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Wednesday, 20 April 2016

GarconJon meets Dean Cook

Mr Dean Cook, Menswear Buying Manager at Browns

There are only a handful of brands that can truly be described as iconic and Browns store is one of those. Since the 1970s they've been at the forefront of British fashion, credited with discovering the likes of Alexander McQueen, John Galliano and Hussein Chalayan, helping to build London's reputation as a capital of International design talent. Considering the size of the boutique, it's quite a feat.

With the appointment of Dean Cook to the buying role last year, he's fully flexed his fashion muscles by introducing 26 new brands to the men's floor, increasing stock 5-fold. For menswear in London this can only be a good thing. I sat down with him for a quick chat at the top of their South Molton Street headquarters to discuss the changing industry since he entered 20 years ago, what's next in the world of fashion and his obsession with cycling.

Where did you grow up and where do you live now? I grew up in Essex and I live there now with my family. When I left school I moved to Cambridge to play football professionally. I was going from club to club and decided it wasn’t for me. It was then that I decided to carve out a career in the fashion industry - it was always an interest of mine growing up.

Have you always been interested in menswear then? I remember having an interest from a very early age. When I played football I used to come to London to go shopping – I always brought the other players. I first came to Browns when I was about 15. This was the store to come to. Bond Street was only half a street, Selfridges was a whole different animal then and Dover Street Market wasn’t even a concept. In fact, Comme des Garcons used to be a partner of Browns back then. I originally came looking for Comme as a teenager and that’s how I stumbled across Browns, this iconic shop.

Describe yourself in 5 words. Positive, energetic, determined, forward-thinking, fun.

Do you think this influences the way you work? Absolutely. I’m a high energy, positive person and this translates to my work on a daily basis. I enjoy what I do and like to work closely and collaboratively with my team. I think this is essential in order to bring the best out of people.

Dean wears Gucci wool blazer, Haider Ackermann silk t-shirt, Neil Barrett jeans and Kazuyuki Kumagai boots.

How has the fashion industry changed since you first entered? In my twenty years working in fashion I’ve made so many good friends. The industry has changed dramatically since I first started - it wasn’t as big a business as it is now, when I entered. Now it seems if the ambition isn’t to be a footballer or a pop star, kids all want to work in fashion and that’s an achievable dream.

Do you think these kids fully understand the challenges that come with a job in the industry? No, I don’t think there’s a real understanding of the challenges and the hard work that’s necessary to work in the fashion industry. So many children think buyers swan around looking at clothes. Little do they know that it's actually more likely that I'll be up until early hours writing orders while travelling on buying trip. 

What’s your favourite part of the fashion calendar? I love going on buying trips. Going to buy fashion internationally and being able to influence the consumer is the dream if you like fashion. Having the opportunity to bring the best of global fashion to Browns is an exciting prospect every season and one which I really enjoy.

What’s your opinion on treading the line between buying stock that is safe and sellable and pushing the boundaries? You have to push the boundaries in fashion. Buying into special products is what Browns is all about and that’s reflected in our sales. We sell out in all the key pieces each season. Historically, Browns has always been the store that people come to for something new from the hottest designer brands. We buy into cult brands such as Haider Ackermann, Rick Owens and Raf Simons alongside key superbrands such as Gucci, Saint Laurent and Valentino, but we also champion new design talent each season. New brands to Browns for SS16 include Sophnet, Uniform Experiment, Curieux, Kazuyuki Kumagai, Macromauro and Nick Fouquet – varied brands at a mix of price-points and all with a real point of difference.

Dean wears Uniform Experiment Jacket, Haider Ackermann silk t-shirt, Haider Ackermann joggers and Raf Simons X Adidas Stan Smith Distressed Trainers.

You’ve worked in luxury fashion for a long time, how does this role at Browns compare to your others at places like Jil Sander or Versace? I’ve had a great career on the sales side working at a very senior level with some extremely dynamic teams for some amazing brands. To get this opportunity though to influence a multi-brand store is incredible and it’s of definite benefit that I’ve worked on both sides of the business.

I can imagine buying is the type of role that everyone thinks they want to do, what advice would you give a young person wanting to move into this position? Don’t underestimate the value of experience. Start at the bottom and work your way up. You can be very talented and be spotted early, but overall the journey to become a buyer requires a lot of hard work and building your knowledge of the industry is key.

There’s a lot of talk about fashion week as we know it coming to an end, with Tom Ford releasing video and Burberry championing buy-from-runway. What do you think about all this? I definitely think the traditional cycle is going to change. I think we’ll see the “see now, buy now” approach come into play for more and more brands. Versace did this three years ago and we’re still talking about it. It’s interesting to see more brands trialling a similar approach.

And what about the rise of Vetements? There are so many brands to choose from and Vetements have clearly, creatively cut through the noise. It’s like the Premier League this year. How boring if Chelsea or Man City had won! No one would have expected Leicester to be in with a chance to take the title. We need newness in life.

I love that you’re so passionate about cycling. Why is being on the open road on two wheels so fulfilling? Undoubtedly the freedom. I could cycle for hours without realising it. I can be out for anything from eight to eighteen hours at the weekend. I use that time to think.

What do you think about cycling style right now? I love how Rapha have made cycling cool. The innovation in sports fabrics is incredible. I wear Rapha and ASSOS mostly as both brands have the perfect mix of style and substance.

What piece of advice would you give your 18 year old self? On a professional level, I would tell my eighteen year-old self to find something you enjoy and work hard at it to enjoy the benefits later in life. On a more personal front, I’d say life is all about experiences, so take any opportunity to travel the world. I’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of travelling and I think it’s so important. It opens your mind and tests you in so many ways.

Leave us with some words of wisdom. Never give up. If you really believe in something go for it with full force.

Dean wears Raf Simons Canvas Coat, Raf Simons short sleeve shirt, Sophnet chinos and Tricker's Classic Leather Brogues.