“Paris never looked more beautiful as it’s getting ready for the Olympics,” he says. Last month, he also travelled to show his wares at Pitti Immagine Uomo in Florence and is now in Shanghai for Pre-Fall.
With 30 years of experience, Hylton is well used to the fashion cycle. But the pride he feels for this new proposition is palpable.
“This is from China. This is actually made in China. And so giving that ‘made in China’ a new face is a thing of great pride for me,” he says. “I’m a designer with a deep love of culture – more specifically Chinese culture and all associated aesthetics.”
Ian Hylton the brand is tapping into the zeitgeist, almost accidentally. Particularly abroad, it is a new concept: contemporary luxury menswear that is dripping with Chinese references. Its refined aesthetic elegantly epitomises the old-money trend as well as guochao – the growing desire to buy Chinese.
Collections are softly tailored in the best fabrics, sourced from all over the world: cashmere, silk, jersey, wool and many double-faced textiles, with which Hylton professes he is obsessed, alongside Chinese mud silk.
Everything is produced in-house by a staff of six, who work alongside Ms Min’s 122 employees – sometimes the brands share staff.
Styling is a key factor, exhibiting Hylton’s light but poetic touch. Lookbooks read like art catalogues, referencing flowers, silk fans and reliefs. It is interdisciplinary and embedded in a lifestyle, rather than a look.
Hylton’s muses include fashion PR and former model Qiu Bohan and art professional Yifeng Bao. They are generally early adopters in the arts and architecture space and strike one as the living embodiment of the modern Chinese man: elegant, educated and tasteful.
“Nineteen years living, eating, loving and learning in a culture and a family has given me a deep understanding of the culture,” says Hylton who, having grown up in Canada, which boasts the largest population of Chinese people outside China, is quick to point out he is no stranger to the customs of Chinese people.
“I have absorbed with passion an incredible sense for all things Chinese,” he says.
Hylton has just travelled from Paris to show at Ontimeshow’s showroom in Shanghai. Roger Miao, managing director of RoomRoom, is a personal client.
“In my opinion, this is the closest I’ve come across to the idea of a luxury Chinese ready-to-wear brand. From all aspects – culture, material and design,” he explains. For Miao, the precise cutting, the attention to detail, the fine materials and the brand’s rich cultural background all validate its higher price point.
Hylton describes his design process as one that marries philosophies from different continents. He calls it “eyes from the East”, where the synthesis of classic Eastern dressing codes with Western cutting techniques creates wardrobe staples that are eccentric but timeless, and built to last.
“I’m not just designing a jacket,” Hylton says. “As with everything that I design, it needs to have purpose, and that purpose is your lifestyle.
“I think very deeply about how it fits into your lifestyle. Who’s the man or woman wearing it? How does it live in your wardrobe? And how long does it live?” These are the things that keep Hylton up at night.
Nonetheless, he is up at 5am every morning. His daily routine consists of some exercise, usually speed walking, getting his six-year-old off to school and then hitting the office.
There, he oversees both brands and is heavily involved in the manufacturing side, checking on production, fabric quality and so on. This dedication is paying off and the feedback from Paris Fashion Week was, in Hylton’s words, “outrageous”.
The founder puts this down to the element of surprise. “It’s not what they expect coming from China. Maybe they’ve seen some other young creatives or they’ve seen younger brands that are, sort of, more naive, but the finishing, the fabrics and the quality of the product on offer is so high level.”
Miao agrees that the brand’s attention to detail is one of the reasons this collection is generating a lot of positive feedback among Chinese buyers.
“It is always exciting to see there is still a brand putting so much effort and emphasis on hard-to-notice details.” These are intensively hand-worked and include hand stitching around pocket flaps, grosgrain trim, hidden pockets, velvet-lined pockets, and seams and edges on double-sided fabrics.
Hylton calls these “personal luxury details” that only the wearer of the garment gets to see and understand.
This stylistic discretion lies at the very core of the brand. These secret codes create a dynamic language that, rather than excluding, invites you in. This is Ian Hylton’s intimate world and it is glorious.