Neil Barrett

Seasonal strengths – the British designer turning womens’ heads

Text by Naomi Bikis

Photography by Tommy Clarke

Styling by Chloe Grace Press

Since 1999, fashion designer Neil Barrett has steered his eponymous label under one motto: quietly does it.

Barrett is that special breed of creative - a designer who has remained under the radar to build a niche brand. "Helmut and Dries were inspirations when I started," he explains. "I wanted a company without being owned by a group. To do whatever you want, whenever you want - and be quiet. They [Lang and Van Noten] were both quiet."

Barrett's menswear is celebrated for its precise cut, minimalism and grunge spirit. The introduction of women's wear, in 2006, introduced an alluring sexiness, which he attributes to his girlfriend. “I imagine how she will age, much to her shock. I try and think: 'When you have a scrawny neck, how am I going to make you look as good as you are today and make you feel as happy when you are wearing the clothes?' So I try and do clothes that would make her look great in any period of her life.”

Designing for all shapes and ages has paid off for Barrett, who's starting to reap applause, forcing him to engage with journalists. "I'm only now starting to talk to the press saying, 'Yes, I do exist'. I did it reluctantly before and now it's a pleasure because I feel I've arrived."

Born in Devon in 1965, England, Barrett's journey into the industry was a natural progression, his grandfather and great-grandfather having both worked as bespoke tailors. He studied at Central Saint Martins and later gained a Master's in menswear from the Royal College of Art. There, in the early '90s, Maurizio Gucci spotted Barrett's skills during his final show and offered him a job. Barrett soon headed to Florence, where he eventually became Gucci's senior menswear designer.

Five years later, another opportunity arose. While studying, Barrett had boldly written to Prada's CEO, Patrizio Bertelli, suggesting that if they were interested in menswear, he was their man. Eventually, he was appointed founding designer of Prada menswear. Today, of his depart Barrett says,"It's a wonderful situation to be protected. But after ten years I only knew that I actually wanted to go and to do it on my own."

In 2001, Barrett opened his first store in Tokyo, and others have since popped up in the Far East. As yet, though, no major stores are planned for Europe. "We've done everything without a flagship here," he says. "I wanted to focus on product-based growth first.

You always have so many ideas and it's always about understanding how to make something, give a reason to, and master everything. You can learn to be a tailor, to knit, cut leather, do anything within the field. I've always wanted to be in control and understand how to actually create the whole process of making a garment."

And master it is exactly what he has. §

  • Neil Barrett