DAKS is a British luxury fashion house, founded in 1894 by Simeon Simpson.
DAKS holds royal warrants granted from three members of the Royal Family, one of 15 firms (out of 820) to do so. Officially granted to DAKS’ Simpson Piccadilly store in 1956 was the royal warrant of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, followed by that of HM The Queen in 1962 and HRH The Prince of Wales in 1982.
Worldwide, DAKS is exported to 30 countries and sold in over 2,000 specialty shops, major stores and concessions. The name is a combination of the initials of Alexander Simpson and an initial and final letter of his business associate Dudley Beck.
Early years – S Simpson
In 1894 Simeon Simpson, aged 16, rented a room on Middlesex Street, East London, with the intention of setting up a business in bespoke tailoring, focused on high standard craftsmanship. Several innovations of technology at the time were being introduced with machinery capable of making buttonholes and electric powered saws to cut a large number of layers of fabric at once – Simpson saw the potential for such equipment for producing garments in higher quantities while still upholding quality tailoring techniques, aiming to improve ready-to-wear standards as no male or female professionals considered ready-to-wear for suitable attire at the time. Simpson’s methods proved successful in speeding up the process and he set up several factories within London, which soon required expansion in its early years through popularity of the label.
Alexander Simpson, his second son, joined the business aged 15 in 1917, and by 1929 had planned and opened a larger factory in Stoke Newington where production can be centralised, this again had to be enlarged a few years later.
20th century – DAKS and Simpsons Piccadilly
With the continued growth of the company Alexander Simpson began to take more control of the business, and in 1935 DAKS gained further fame for the S Simpson brand as an innovation in the tailoring world of the first self-supporting trouser. He went about to invent a way to support his trousers that wouldn’t need braces as these interrupted his swing whilst playing golf and caused his shirt to become untucked. The DAKS trouser was invented – it had a channel within the waistband at the back wherein an elasticated strip was attached at the sides with tabs attached to one of two buttons for adjustment. On the inside of the waistband were sewn-on rubber pads that gripped the shirt and stopped it from fitting loose. This happened in a world where to buy a pair of trousers of high quality one would have to have a bespoke pair made by a tailor, and thus this new design allowed the ease of ready-to-wear trousers. Simpson was so sure of his new design that he had 100,000 pairs made before being introduced to the public at a high price of 30 shillings in a time when a whole bespoke suit would cost 50 shillings. The trousers were available in a large number of colours and fabrics that weren’t generally associated with menswear. They became so popular that the trousers were incorporated into suits and soon after a DAKS womenswear line was released, using the patented waistband for skirting.
The inception of the DAKS name was aiming to be something short, snappy and eye catching and is an arrangement of initials from the two men involved in its development – ‘AS’ for Alexander Simpson and ‘DK’ for his business associate Dudley Beck (his surname’s last letter was used so as to make a better-sounding name than using a B) hence why the name is capitalised. The advertising agent involved for the promotion of these new trousers, Sir William Crawford of WS Crawford Ltd thought up the idea to market them as ‘Dad’s Slacks’ as it had connotations of reliability and comfort whilst additionally sounding similar to the name DAKS.
At the turn of the twenty-first century when the company was acquired by Japanese group Sankyo Seiko Co. Limited in 1991, the S Simpson name was dropped and DAKS became the new brand name.
The ease-of-wear of the trousers and how they allowed movement, as intended from Simpson’s invention, led to DAKS being popular in sporting wear – kitting tennis, golf, motor racing, and football players, and even for the British Olympic team in 1960. The quality of S Simpson tailoring was such that the company was commissioned by the British Government at the time of the Second World War to produce military uniforms for Officers in the Army, Navy, Royal Airforce and Women’s Services even notwithstanding the semi-destruction of the Stoke Newington factory due to bomb damage and loss of electricity – with about seven million garments made for military services being produced.
After the war when DAKS clothes were announced to start selling to the public again queues of people would form down Piccadilly, to which Simpson tailors would measure them in line and present suitable pairs of trousers to them when they got into the Simpsons of Piccadilly store.
Simpsons of Piccadilly
Simeon Simpson’s son Alexander Simpson, who was then owner of the company, decided he wanted to find a ‘window’ for Simpson clothes in the heart of London. He founded Simpsons of Piccadilly when the Geological Museum had closed and the site to be auctioned. The new building was designed by architect Joseph Emberton as a new and revolutionary retail establishment, the shop front windows exhibited the first curved glass display in Great Britain and the largest in the world at the time, these were designed so that no reflection would be cast to obscure the displays inside. The outstanding feature of the shop’s interior was the travertine staircase that ran up through the centre of the store lit by a continuous window up the height of the building. The current lighting structure suspended through the staircase centre is the original from the 1930s as the building has after become a listed building.
The store opened in April 1936 by Sir Malcolm Campbell, the world-famous motor-racing driver. and was famed for its visual merchandising and window displays by László Moholy-Nagy, a former director from the Bauhaus school. Opening the store was a highlight of Alexander Simpson’s vision, he died the following year of leukaemia aged just 34.
Simpsons continued to trade in the Simpsons Piccadilly building for several decades more, helping officers and civilians throughout World War II, and in later years branched out to sell additional clothing by designer labels such as Armani and Christian Dior Since 1999 Simpsons stopped trading at the Piccadilly store and moved the renamed DAKS to a new flagship store and London offices to Old Bond Street, whilst moving to another new store on Jermyn Street which was recently refurbished in 2012 to focus on selling classic menswear. The original store was sold to bookseller Waterstone’s and now serves as their flagship store.
To accompany the opening of the new flagship store on Old Bond Street in 2000 DAKS collaborated with Philip Treacy to commission a hat featuring the Double D logo, they additionally collaborated with Jimmy Choo to create a shoe collection featuring the house check. In 2005, Sankyo-Seiko (for ladies) and Kashiyama (for men's) was the DAKS ready-to-wear licence holder in Japan with retail value of €190 million.Bruce Montgomery designed the Menswear after 1996 and showed the Menswear Luxury range on the Milan catwalk for five seasons until 2009. In 2007, British designer Giles Deacon was appointed Creative Director for the brand, showing for three womenswear seasons at London Fashion Week. Since then, Filippo Scuffi joined DAKS as Creative Director in 2008 and is currently in charge of showing catwalk presentations at Milan Men’s Fashion Week and London Fashion Week. For the Spring Summer 2013 catwalk collection, DAKS collaborated with renowned fashion illustrator David Downton, a style in keeping with its advertising history. The label aims to reinvigorate the values of its heritage while providing a modern aesthetic.
Simpsons’ and DAKS’ advertising was quite profound, featured in colour and in magazines such as Punch and throughout the store, characteristic and witty they included illustrations by Max Hoff who was persuaded by Alexander Simpson and Sir William Crawford to move to Britain from Austria throughout the Second World War. He stayed with the company from 1936 to coincide with the Simpsons of Piccadilly launch, until the late 1960s. Thereafter Eric Stemp came to DAKS from Vogue replacing Hoff as official advertising illustrator for Simpsons of Piccadilly. All advertising, a few carpeting, and the Simpsons and DAKS logos were designed by Ashley Havinden, who worked with William Crawford at his company WS Crawford Ltd, for which Havinden later became the art director. DAKS have additionally collaborated with Vogue fashion photographers Norman Parkinson in the 1960s and Horst P. Horst in the 1970s for advertising campaigns.
Royal Warrants & House Check
(Larkhall was built in 1948 to Simpson’s specifications and was opened by Harold Wilson who later became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The factory after closed in the early 2000s). DAKS was granted the Royal Warrant of Appointment by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh in 1956. Her Majesty The Queen and HRH The Prince of Wales granted the company with Royal Warrants in 1962 and 1982 respectively.
The company developed a House Check in 1976 by Johnny Mengers, the Group Managing Director of the time and last family chairman. Representing the most luxurious fabrics and richest colours of camel and vicuna, and the cheque has after become iconic for the brand.