A Life Well Lived
As part of our journey to Re-Define Wealth we are exploring what “A Life Well Lived” means: interviewing artists, entrepreneurs, explorers, and change-makers as they share their stories and ask “what is my life well lived?”. Here we talk to Mark Powell, founder of his eponymous tailors on Marshall Street, Soho, about his business and what it means to him to live a life well lived.
Launched in 1985, Mark Powell quickly established himself as one of London’s leading bespoke tailors. With celebrity clientele that include the likes of the late, great, David Bowie, Paul Weller, Harrison Ford, Mick and Bianca Jagger and Naomi Cambell to name just a few, Mark has created an iconic style of his own; marrying the traditional methods of Saville Row tailors, with striking and historically informed styling. Mark takes us back to the beginning and talks to us about how it all started, the lessons he’s learnt along the way, and what living well means to him.
“When I look back and I think about what I was doing when I was younger, clothes were always something I was passionate about. I think I always knew that one day I would get my own shop. I had a background in men’s tailoring and had been going to tailors from the age of about 13 – 14, so I was designing men’s suits from a very young age. There came a point when people kept asking me where I was getting my clothing from and after that it was really a no brainer for me, it was something I had to do.”
“A lot of what people are doing today with tailoring is drawing on nostalgia, whist trying to make their styles modern and contemporary. That is what I was doing from the beginning; so really I was a pioneer in many ways. I think because of this I’ve always had something a lot more interesting to offer in the world of modern tailoring than most.”
“Over the years my personal tastes and things that I particularly like from certain eras; I’ve managed to fuse into my own style and my own look. For example if you go to Saville Row, they tend to have a ‘house look’, one set style. The problem with that – and a lot of modern tailoring – is that it’s quite generic. The great thing about my designs and style is that there is a lot of my personality in the suits.”
“I think the key to my success is just surviving. It’s very difficult in this modern world, I’m not going to lie. When you think of most independent businesses in this particular area, around Carnaby Street and of course on Saville Row, the majority are all corporately backed now. We’re quite unique in that we’ve managed to maintain our independence. As things become more and more corporately owned, especially in retail, we tend to stand out even more because we have such an individual identity. Bringing something different, with a little more interest is what makes us as a business feel like we’re really giving the world something.”
“Personal success is having freedom, and doing a job you love. I work seven days a week, we are even open on Sundays, but I still enjoy what I do. The only time I don’t is when I’m worrying, and sadly, that is just when business isn’t going so well. But I still love the business and I think that’s the important thing. For me the key is being here every day and giving everything I can to the business, because it still means so much to me.”
“I suppose the dream would be that in a few years time I could ease off, perhaps sell the business to a serious investor, someone looking to turn us into a super-brand. I would like to remain hands on, maybe as a creative director, but that would give me a lot more time to do my own thing. That’s what I’d like to think would be possible in the next few years.”
“There’s no question, everyone in business learns from their mistakes and I think you have got to go through those mistakes to become the person you are. If you look at some of the great business success stories, they’ve all had some sort of failures in the past. So I think you’ve got to go through that and admit that you’re always learning. Learning about business and people; people have changed when it comes to the way they look at things. Our industry for example is definitely a lot more of an open book, people can come from any background. I’d like to say to people that if you really do believe in yourself, you can do it; but you have to really fight for what you believe in to make it happen.”
“Everything was chugging along fine until around 10 years ago, but since [the recession] I think every business has changed dramatically. For example, we find a huge amount of our business now, particularly the ready to wear lines, comes from social media. We have a big following on Instagram and Facebook, and what’s great about that is you essentially have a shop window all over the world. Before that, especially within the old tailoring markets, it was very much word of mouth. Reputation is still a very important part of the bespoke side of our business, but I’d say ready to wear is much more successful via social media. That market is very instant, a customer sees it, wants it, and buys it. Some young guys still really like ‘old school’ tailoring, but that’s an area of the market we, as bespoke tailors, really need to address. Bespoke is something that will always appeal to certain people, but the reality is that it often comes down to the financial side of things.”
On Living a Good Life
“Well I’ve been very fortunate. I have three amazing children – all very different – which is the great thing about children, they’re never going to all be the same.
My youngest daughter Ava lives in the South of France at university in Leon, she’s studying sociology and amazingly independent, she has her own little flat already. Ellie is my eldest daughter, she’s married and starting a family of her own, and then my son Max lives with me and is very much like me when I was younger. He’s an amazing boy with a very good heart so I’m very, very proud of all of them.”
On Living a Better Life
“I think I would have been better – or slightly shrewder – with money, but I suppose we can all find things to regret. I think you’ve just got to enjoy your life. Even when I look back at those periods when I was making those mistakes – not investing in property or doing things I shouldn’t have been – I was having a great time, and I’ve got great memories and great stories to tell from those experiences. So really you should never regret, you just have to move forward. You can’t get angry or bitter about mistakes you’ve made in the past because they are what they are.”
“That aside, a nice lady. To dine with and socialise with, to go to the theatre with, good female company is the best thing. I can’t personally do that with a mate, even though I love my friends, I don’t want to be going to the theatre with my mates. And as you get older those things become more important because that what you want to be doing more and more.”
“Well for me it’s certainly lovely holidays, travelling, relaxing; having the freedom to do that, even though it’s only for a couple of weeks at a time, those moments are very special. I find that in the back of my mind I am always thinking about the business, but you still need those moments of relaxation to be able to move forwards.”
“As you get older you start to think about semi-retirement and I would like to think I could live a warm climate; the Caribbean or South East Asia on an Island for three months of the year. Even a nice coastal area of Italy, just being able to do something like that would be a bonus, and I hope I’m able to.”
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