When Timothy Maltin was just 27 he became the managing director of a national institution.
Five years ago, Timothy Maltin went to work in tracksuit bottoms and a green Pilgrim Services sweatshirt top. Just the job when you’re running a grave tending business. But these days Maltin is chairman and chief executive of Hardy Amies, so his former scruffy look has gone and been replaced by the uniform of the City slicker.
Sitting on a sofa in the showroom of the company’s offices at 14 Savile Row — known as “the house” — he is resplendent in Hardy Amies pinstriped suit (£750), pressed shirt (£89), and silk tie (£49). Oh, and his socks are from Pantherella, and his shoes from Church’s.
His mood is nothing short of chipper, which is fair enough given that last month he reported retail sales up 38 per cent at a time when even gurus such as Philip Green are finding trading conditions tough.
“It’s a combination of good design and the fact that you’re always slightly protected at the very top end of the market because the rich always get richer,” he says.
The story of how Maltin progressed from weeding cemeteries to running one of the world’s great fashion brands is a rather inspirational tale of hard work and initiative.
After graduating with a degree in English from the University of Newcastle in 1995, he soon realised that the corporate life was not for him. Or, as he puts it: “I was completely unemployable and so I had to employ myself.”
He duly borrowed £7,000 from his local branch of the NatWest and set about finding clients for his gardening business.
At first, he spent alternate weeks wearing a suit in sales mode and his casual gear for grave-tending until he realised that it made more sense to employ a team of gardeners than spend so much time travelling from graveyard to graveyard.
Within five years, the business was big enough to attract the attention of the Co-op, which, in addition to its core shops, has an undertaking business, and Maltin sold out for £500,000.
The process introduced him to a new career in the merger and acquisitions sector and, in 2000, he heard that the ageing Sir Hardy Amies was looking to sell his couture business.
Sir Hardy’s initial idea had been to leave the company to the staff but he had come to realise that an injection of capital was required to develop the brand and that pointed to a flotation on AIM. And that’s where Maltin came in. He joined as managing director at the age of 27, taking on a business that employed 60 people but, perhaps more importantly, became the custodian of a national institution.
Sir Hardy, who died, aged 93, in 2003, designed his first dress in 1952 for the then Princess Elizabeth and went on to become the pre-eminent couture designer of his generation. His work for the Royal Family gave him the moniker of the Queen’s dressmaker for half a century.
When he branched out into men’s suits, he was soon recognised as the inventor of a classic look. And the pressure to maintain this distinguished brand certainly told on the inexperienced Maltin in the early days.
“I was really scared for the first three years,” he recalls. “If you’re scared every day when you come into work then you must be doing something right.”
Today, just 15 people are employed in the house and Maltin observes: “With each person that went, nothing changed.”
One person he was determined to keep in the early days, however, was a certain cutter called Charlotte.
“She came to work a week before I bought the company,” he says. “She was the youngest person in the company and I was the second youngest. She had decided to leave and go back to do film work. She had done the clothes for films like Shakespeare in Love.
“I persuaded her to stay. The fact that I fancied her like mad had nothing to do with it.
“When she was sitting in my office, all I wanted to do was leap over the desk and kiss her. But there are so many employment laws about that sort of thing that the first thing that would have happened is that I would have got jailed for molesting staff so I didn’t. Fortunately she was thinking exactly the same thing.”
The couple married last year and are expecting their first baby in January.
The most significant person to leave when Sir Hardy sold the business was his protégé of 20 years, Ian Garland.
And Maltin was soon given an example of how much more complicated it was going to be to deal with creative types rather than gardeners and accountants.
When the new designer walked into the sales room on the ground floor, he said: “It’s got to be white,” recalls Maltin.
“Then Ian came back and said ‘It’s got to be black.’ I was a bit worried that black might be too severe but, while it looks black, it’s actually very dark grey. It’s good because very few other people have black shops.”
Maltin inherited a company whose brand sales were in gradual decline because it was no longer seen as a fashionable name.
Now the company that invented power-dressing for women in the 1940s has returned to its roots as an avant garde house and has revamped its production schedule to make it easier to promote its designs.
“We now produce a look book for six months ahead,” says Maltin. “We are the only couture house in Britain and the fashion press are used to ready-to-wear.
“We had been making clothes on a just-in-time basis for fashion shows but now we do what the ready-to-wear people do and prepare them six months ahead so they can be marketed to the press.
“Everything is made, sold and shown in the building, and all marketing and advertising is done in house.”
The Hardy Amies look is certainly back in favour with the City. Maltin has signed deals with Tower 42 and Nomura, which gives the company exclusive rights to offer a tailoring service to their staff.
“In this security conscious age they don’t like to give away passes and so this way they can give a pass to one tailor to measure them up at their desks,” he explains. “They’d rather give a pass to one tailor than 10.”
While the company does a healthy trade in bespoke, couture and ready-to-wear garments from its Savile Row base, the key to expanding the company lies in international licensing deals, whereby outside manufacturers and retailers take the design themes produced by Hardy Amies into ready-to-wear.
Its licensing heritage stretches back to 1958, when Sir Hardy granted Michelsons the right to produce a Hardy Amies tie.
Its latest deal — signed with BMB, formerly Baird Menswear — is to produce a “diffusion” line of suits. Asked what this means, Maltin replies: “Less expensive.”
The suits made by Baird will be designed by Hardy Amies but will be sold off-the-peg for £400. The new line, aimed at the House of Fraser and key independents, will be launched in January. Retailing licensees typically pay 10 per cent of turnover for the right to use the Hardy Amies label but Maltin is keen to ensure that all such deals are carefully assessed before signing.
“Today the consumer is extra sophisticated,” explains Maltin. “He understands brands well. In the 1980s and 1990s you could take a T shirt and put a designer name on it and sell it, but these days people are no longer willing to buy a medium-priced product that is sub-standard.”
Apart from the fashion business, Hardy Amies has recently re-entered the fragrance arena with the launch of Hardy Amies eau de parfum, produced in co-operation with Roja Dove, a celebrated “nose” who has his own boutique in Harrods.
And Maltin has ambitious plans for an international fragrance licensing deal, a footwear deal and a homeware line, possibly involving crockery or wallpaper.
“We are globally trademark-protected,” he says. “For a lowly capitalised company such as us, the licensing model is absolutely the right one.
“In the 1980s and 1990s, licensing was a dirty word but, without it, expansion would be very expensive.”
And expansion is something the company needs if it is to make an impact on AIM.
Despite the familiarity of the Hardy Amies name, and the £20m sales of Hardy Amies labelled products around the world, the company remains a relatively small outfit with retail sales of £162,000 in the six months to 30 June, and total turnover (including licensing revenues) of £544,000 in the same period.
In this context, the group operating loss of £420,000 — described as “in line with the business expansion plan”— is perhaps the most important figure for what it reveals about the scale of Maltin’s ambition.
The interview is over and it’s time for a tour of the house. In Garland’s design room, Maltin shows off a sketch of a dress in Garland’s drawing pad and says casually: “This is for a princess and it’s the last piece my wife is making before she leaves to have the baby.”