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Graham Cassie: the man inspiring high street and luxury brands

Tom Bottomley
13 November 2018

Tucked away in a Holland Park mews, a former artist’s studio where scenes from cult 1966 film Blow-Up, based on fashion photographer David Bailey, were filmed, is a rare collection of men’s and women’s fashion garments from the past that are currently inspiring some of the most prestigious fashion houses and designers in Europe, as well as on the high street.

I don’t describe us as a vintage business. We’re a fashion business,” says Cassie Mercantile owner, Graham Cassie. His collection of pieces are very much the cream of the crop. By appointment only, his business is based on discretion and trust, so he’s not one to band current client names about. But, if fashion designers are after the ‘wow’ factor, they are very likely to find it here.

Some clothes and accessories are for sale, though the rarer and most desirable and collectable pieces are for hire only. He has pieces that would put a fashion exhibition at the V&A to shame, hence his offer these days is as much as 70% for hire only. “We’ve recently had Hollywood film costume designers coming in for inspiration as well, and we sent out 20 jackets for a fitting with Tom Cruise,” offers Cassie.

Cassie Mercantile

The idea of the showroom initially came about after freelancing for Ralph Lauren, and its many buying and designing teams, back in the late 1990’s. Subsequently Cassie Mercantile became the UK’s first appointment only showroom stocking rare and unobtainable vintage men’s and womenswear for design inspiration to luxury and high street fashion brands in 2003, this year celebrating its 15th anniversary.

Says Cassie: “With the inception of Ralph Lauren’s vintage-inspired premium RRL collection in the late 90’s, I started to supply them with pieces that would complement the RRL collection.” He was travelling back and forth to New York for meetings, and that led to him freelancing for Ralph Lauren, and organising buying trips for their designers who were coming to London and Europe for inspiration. They recommended him to a lot of the other designers from Polo Ralph Lauren, who were also regularly coming to London. They would give him a brief of what they were looking for, and he’d go out and find it.

“When those designers left Polo and moved to other companies, they would still call me up in the same capacity, and that’s when I got the idea that it would be great to have a cool one-stop showroom where the designers were the sole customers, rather than accidental customers.”

Cassie also spent seven years in collaboration with Melet Mercantile from New York, creating seasonal vintage installations – with garments for sale - for the United Arrows flagship shop in Japan, twice a year.

Originally, the main source of the Cassie Mercantile business were predominantly the big US heritage brands, but the demographic has now evolved to be dealing more with the European luxury brands, with now much more emphasis on the womenswear side. “In the last two years, we’ve opened a large womenswear department, and that’s much more of a business focus for us going forward,” he says. “It now represents as much as 50% of the business.”

Cassie Mercantile

The dedicated womenswear space houses amazing creations from the past, such as rare Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell dresses, Balenciaga and Givenchy pieces from the 1950’s, and a stunning 1970’s Gucci trench coat, lined with Gucci silk scarves. But it is often the clothes that are the real stars, not necessarily the labels in them. “They might not have a label in them at all. They are just cool pieces, full stop,” says Cassie.

Staying one step ahead of the game keeps him as the go-to man for the next big thing in fashion. A big focus more recently has been on sportswear and outerwear. “I’ve probably got one of the best collections of vintage sportswear in the world,” he says. “Outerwear is hugely popular at the moment, especially Eddie Bauer jackets from the 1950’s through to the 90’s.”

Talking about his current buying direction, he comments: “More recently, there’s been a bit of a swing away from the traditional heritage look to a brighter and more colourful 90’s inspired feel, though we are also putting a focus on classic 1950’s rock ‘n’ roll pieces, which looks like being a strong area too.”

Cassie Mercantile

His frequent travels to Japan and the US, and his keen eye for detail, means the showroom not only has incredible individual pieces, but mood boards using them to tell a new fashion story. And the designers simply love it. It’s a one-stop shop for design inspiration that they could spend a year travelling the world to find.

If Cassie really wants something badly to add to his collection, he will go all out to get it, even once paying £10,000 at auction for an original jumper as worn by famous explorer and adventurer Ernest Shackleton, that designer Nigel Cabourn also happened to be bidding on. He offers: “Shackleton has always been such an inspiration to so many designers that I’ve worked with so, when his sweater came up for sale at Christie’s in South Kensington, the temptation to go and buy it was too strong.”

A famous visitor to the Cassie Mercantile showroom recently was David Beckham. Picking up a yellow roll-neck England goalkeeper’s jersey, as worn by the late Bert Williams, one of the finest English goalkeepers since the second world war, in 1948, Beckham said “this is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen”, offers Cassie. He also has an original 1966 England tracksuit top as worn by World Cup winner, Roger Hunt.

Preferring to deal with only the best, a list of Cassie’s clients is not likely to be revealed any time soon. He could be, quite simply, fashion’s best kept secret, and he likes it that way.

Cassie Mercantile, 14 Addison Ave, Holland Park, London W11 4QR

Telephone: 020 7610 4000

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