The real challenge," says Simon Critchell, the new CEO of the orthographically idiosyncratic dunhill', "has been to give the name back its heritage. We're not interested in making dunhill' a shrine to the past, but in making sure the brand retains a contemporary version of the same cachet it had when it started back in 1893." And after 109 years as purveyors of luxury goods for men who participate in the rituals of the good life, dunhill' is the newest kid on the block. With a new U.S. flagship store on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue and new sleekly elegant clothing, luggage, and accessories lines, the firm aims to challenge all contenders.
Critchell, who also serves on the management board of parent company Compagnie Financière Richemont AG, is a believer in brand cachet based on quality and integrity of design and acquired through exclusivity. "In other words," he explains, "making the product so luxurious, desirable, and quietly beautiful that people will want it because of what it is rather than because of who wears it."
In this case, there is a lot to live up to. Alfred Dunhill started out at the fin de siècle making "motorities" (accessories and clothing for that most interesting toy of the Edwardian aristocracy, the motorcar). In 1907 he added hand-blended tobaccos and an exquisitely made range of lighters, watches and clocks, fine pens, and leather goods that evolved into the epitome of Art Deco design and sophistication.
"It's a particularly English trait," notes Critchell, "that inventiveness sometimes takes a slightly quirky, wonderful turn that's decidedly more a style than a fashion statement. And that's certainly true of dunhill'." A good point. Even though several of those early, humorously inventive items, such as the Hippo Raincoat and Bobby Finders goggles, are no longer available, other dunhill' designs are still very much with us. The justly famous Unique Lighter has been a collector's item among connoisseurs for well over half a century, as have the Facet wristwatch, a variety of table clocks, and Japanese-lacquered pens—all in the line from the early 1920s, when the firm was granted a Royal Warrant. Continuing in that tradition is the new Dunhillion Cricket Collectionof small leather goods. Masculine with just a splash of the dandy about it, it includes carrying envelopes, wallets, and diaries in oxblood leather with distinctive double-track white stitching—just the thing to bring the fresh air of the cricket pitch into the stuffy boardroom.
The newly opened store at 711 Fifth Avenue is 7,000 square feetof luxury. The ground level, with bamboo flooring and Victorian red walls, has the feel of a gentleman's club. Here you'll find the men's ready-to-wear collections, furnishings, luggage, and accessories like lighters, pens, and cuff links, as well as buttery black leather biker jackets, comfy cashmere travel blankets, and high-tech, multifunctional analog digital watches.
The prêt-à-porter includes business and casual wear. Suits and sports jackets are classic English, with an emphasis on the hacking look: slanted pockets and narrow lapels on a three-button blazer that sits close to the body; lean, flat-fronted trousers that add to the youthful, virgate look—very reminiscent of Sean Connery as that prototypical Englishman, James Bond. Linen and mohair/wool in shades ranging from chocolate to khaki, camel, ecru, and cream dominate the spring collections. Handsome casual wear includes billowy canvas shirt jackets, lambskin suedeblousons, cotton/cashmere zip-front sweaters, and seamless drawstring linen trousers.
The upper Club level is devoted to the bespoke arts and to personal pampering. Services include a custom tailoring and shirtmaking department as well as a full-service barbershop and Smoker's Club with complete humidor services for locker patrons and guests. It all adds up to giving the term "destination site" new cachet. For information: 800-541-0738.