30 Minutes With: Ray Kelvin
In England, Ted Baker has become what Ralph Lauren is in the United States: more than just a purveyor of the finest quality shirts – rather, an icon of its nation. (Disambiguation: there is no Ted Baker. Or rather, Mr Baker is “the ultimate Englishman in New York” – at once stylish, worldly and roguish) The brand is known for refinement and distinction, but that’s cut down by a cheeky sense of Brit humor (think John Cleese wearing a rakish suit). They’ve just opened a new Manhattan store in the meatpacking district, bringing a taste of anglo-style to the Empire City. Gear Patrol sat down with Ted Baker founder and CEO Ray Kelvin, the self-proclaimed “closest man to Ted.” Irreverent and entertaining, he told us about the brand, how it started, and where it’s going.
Gear Patrol: When did you originally become involved in menswear?
Ray Kelvin: I learned the art of retailing at an early age working in my grandfather’s shop where I learnt everything from stock taking to how to sell.
GP: How did Ted Baker begin?
RK: I started the Ted Baker brand as a shirt specialist in Glasgow back in 1988 where I opened my first store.
GP: We’re intrigued by your organic approach to advertising – Ted Baker has grown through word of-mouth rather than aggressive advertising. Was it a conscious decision? Obviously it’s been an effective model… or was Ted Baker just a perfect storm?
RK: I started the business by trying to find alternative ways of building awareness. At Ted we always like to do things differently including creative window displays which create a talking point, guerilla tactics and by having our own language and culture. I felt that not advertising was the right thing to do when I started out and I have stuck to that preferring to grow the business through considered expansion of the collections and stores.
GP: Tell us about your early decision to offer dry cleaning of all the shirts you sold.
RK: My original plan was to deliver outstanding quality, uniqueness, innovation and attention-to detail both in terms of the clothes and the customer service. Offering a free laundry service was a way to provide an engaging shopping experience and to connect with our customers in a personal way. We may no longer offer the dry cleaning but we bring an element of quirk and attention to detail in everything that we do.
GP: You’ve mentioned a “Ted Baker lifestyle” and the “fun, cheeky attitude.” If you could describe the Ted Baker aesthetic, what would it be?
RK: I try very hard to bring personality out in everything that I do. I don’t want to be ordinary or like anybody else. From subtle embroidered details in the clothing to amusing notes on the packaging, everything that bears the Ted Baker name always offers absolute quality and that little bit more. It all comes down to a belief in making fashion, and life in general, fun.
GP: Are there certain places or people or things that you go to for inspiration?
RK: I get inspiration from a variety of sources and from my travels. I enjoy fabrics and textures and interior design; in fact I enjoy all areas of design, that’s what motivates and inspires me.
GP: Tell us about the new Manhattan store in the Meatpacking District. How will it be different from other Ted Baker locations?
RK: Each Ted store is individually designed to complement its immediate surroundings so each store is unique. The meatpacking store is less traditional shop fit and more art installation. Exposed brickwork and reclaimed flooring, as well as a washed out color scheme lets the Autumn Winter 2010 collection take centre stage.
Building upon the minimalist design inspiration and considering the area’s rich history, the store is filled with bespoke, leather-upholstered wooden crates, all of which contain just a few home comforts for ‘Ted’ – the ultimate Englishman in New York. Packed carefully by Ted’s butler and transported to Manhattan, each crate relates to different aspects of Ted’s life: from gardening tools to his finest bone china.
GP: Something most people don’t know is that one of the Ted Baker stores was entirely built and dismantled on set for the James Bond film Casino Royale, How did that come about?
RK: We were approached by the film production company and agreed to design and build a fully merchandised Ted Baker store on the film set in Prague. The entire project was carried out in only three days and the store appeared in a scene which was set at Miami airport.