Displays of Genius
Writer and Richard James's content editor Rohan Daft takes his hat off to Philip Oakley - the mastermind behind Savile Row's most enchanting store windows.
Two all-round cool young snowmen, Dick and Jim, heard about Richard James’s reputation for producing the snuggest hand-knitted hats and scarves in the land and were moved to make the journey from their small village in Gloucestershire to Savile Row to kit themselves out.
And so happy were they with their wonderfully warming winter wear that they decided to come in from the cold and spend Christmas in a pair of glass-fronted freezers for all to see in Richard James’s window (below).
To spoil what we thought was a suitably sentimental backstory for our 2014 Christmas window, the snow came up by truck from the West Country and Dick and Jim (geddit?) were quickly brought to life - complete with mandatory carrot noses and button eyes - by the architect of the whole wheeze, Philip Oakley.
More a co-conspirator than a collaborator, Richard James’s sometimes sideways fusing of innovation and tradition comes naturally to Philip, who has applied his fine, laterally thinking mind to our window and interior displays, fit-outs and lighting needs since the day the first store opened in 1992.
In December 2015, a large neon sign flashed the contrary Christmas message HAPPY BIRTHDAY JESUS out from the windows of the Savile Row store. And on the Campaign for Wool sponsored Savile Row Field Day in 2010, when the whole of the street was turfed over and turned over to a flock of ambling Exmoor sheep, we couldn’t see out of the same windows (and customers couldn’t see in…) for blow-up sheep. The incredible myriad disco balls and thicket of floor-to-ceiling fairy lights were two other festive initiatives that remain as vivid in the memory as they were in the store at the time.
On show now for all to see above the fireplace in the Bespoke store is the much Instagrammed Neon Richard, which Philip made with the artist Danny Mooney. Lighting, particularly neon lighting, is something Philip has serious form with: he was in charge of the Blackpool Illuminations, the famed British seaside resort’s annual six-mile long bright-lights extravaganza for some years before setting up Philip Oakley Illuminations, his winning lighting emporium and design business, in Hastings.
The design and fit out of the new, bigger and better Bespoke store was also the work of Philip. Likewise all the pop-up stores we’ve done over the years in London and Brighton, which were managed with estimable efficiency by his wife, Olivia and watched over by the always present and always persistent cocker spaniels Joe and Jarvis.
Twice is the optimum number of times you want someone to take a look at what you’re wearing (once and you’re not making a mark, three times and you’re overstepping it…), but when it comes to interiors and, in particular, store windows, you want people to look, look and look again. And nobody is better at making that happen than Philip.