He’s worked with the world’s top names in fashion, and David Beckham hand-picked him to change the face of British label, Kent & Curwen. Paul McLauchlan meets Dublin-born designer Daniel Kearns.
Irish fashion is renowned for its exports. But one thing that it lacks is an authoritative voice in menswear. Enter Daniel Kearns, a 44-year-old Dublin-born designer, who has spent over 20 years working behind-the-scenes in some of the world’s top fashion houses.
In 2016, he was appointed by none other than David Beckham to design Kent & Curwen, a then-90-year-old British heritage brand seeking to illuminate its position in the men’s contemporary fashion space.
Kearns was drawn to the project based on its heritage in military, university uniform, British sporting history and the fact that it was a lifestyle brand.
“I felt there was a gap in the market for a contemporary British premium lifestyle brand,” he says.
“When I met David and we discussed where we thought we could take the brand, it got me really excited as I could tell we had the same vision for it. At that point I knew I wanted the job so when David picked me I was delighted,” he said.
Kearns studied Fashion Design at the National College of Art & Design in Dublin before pursuing an MA in Menswear at The Royal College of Art in London.
“I didn’t really realise I wanted to become a fashion designer until I went to university at NCAD,” Kearns said.
“My parents told me they weren’t surprised as at a young age I had shown a few signs of being into clothes and experimenting. I was always into clothing as a form of expression and identity and how it tribally could connect you to a group, especially with music which has always been a huge passion for me growing up.”
Kearns’ grandfather owned a fabric mill in Ballincurrig, Co. Cork, which closed in the 1970s. Despite the family connections to fashion, Kearns was hesitant to pursue a career in fashion.
“I was very self-conscious starting out that it was an unusual career path for a boy from Dublin. But I was lucky to meet and work for John Rocha and Marc O Neil while at NCAD, as they made it seem all the more real and possible to me.
“When I came back [from interesting at Dolce & Gabbana], I applied for a PhD at the Royal College of Art and started researching into fibre technology, at the time I had a record deal in Ireland and I was studying and I just couldn’t decide what to do. My tutor, Susannah Handley was amazing and massively supported me, I ended up graduating with a Masters of Philosophy after three years. Giambattista Valli was at the graduation show and I got a job that day in Paris at Emanuel Ungaro and that was that.”
Throughout his life, Kearns has amassed an impressive pedigree. He completed an internship at Dolce & Gabbana during his university days, worked at Emanuel Ungaro in Paris following graduation, and he had stints at Roberto Cavalli, Louis Vuitton, Zegna, and Yves Saint Laurent. At Alexander McQueen, he oversaw the creation of the menswear collections.
However, it was at Dior, where he worked under the illustrious John Galliano that he truly earned his stripes.
“Thankfully, John involved me in everything: I was designing the shows, the commercial part, doing shoots, dressing John himself for shows and photo shoots, meeting incredible people, it was a lot of work but worth every second, he taught me so much and I was so lucky to get that opportunity.”
The experience has proved invaluable to Kearns’ current role at Kent & Curwen where he has been tasked with regenerating a 93-year-old brand which began by supplying uniforms for Cambridge, Oxford, cricket teams and military forces. Not only is Kearns responsible for designing ‘a fresh take on English heritage for the way men dress today’ but he has to meet the demands of the 90 stores in Asia, over 100 wholesale accounts in the UK and Europe, and e-commerce, in a fickle luxury market.
One of the key developments in Kent & Curwen’s history has been the interaction with the modern phenomenon of collaboration. For Spring/Summer 2019, they released a capsule collection with the Stone Roses. For Autumn/Winter 2019, which arrives in stores in September, the brand tapped into the successful television series Peaky Blinders. The latter is undoubtedly a response to the changing tide in men’s fashion from streetwear and sportswear to a more formal aesthetic.
They created an iteration of the three-piece suit, topped off with a frock coat and peg trousers, and a range of collarless shirts. It ties into the Peaky Blinders universe with motifs referencing Garrison Tailors, the luxury menswear brand created by Steven Knight, the show’s creator.
When he started the brand had no online presence — now, the website is the biggest point of sale outside of Asia and the brand’s Instagram account has reached 150.4k followers (at the time of writing).
Of course, the social media aspect to the brand is integral to its modern day success. Kearns repeatedly mentions the importance of the millennial customer to the brand. He notes that in order to make the brand relevant for today “it needed to be modernised for a younger generation”.
Perhaps this is indebted to the David Beckham, the British football legend, who is a brand partner. Beckham’s engagement with fashion reaches further than his iconic football kits, underwear advertisement campaigns with Emporio Armani, and countless magazine covers.
In 2018, he worked alongside the British Fashion Council as their Ambassadorial President, saying, “I have long been passionate about British style, fashion and craftsmanship and this role gives me the chance to get under the skin of an industry I love.” In 2016, Beckham and his Seven Global business venture acquired 50 percent of Kent & Curwen.
“He is really easy to work with and gets involved as much as he can. David loves going through the archives with me or doing research trips, he often calls into the studio to brainstorm ideas and look at the latest samples. It is massively inspiring for me to work with him, he has impeccable taste and knows exactly what he wants. We’ve worked together on all aspects of the brand from the logo and packaging to store design.”
The next step for Kearns and Beckham is womenswear. At the brand’s Autumn/Winter 2019 show, which took place at London Fashion Week Men’s in January, three looks were worn by women. On hand to support her husband was fashion designer and arbiter of style Victoria Beckham; she was dressed in a sharp grey blazer with matching swishy trousers and a feminine blouse with a ruffled neckline.
Brooklyn Beckham’s girlfriend Hana Cross also sported a look from the collection - a knit sweater emblazoned with ‘K . C. 1926’. For Spring/Summer 2020, the brand will launch a small collection of womenswear pieces.
“The collection showcases menswear for women, women’s pieces with a masculine approach – we’re extremely excited about this new addition for the brand and to cater further to our female customer base,” said Kearns.
The brand won’t be showing a presentation or show at London Fashion Week Men’s this season, opting instead to present the collection exclusively on an individual appointment basis. However, it will be brought to life through video and music in July, proving that fashion can be much more than a show. The strategic focus for the brand in terms of shows and presentations is the Autumn/Winter 2019 collection shown in January.
Kearns concludes, “It’s a brand that should feel very approachable and wearable, it’s a complete look with an authentic masculine aesthetic.
“Even if our Irish audience are less keen on the three lions or the rose patching there are loads of very wearable pieces.”