Gentlemen on the move
In January 2013, Freemasons’ Hall hosted its first menswear fashion show for heritage label Hackett. Miranda Thompson witnesses the transformation of the masonic headquarters into a grand hotel
‘You’re looking great!’ The shout cuts through the vestibule at Freemasons’ Hall, today lit softly in blue. A man takes hold of a luggage cart and trots through the high iron gates, twirling in his checked trousers as he reaches the end.
Welcome to the Autumn/Winter 2014-15 Hackett menswear fashion show, the first time the clothing brand has ever displayed at Freemasons’ Hall. Today, the vestibule and its surrounding quarters are appearing as ‘Hotel Hackett’. ‘The Hall has one of the finest and most dramatic Art Deco interiors in London, reminiscent of the grand hotels of the period,’ says Jens Kaeumle, creative director at the menswear label.
‘It felt a perfect fit to host the show, and the stunning backdrop is ideal for a collection inspired by the glamour of travel.’
It’s two hours before the first model walks and the vestibule is buzzing. Spotlights illuminate the intricate tiles before the Grand Temple as men with ponytails untangle wires and black-clad assistants carefully lay out branded goody bags on the white-block seats. In keeping with the travel theme, stacks of luggage are artfully arranged around the interior and bellboys in small hats and sharp suits line the stairs.
But the Hall’s Hackett makeover stretches beyond the vestibule. Classic tweed jackets hang in the Robing Room, where the steam hiss of an iron punctuates the calm atmosphere, while the Grand Dressing Room houses hair and make-up – models old and young sporting neat beards and shorn crops wait their turn for the mirror. In the corridor, a model is being put through his paces: ‘Walk, walk and turn,’ he’s instructed, his black shoes gleaming like the polished wooden floor.
‘Doesn’t it look wonderful today? They’ve really used the building as a backdrop,’ says the Hall’s Head of Events, Karen Haigh, as she surveys the scene. ‘The lighting and the way they’ve set it out, it’s masculine but elegant.
And the iron doors look amazing under those lights.’
Freemasons’ Hall is no stranger to high fashion: every February and September during London Fashion Week it hosts Fashion Scout, a platform for new creative design talent featuring a packed schedule of shows.
‘I’m very conscious that this is a peace memorial, a working building, and we have to be sensitive to members. We only take on events that are right for the building.’ Karen Haigh
‘It’s evolved into something quite special,’ Karen says. ‘Everyone knows Freemasons’ Hall houses the new designers. We used to have a few men’s events tagged onto the end of Fashion Week, but I think it’s great that they’re taking off like this.’
A perfect fit
What began as a side venture at Freemasons’ Hall has blossomed. When Karen was initially asked to investigate whether the hosting of external events could bring in extra revenue to benefit the building, nobody guessed the scale to which it would grow. In 2013 the Hall hosted one hundred and twenty-five events, among them daily conferences, the Aston Martin one-hundredth anniversary and even the UK Lingerie Awards.
Why is the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) happy to hold events as eclectic as this? ‘They send out a message that the building is accessible. It gets rid of the myth of closed doors,’ Karen explains. And despite the mix of people filling the building today, it’s clear that the Freemasons are always the priority. ‘We’re very sensitive,’ she says. ‘We don’t want to disturb lodge members, so we work around them. We do soundchecks to make sure the rest of the building isn’t affected. And we’ve even run tours when there’s been filming.’
While it’s clear just how much UGLE enjoys welcoming these events, Karen always carefully curates the line-up. ‘I’m very conscious that this is a peace memorial, a working building, and we have to be sensitive to members,’ she explains. ‘We only take on events that are right for the building.’ So what made Hackett a good fit? ‘I think the brand ties in well with the heritage of the Hall,’ Karen says. ‘You’ve got a very old, traditional building that is something like a gentleman’s club, and then you’ve got the young men coming into it. It’s a nice juxtaposition. It shows we’re not fuddy-duddies – that’s the big thing. A lot of the younger members like that we’re not just seen as old-fashioned.’
Back in the vestibule, where every seat is filled and extra space absorbed by those standing, it’s time for the fashion to take over. Lights dim, conversation fades and faces crane toward the iron gates as a bellboy emerges on the catwalk, pushing the luggage carrier at just the right speed. Forty models follow him in turn, each cast from a roll-call of characters that you might encounter in the lobby of a glamorous hotel, from the nattily dressed CEO to the gentleman explorer, a nod to the age of adventure, and former rugby player Thom Evans, who steps out in a grey overcoat and tailored trousers.
The classic British attire on show spans a classic colour palette – warm blush jumpers, soft grey beanie hats, dark checks – and, of course, a selection of suitcases.
In a matter of minutes, Jeremy Hackett himself takes to the catwalk, tipping his bowler hat to a roar of approval, and then it’s all over. It’s just as Karen says: ‘You’d never put Freemasons and fashion together, but isn’t it lovely?’
Not just men’s fashion
While Freemasons’ Hall provides a fantastic venue to showcase men’s fashion, it’s equally comfortable recognising the top names in the lingerie sector. Held at the Hall in December, the 2013 UK Lingerie Awards was a spectacular night of drama and entertainment in the company of industry stars and celebrities from across the country. Hosted by Sky Sports News presenter Millie Clode, the event crowned Debenhams the UK’s Favourite Lingerie Retailer of the Year.