Q&A: Agents in alliance – Simon Parr and Keith Brown

Simon Parr had been working as a sales representative for BMB – selling brands such as Gibson London, Baracuta and Hardy Amies – since 2001, but he recently decided to set up his own agency, called Heritage Brands, to see if he can cut it on his own. Joining forces, in terms of showroom space at least, with long-term menswear agent, Keith Brown, they’ve set up a space at 10 Fitzroy Square, London W1, until the end of February. Here’s an insight in to what they’ve got going on.

Where did you both meet?
Simon Parr: We’re both part of the 39 Club, which is an old agents and sales reps club that meets once a month – originally set up by a group of menswear guys in London just after WWII. It’s called that because there are only ever 39 members allowed to be in it at any one time, though actually there’s 38 because one place is always left vacant in case Prince Charles would like to join! That’s true! These days there’s some younger members, and it’s a useful for picking up industry information and to find out about small hotel shows that groups of agents set up with the brands they’re carrying up and down the country.

John White Shoes
John White Shoes

What brands are you carrying?

SP: Between the two of us, we’ve got about 12 brands here. BMB let me continue to sell Gibson London as an agent instead, and I was approached to sell Gabicci Vintage – so that’s here too. I’ve also got Ben Sherman “Archive” – a small reproduction selection of vintage 1960’s shirts including the original heavyweight Oxford button-down classic – and Yarmouth Oilskins, which is all made in England. Then we are both sharing an outerwear brand, which specialises in reversible rainwear, called Guards London.

Dasmarca Hats
Dasmarca Hats

Keith Brown: We have a real crossover of buyers coming in, from independents to department stores, and the offer I’m carrying reflects that, with John White shoes, Jupiter, B.D. Baggies, Dasmarca Hats and Amanda Christensen accessories.

What retailers have been coming in to see you so far?

SP: We’ve had the likes of Burrows & Hare from Oxford, Tailor at the Tannery from Crouch End, Stuarts London from Shepherds Bush, Stumper & Fielding from Notting Hill, County Clothes – a group of shops in Surrey and Kent with five stores – Utter Nutter from Romford, The Projekt Store from Sutton, Prince in Watford and Hoopers department store from Tunbridge Wells. Then there’s Weir Rhodes in Guildford, Warwicks in Windsor and Wakefields in Horsham – all owned by Blake Bowden. On top of that, I have the Mod shops coming in, such as Atom Retro from Scarborough, Adaptor Clothing from Hertford and Modfather from Camden, who also buy across the Gibson London and Gabicci Vintage offers, so it really is a right old mix! Despite all the talk of Brexit and doom and gloom in retail, we’re actually hearing a lot of positivity.

Guards London
Guards London

What are retailers particularly liking right now?

KB: The Guards London reversible macs have hit the ground running. A simple water-resistant product that looks sharp, at an affordable price point. And the Dasmarca Hats are proving particularly popular. The designer behind them, Bidyut Das, used to design for Baileys hats and also Kangol. There’s some great porkpie hats, trilbies and baker boy caps.

SP: Guards London have online presence, and a standalone shop near Liverpool Street, but they didn’t supply any independents whatsoever, so it looked like a good one for us both to take on for this season, and that’s proving the case. It’s actually a really old brand which was founded in Shoreditch in something like 1785. It’s under new ownership and has been relaunched. The other old brand I’ve managed to bring on board is Yarmouth Oilskins. They’ve been making fisherman smocks and waxed cotton jackets since the 19thCentury for the fishermen in Yarmouth. They say they actually pre-date Barbour with the waxed cotton jacket, but that needs to be verified! In the offer we have here, there’s a heavy knit roll-neck fishermen’s jumper, work shirts and jackets in ticking stripes and denim, bib and braces and boiler suits – which both men and women are buying – all made at their factory in Yarmouth, which has been going for over 100 years. The jackets retail at £135, so they are not over the top.

Yarmouth Oilskins
Yarmouth Oilskins

What made you decide to make the move to set up your own agency?

SP: I’ve always contemplated it so, when BMB said I could be an agent for Gibson, and then I got approached to sell Gabicci Vintage, the timing just felt right. And obviously the rewards are there if things work out well, though my wife did question my wisdom of leaving the security of my full-time position at BMB.

Why did you choose Fitzroy Square for your seven-week pop-up showroom?

SP: A lot of other agents are based around this area, so it made sense as it makes it easier for retailers to do a number of appointments with different agents in the same day. Other menswear brands showing around here right now include Herbie Frogg, Olymp, Remus, Guide London, Camel Active and Lyle & Scott. There’s also some great restaurants and bars around here, including Guy Ritchie’s brand new pub, called The Lore of the Land on the corner of Fitzroy Square.

KB:As an old school agent, I’ll be going out on the road to see other retailers after our stint here, as will Simon. Mind you, it’s not quite the same as it used to be when I started out as a sales representative for Ben Sherman in 1972. The six-man sales team were all given a Ford Mexico each to go out on the road in. I chose an orange one, which certainly got me noticed!