The sharp and visionary Christopher Modoo barely needs an introduction, his impressive career on Jermyn Street and Savile Row speaks for himself and on this occasion I dived in to get to know more about the character behind the name. Also, get ready to get inspired on how to follow your gut, how to conduct your first date, with business savy tips and much more.
Christopher Modoo’s Portrait by Photographer Anna Michell
Doina: Mr. Christopher Modoo, it seems to me that you were destined to thrive in the world of fashion. Where did you find the courage to leave behind apparently a more secure career in the bank, to embrace a more creative climb up the demanding ladder of design?
Christopher: I was not cut out to be a bank clerk. I have always enjoyed clothes and been very aware of what I was wearing, but I never considered it as a career whilst at school. My school was quite traditional and very pro-education. Even the least academically gifted students ( I include myself in that group) were encouraged to pursue degrees. I was keen to get a job and start earning money. The bank was a sensible choice with a good career ladder, but I hated it. Partly because I was working in the suburbs and I was desperate to be in central London. The only thing I liked about working in the bank was wearing a suit every day.
Doina: You made the switch at a young age, I imagine, young enough not to allow the system to take a hold of you. At what point did you realize that the direction in which you were heading, was not suitable for you? Since childhood, you presented a passion and talent for design, displaying remarkable styling skills. Did you have the support of a certain individual in making the decision to pursue those talents?
Christopher: I knew from the first few days that I was not supposed to work in a bank. As a junior clerk you were trained to perform desultory clerical duties with no end product; a small cog in a very large machine. They encouraged you to dress and behave in a particular manner. It was no place for an individual. Joining Selfridges was a breath of fresh air. I met some really interesting, passionate people of all ages and backgrounds and the whole structure was less hierarchical. My family were very supportive of my career change. They knew I was unhappy in the bank, but I was not allowed to leave unless I could find another job first. We have a
strong work ethic.
Doina: It’s always a privilege to be born in an environment keen on appreciation of style, elegance and fastidious dressing. Would you say that having your father as role model in learning the British gentleman way, has impacted you to some extent? Do you recall a particular advice you received from him early in your youth that you still consider to this day?
Christopher: I grew up in a working class family in Tooting. My father did not wear a suit for work and certainly did not shop in Savile Row, but has an excellent eye for detail and very good taste. He was, and is, always appropriately dressed for the occasion and really enjoys fashion. When I was a teenager and started to become interested in more formal clothes, he would take me shopping in the West End of London. He was always generous but was insistant that I should take great care of my clothing. He taught me how to polish my shoes properly with a mirror finish to make them look smarter, but also last longer. We both have Edward Green shoes that are now over twenty-five years old, and still look sharp.
Doina: What do you consider the most important qualities a creative mind has to have in order to succeed in a leading position in the luxury market of fashion, as main designer?
Christopher: You need to be a good sales person. To take a design from an idea to the shop floor, takes a whole team of people and they have to share your passion and vision. It is important that your suppliers all understand what they are aiming for and that takes a lot of positive communication. You also need to have confidence and belief in yourself. For me, a big part of that is wearing the product and being an advocate for the brand.
Doina: As a fashion designer, in the past years, styling the formal wear of the British Royal Household, do you have a memorable moment dear to you from your visits to Windsor? If yes, please tell us about it.
Christopher: As a ”thank you” for the work I had done, I was invited to a Royal Garden Party. I used this as opportunity to ask a girl out on a date, whom I had been attracted to for quite some time. We had a lovely time and we are now happily married. It is always fun to say we had our first date in Buckingham Palace.
Doina: WOW. Such a unique love story! Do you remember how you prepared for the Royal Garden Party, how did you dress? Were you “even more” attentive to your look knowing you will not just attend such a demanding (if I may say) event, but also meeting the girl you liked so much with the same occasion? Please give us some details; all the girls reading this interview are eager to know more.
Christopher: The dress code for a Royal Garden Party is morning dress, so I was formally and conservatively dressed in a black coat, buff vest and grey stripped trousers. After the event we had cocktails and dinner at the nearby Goring Hotel (which became famous a few years later for looking after the Middletons prior to the Royal Wedding). When we married in 2014, we chose The Goring Hotel as our venue as it had such a lovely association for us. For my wedding I wore traditional morning dress similar to our first date. Carly, my wife, looked stunning.
Upper: Carly Modoo’s arrival on her wedding day at the Goring Hotel, followed by Christopher & Carly’s wedding pictures. All by Photographer John Sanders
Doina: I am wondering if in the journey of pursuing your aspirations, you have faced times of adversity? If yes, please tell us about those moments and how you have overcame them.
Christopher: Working in a commercial environment will always have its challenges. In difficult economic times it is important to be loyal to your customers and not compromise your beliefs.
Doina: What inspires Mr. Modoo?
Christopher: As a child and teenager I watched a lot of television and grew up loving the cinema. The characters and styles are always a point of reference to me. Some of my favorite films for style are: Kind Hearts and Coronets, Bugsy Malone, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Get Carter, School for Scoundrels, 9 ½ weeks and, of course, the Bond movies. Incidentally, the best dressed Bond is George Lazenby. I am also a huge fan of illustration and particularly enjoy the work of Laurence Fellows who created fashion plates for Esquire magazine in the 1930s. His work is a constant source of inspiration, as he has a romanticized yet masculine vision of male elegance.
Doina: What does a day at the Chester Barrie studio look like through the eyes of the leading designer?
Christopher: A spreadsheet! My friends and family think I spend my time drinking champagne and jetting around Italy. In my dreams.
Doina: How do you see Chester Barrie in five years from now?… that are so close compared to the 82 years since its beginnings.
Christopher: It is difficult to say. I have seen more changes in fashion in the last five years as I have in the previous fifteen! Chester Barrie has adapted and changed its business model to evolve and stay relevant. Ultimately, the customer will decide, but I honestly believe that the growing idea of consuming less but buying better, will benefit Savile Row and classic style.
Doina: From the personalities encountered over time, or those who walked through the doors of Chester Barrie, someone must have made a special impression on you. Please give us an example.
Christopher: When I joined Chester Barrie in 2011, we were working with the tailor Edward Sexton as a design consultant. I knew of Edward through his association with Tommy Nutter, and it was amazing to be able to work with him. He has the most wonderful sense of style, combined with an unrivaled depth of technical knowledge. We created some excellent pieces and we pushed the boundaries in machine-made ready-made tailoring. Edward is no longer employed by Chester Barrie, he has become a good friend, and someone whom I call always seeks advise from… sartorial or otherwise!
Doina: Do you think a lady and a gentleman (married couple) should consider matching their outfits in terms of color, when attending a special event together, and why?
Christopher: I would not be inclined to match my outfit in color to what my wife was wearing, although a few years ago we attended a Christening where my black and white houndstooth tie almost matched her dress perfectly! It was a complete accident, but very well received. I do think that couples, and by that I mean the man, should make and effort to look as he is going to the same function. I see couples in social situations where the lady is in an elegant dress and heels, and the gentleman look as if he is about to do the gardening. Women dislike being underdressed, whilst men fear being overdressed.
Doina: What does the ideal world look like for Christopher Modoo?
Christopher: My ideal world would look like one of those Slim Aarons photographs of the French Riviera in the 1960s. Elegant, comfortable and slightly eccentric.
Doina: Do you have a special place, close to your heart, where you feel far from the busy world most of us live in, and / or that you seek to go often to? If yes, please tell us about it.
Christopher: One of the many perks of my job has been the opportunity to visit different parts of Italy. I love the food in Puglia and the history of Florence, but my favorite destination is Lake Como. The scenery and fresh air has the most calming influence, and I wish I could visit more often. It is the perfect antidote to working in central London.
Doina: If you’ll spend your summer vacation at HRH Prince Charles house open for worldwide guests in Transylvania, how will you dress?
Christopher: Great question! I was not aware that Prince Charles has a house in Romania. If invited, I would dress in classic English style. The Savile Row suit is understood internationally as a mark of respect.