Amidst all the new international store openings in Hong Kong (Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister, American Eagle, Gap, Forever 21), one store has quietly sneaked in under the radar… and may just eclipse them all. Ladies and gents, may I introduce you to Jack Wills.
And it definitely is an introduction. When I mentioned Jack Wills to most of my HK friends, the resounding response was ‘Who?!’. Having lived, attended school and gone to university in the UK, I was very familiar with Mr Wills. It was just getting big when I left around 4 years ago; Nottingham, the big university town where I spent far too many of my formative years, had just got its own store and had basically become THE uniform of choice for nearly everyone from my old school and uni.
The typical Jack Wills wearer then was:
In case you don’t know, that’s JP (played by Jack Whitehall) from Fresh Meat (and do watch it, it’s hilarious), who basically epitomises near enough every person I went to school and uni with. JP would probably pronounce Jack Wills as “totally rape”… but enough Fresh Meat in-jokes!
Back then Jack Wills was very much a preppy British A&F, beloved by poshos and public schools (their tagline is ‘University Outfitters’, after all). Round my parts, we call these people ‘rah’s – for girls, think Ugg boots, sweat pants, all-enveloping scarves and big artfully-tousled bed-hair; for guys, think rugby shirts with collars never anything but up, lived-in jeans or board shorts determinedly worn in a country and climate that really doesn’t warrant having your hairy legs out for 8 months of the year.
Seriously, I could spot people from my school long after I’d left from the fact their hair was fluffed up to about five times the size of their body and that they were slouching about in sweats with ‘Jack Wills’ emblazoned on their arse. And as you’re probably now realising, I might just be a bit of a rah too. Like blates. But sadly, without the budget!
So I was already more than interested in Jack Wills opening in Hong Kong and the chance for me to relive my rah days. But, having attended a preview of their new store, I am now no longer interested, but EXTREMELY BLOODY EXCITED.
What became clear, especially after chatting to the fabulous Rachel Johnson, head of womenswear (and with a totes awesome first name, may I just add), is that Jack Wills has come on leaps and bounds since my time in the UK. Yes, there’s still rugby shirts, sweatpants and checked shirts galore, but now there’s so very much more too.
I was blown away by their range of dresses, all of which were immediately covetable, absolutely gorgeous and yet still had that signature Jack Wills feel about them. My heart did a little hop, skip and jump of delight when one of the models came out in the spotted black dress above – the very dress I pointed out to my friend a few moments before from the lookbook, stating ‘It must be mine.’
I was also rather enamoured with their fur capes, sparkly cardigans and fabulous tweed-y outdoors coats (with adorable metal anchor-embossed buttons – its the little details that count!) – here’s hoping HK actually gets cold enough to wear them! I’m also going through a cute print underwear and legwarmer obsession, so you can imagine what I made of the box of treasures below!
I loved the way the outfits were styled too – classic but still fashionable and in a way that felt distinctly British. I was also smitten by this Liberty-style print dress (most prints are bespoke to JW), paired with a slouchy knit cardigan, the perfect mix between dressed up and dressed down; all I have to say is, yes, yes YES! And this mannequin, showcasing sparkly sequinned shorts matched with a plain tee and statement-outfit making red blazer (I’m getting Claudia Winkleman vibes off this look) – even more YES! Even if I’d probably never be able to pull it off myself…
The great thing, especially for someone like me who buys what I like rather than paying close attention to whatever’s in fashion, is that Jack Wills doesn’t slavishly follow trends but rather forages its own distinctive path. I’d describe it as British heritage with a modern twist but with clothes classic and well-designed enough to last far more than a few seasons. However, unlike other shops that have an easily-identifiable signature look (*cough A&F cough*), Jack Wills doesn’t feel like a one-trick pony stuck in a major sartorial rut.
The other cause for major excitement – they’re doing BEAUTY. I think I totally freaked out Rachel, JW’s lovely brand coordinator Lauren and gorgeous PR extraordinaire Elle with my extreme excited squealing when they told me! It seems, in my time away, that Jack Wills have branched into nearly everything – home décor, mugs, iPhone accessories, jewellery and, obviously much to my delight, cosmetics too. The packaging, in their signature pink and navy stripes, is absolutely beyond cute and everything looks really affordable too. Obviously I can’t wait to get my grubby little mitts onto some of the product to give them a test drive – but that Union Jack tin stuffed with nail polishes?! It may as well have my name written on it!
I also NEED the following make-up bags – well, you can never have too many make-up bags, right?!
The lookbook is basically the cast of Skins having had a shower and minus the hipster posing, mini Rosie Huntington-Whiteleys and Prince Harrys. A sense of quintessential Britishness is as intrinsic to the brand as with Burberry or Mulberry, but at high street prices. (Though not that High Street – I’d say prices are on the more premium side, comparable to Ted Baker or Club Monaco here, but not unreasonable for the quality and with some more affordable basics. Rachel assured me they wouldn’t be jacking up the price tags for the HK market either, and my wallet thanks them hugely). There’s an emphasis on heritage prints, old-school Arran knits and little details, like embossed buttons and vintage-style labels sewn into each piece, that give it a sense of much-loved tradition but with a youthful twist.
I was also totally in love with the store itself. In HK, home to the mega-mall, store anonymity is the norm. The Jack Wills flagship, housed in Leighton Centre (behind G.O.D) in Causeway Bay, is anything but.
Firstly, it’s huge. Two floors, high ceilings, practically a mansion by Hong Kong standards. Yes, A&F may have got the press inches by forcing out Shanghai Tang but, unless they’re going to work wonders, this is actually the much better shop space.
Secondly, it’s amazing. No longer will wandering through M&S be my only port of call when pangs of homesickness strike – I can now go stroke some Jack Wills stuff too! There are so many idiosyncratic little touches, just the right mix between quirky and cool whilst being distinctively and delightfully British, that I can imagine people (especially Mainland tourists) will be popping into the shop just to take photos – and no doubt, grab a few Union Jack emblazoned souvenirs whilst they’re at it. So there’s a fireplace, vintage luggage cases, huge pre-loved Union Jack sofas, sweeping staircases, dazzling chandeliers, walls of haphazardly placed but perfectly-thought-out pictures, neon antlers, stuffed animals (didn’t take any pictures of these, slightly creepy)… oh and did I mention the big Jack Wills-striped Range Rover too?!
In a place where stores rarely have such a quirky sense of individuality expressed in their décor, this makes Jack Wills a very exciting… and enticing… prospect indeed. Their unique brand identity is just so cohesive (even their business cards have the pink and navy stripes!)… flick through their lookbook and everything just goes. It’s a study in easy fluidity yet without trying too hard.
Honestly, I really can’t think of anywhere that could compare to it in HK, which can only be a good thing. For me, another British chain with a similarly strong (though totally different) brand identity would be All Saints – in Notts, its store was an old bank kitted out to feel cutting-edge cool and rock-star gothic; meanwhile, another brand that has the quirky Brit thing would be Ted Baker, although I feel this has pretty much been entirely lost in HK stores (they used to give away condoms in my local one… can’t see that ever happening here!), whilst on the whole cool word-of-mouth front they’re totally doing a Superdry… but with a slightly posher accent!
Jack Wills is famous ‘in the industry’ for not doing billboards and conventional advertising, but going by word-of-mouth and viral marketing campaigns; they used to hire pretty young things to wear their clothes (and no doubt look stunning on them) and have Jack Wills beach and pub parties in the UK, all the time promoting the brand and handing out freebies.
I had a little chat about their marketing strategy here, as I was concerned that with all the new stores opening that would be aggressive about their marketing (seen those huge Gap adverts taking over the whole of Central MTR yet?!) and with very little brand recognition to work on, they might get somewhat lost. However, it sounds like they do have some cool tricks up their sleeves (involving HK’s iconic trams and some fab Facebook competitions) and they’ve created a bit of social media buzz already by inviting so many bloggers to check it out – and from what I’ve seen so far, response has been really positive, myself included!
I brought my friend Aurora along, a hot local twenty-something with a shopping addiction almost as bad as mine (i.e. totally JW’s demographic) and no previous knowledge of JW. She was won over within minutes. What she saw even from a half-finished store and a few racks of clothes had her almost as excited about the store as I was. (And here she is above, rocking her Jack Wills goodies far better than I ever could).
Her – and my! – final thoughts? Forget A&F! Head to Jack Wills instead!
Jack Wills will open two stores in HK – at Leighton Centre, Causeway Bay (see artist’s impression above!) and LCX (Ocean Terminal), Tsim Sha Tsui – at the beginning of December. Thanks to Elle and the whole Jack Wills team for inviting me and being so very welcoming and lovely throughout.
I’ll see you all at the launch party!