly arranged around silk shaded lamps. Noting the prices of some of the latter, and their rather commonplace appearance, I did not foretell a happy future for this section of the store – with long-established Jermyn Street a hop, skip and jump away, how could they hope to compete in the shirt market? However, in other respects Devonport offered an aesthetic comparable to Hackett and Ralph Lauren and prices comparable to an upmarket high street store; it is the sort of clothing of great interest to style-conscious men ranging from a mere 35 to a grand 80 years of age. It has legs too; this is not experimental stuff. The designs are reliably derivative and well-made and offer a warmer, wiser, coffee-drinking European alternative to the brasher, younger-looking Hackett aesthetic.
The store manager informed me that a morning wear section is planned; tailcoats, waistcoats, sponge bag trousers, the lot, as well as the new spring collection, due in a couple of weeks, which will include linen suits, seersucker and summer blazers. She also keenly informed me they are looking for an English cloth provider and, potentially, a resident tailor. Expansion plans were not made evident, although it seems that this very European looking store – that brings together a London-via-Milan style – will be considering other large cities on the continent. However, bearing in mind the state of the retail market, this will probably be the only store for now.