Realm & Empire mines the Imperial War Museum for rugged classics.
Depending on how you look at it, the new-to-America British menswear brand Realm & Empire either developed a hyper-masculine signature style in two years or cribbed one centuries in the making. Even Brand Director Richard Robinson isn’t quite sure. He just knows that his company got damn lucky when founder Stephen Gill was serendipitously introduced to a staffer from the Imperial War Museum, England’s repository for the records and hardware from conflicts.
“Gill went to the National Archive in London and met somebody from the museum,” Robinson says. “They were explaining the assets that they have and how they weren’t using them.” Gill paid attention and, not long after that, Robinson, who previously worked at the military inspired labels Armed Response and The Monocled Pigeon, was going through the War Museum’s massive catalogue, combing through countless uniforms and rare artifacts.
“We have over a million items at our disposal—everything from photographs, to original prints, letters,” Robinson says. “We have to be very specific. Everything’s stored in a temperature-controlled room.”
Robinson’s first collaboration with the museum was relatively simple: a t-shirt featuring a rare photograph of Winston Churchill. The shirt sold like crazy and Realm & Empire decided to return to the archives and replicate some of the carefully constructed coats and pants worn by soldiers in various colonies and conflicts.
Photos Courtesy of Realm & Empire
The Fall 2014 collection from Realm & Empire is a WWI-inspired production to mark the centenary of the Great War. Robinson, who joined the company about 18 months ago, said it would have been easy to put together a WWI-inspired collection and be done with it, but that he wanted to highlight the “contrasting styles between the officers and the regular soldiers.” Where enlisted men’s uniforms were rugged, cobbled together garments, officers typically had theirs custom made by fine craftsmen. “We found garments in the archive where an officer’s jacket was silk lined by the best Parisian tailor or Savile Row tailor,” says Robinson.
The resulting collection, sewn in a Leicestershire factory near the brand’s headquarters, includes both tailored trench coats, engineer’s shirts and more contemporary casual wear. The advantage of using 20th century designs as inspiration is that they don’t require too much tweaking, but Robinson says he’s receiving an increasing number of requests for more elaborate 19th century designs (tassels, shoulder capes, and all that). Generally these requests seem to come from musicians.
What men who don’t want to sport a scabbard in a business meeting can expect from the brand is a deeper dive on Air Force uniforms. Robinson says he’s particularly interested in the way American designs infiltrated the RAF. There’s a story to tell there and he’s hoping to tell it to a growing American audience.
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