Ross Barr is a recently launched luxury menswear label backed by The Prince’s Trust, which aims higher than simply dressing men better. With a design ethos inspired by historically iconic British fashion and fledging trade in the North, the label aims to be a major contributor to the resurgence of Britain’s wool trade, a cause close to The Prince of Wales’s heart.
The Discerning Man chats to Ross on the recent launch of the Spencer cardigan, David Gandy and future plans for the brand.
What inspired you to start designing menswear?
I’ve loved fashion since my early teens and worked in high-end premium retail during university. To be honest, it all came about by accident when I was given the chance to design and produce a piece of knitwear, which lead to the concept of Ross Barr being born.
I’ve always sketched my own menswear designs, as well as haute couture evening wear for both genders. But I decided to start with menswear because it’s the area I know best. I literally sketched hundreds of designs before finally deciding on The Spencer to launch as the first piece, as I felt it best embodied Ross Barr as a brand.
Ross Barr is inspired by my own personal background. I grew up in Wakefield, a small city in West Yorkshire, just south of Leeds. Witnessing my father’s passion and determination to support the British Haulage industry really rubbed off on me. Wakefield, like so many other areas across the country, which was once one of the UK’s industrial hubs has seen a massive a degeneration due to competition from abroad. This has meant that we have lost so many trades and opportunities. What I want to do with Ross Barr is build that industry back up and make those lost jobs available again.
Ross Barr is supported by The Prince’s Trust, how did this come about?
I had a mentor called Chandra Singh, who entered me into The Prince’s Trust Enterprise Program for all budding young entrepreneurs. It was incredibly hard work and you have to jump through a lot of hoops set to test you before you are seen by a panel of experts, who determine what funding and mentoring you would require. After they reviewed my business plan I was honoured they backed me and offered me the maximum amount of support.
What did Prince Charles think of The Spencer when you exhibited at The Prince’s Trust 40th Anniversary recently?
He was genuinely so engaged and enthused with my designs. It was a real honour to share the finished product with him.
Both Prince Charles and the Queen took their time to talk to every single person in the room. Prince Charles was aware of my mentor who made everything happen for me, which just shows his level of dedication, enthusiasm and genuine interest he has with people who are part of the trust.
How come you decided to launch Ross Barr in the North, as a posed to the fashion capital of the UK London?
When I decided to set up the brand, I knew I had to had to sacrifice many luxuries. Starting a business from the ground up I don’t have a regular income, so couldn’t realistically afford to pay London rent prices.
However, whilst I do believe London is the fashion capital, I believe that fashion is not exclusive to a city. If you go to any large city within the UK it has its own movement whether that be fashion, music or art. I’m part of The Leeds Fashion Initiative, an organisation I am proud to be a part of.
One day I will move to London in some form, that is without question as I fall more in love with the city every time I go. My heart will always be where my roots are, though – I shall always remain a proud northerner.
What do you think of the current state of heritage British bands, do you think they are suffering, with European designers being increasingly popular in the UK?
Every country has its own fashion and creative style specific to the country or city it originates in, which brings something unique and different to the world.
In terms of British brands and designers, we have some great powerhouses of industry from Crombie and Christopher Bailey at Burberry ,who is revolutionising the brand, to the brilliant eccentric genius of Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen. Britain has the wonderful reputation for being beautifully timeless and traditional but also being completely wacky and eccentric. As Brits, we do not do things by halves. From the tailors of Saville Row who are sought out by the world for craftsmanship and skill to the aforementioned designers and those who are coming up who seek to challenge the norm and revolutionise the fashion industry as we know it.
Not to be biassed, but Britain has always been a hub of genius for the fashion industry and that comes from our mix of heritage but also our mentality as a nation. We are strong and forthright with our ideas and concepts, but we conduct ourselves in a polite grace.
Which brands inspire you when it comes to designing?
The first real brand I came across at a very young age and immediately began a love affair with is Crombie. Across my life span as a fashion conscious person, I have come across many brands and designers that both influence me and I respect. Both as a company and personally I look up to Ralph Lauren as both a brand and as a person. I also look at Coco Chanel who challenged the status quo of her time and revolutionised both French and world fashion from very humble beginnings.
At home though I am very lucky to have met two amazing designers; Timothy Everest and Giles Deacon both who are exceptionally humble and lovely gents who were both inspiring and gracious with the interactions with me. Their work speaks for their brilliance and genius. There is another amazing designer; Patrick Grant who has just relaunched Community Clothing project, which is a social enterprise seeking to sell British-made clothing where profits go back to the manufacturer, leading to further jobs being created.
David Gandy was spotted in The Spencer, how did this come about?
I took a chance and reached out to David Gandy and I was exceptionally lucky and honoured in his decision to wear The Spencer for the Campaign for Wool event, which is testament to his character and belief in British designers, brands and manufacturing.
For the image of David wearing the design to make the number one spot of GQ online’s ‘look of the day’, both exceeded my expectations and wildest dreams. For someone of his stature to be prepared to help and lend a helping hand is truly awe-inspiring, he is also one of most the incredibly lovely people, A true gent.
What’s next for Ross Barr? Will you be launching any summer designs?
The launch of the new AW16 collection is next and I’m currently working on designs for the SS17 collection, which is scary as it will be my first SS range. The new AW collection will see the return of The Spencer along with a few friends in the form of The Jorvik, The Elliot, The Dandy and The Hoyland.
Finally, any top tips for any budding menswear designers out there?
Have passion, belief and strength. This industry is amazing, but it can also be incredibly hard at times – never give up and always believe in yourself. I advise anyone studying fashion to listen to your peers and teachers, as based on what I have witnessed, the breadth of their wisdom and expertise is there to guide and serve those who are coming next.
Dream big, think outside of the box, don’t be scared to push boundaries, but always be willing to adapt and compromise and always remain humble and willing to speak to anyone who comes your way.
Ross Barr knitwear is available from http://rossbarr.co.uk/shop with The Spencer costing £189 inc. delivery.