Jeremy Hershan from R.M.Williams shares his love of craftsmanship

Jeremy Hershan, Head of Design for R.M.Williams. Image supplied.

Fashion is in Jeremy Hershan’s blood and after building a distinguished design career in Europe, he returned home to Australia in early 2016 to take the reins as head of design for R.M.Williams. Hershan was passionate about clothing from a young age and graduated from RMIT University in Melbourne with First Class Honours in Fashion Design in 2007. He then took his considerable talents overseas where he honed his craft at the likes of Veronique Branquinho, Kris Van Assche, Gieves & Hawkes and Aquascutum before spending four years as senior designer at British heritage brand Alfred Dunhill.

During his time with Dunhill he successfully rebuilt the formalwear offering of the business, making his mark as a creative, modern designer who developed a new but still very British aesthetic for the brand. His enviable experience and clear vision as a designer makes him the perfect choice to lead the design of beloved Australian brand R.M.Williams, and his first collection (for AW2017) has been selling well since it hit the shop floor earlier in the year.

We chatted to Jeremy about what it takes to oversee the design of an entire collection for a brand such as R.M.Williams, how he feels about craftsmanship and slow fashion in regards to a heritage brand and what’s coming up in his next collection.

What’s the most important thing that you learned from working for prestigious brands in Europe that you apply to your work at heritage brand R.M.Williams?
R.M.Williams is one the great heritage brands of the world and there is an incredibly strong sense of DNA that forms a thread throughout its unique history. My experience working for some of the great British heritage brands taught me to always respect the past while looking to the brand’s future. The approach at R.M.Williams has been much the same.

Campaign image from R.M.Williams’ A/W 2017 collection.

What was it like returning home to Australia and how did you initially immerse yourself in the world of R.M.Williams?
Having worked internationally for the best part of 10 years I was incredibly excited when I got the call. Naturally I jumped at the opportunity to return home and play a critical role in reshaping one of Australia’s most loved and iconic brands. The first thing I did upon joining the brand was make a pilgrimage of sorts to ‘ground zero’; the workshop in Adelaide to spend time with our craftsmen and women. I spent time trawling through the dust above our iconic Percy Street store looking for archival pieces that would help decode the brands future. I then took a 4WD from Adelaide to where it all began, into to the heart of the Flinders Ranges to immerse myself in brand folklore, meet local characters, camp out under the stars and absorb the unique sense of light and colour in what is one of the oldest and most untouched places known to man.

Taking on a heritage brand and making it current while still pleasing the loyal customers can be a challenge, how did you balance that with your first collection?
As with any heritage brand, you have to be respectful of the past. R.M.Williams has an incredibly loyal fan base that is very dear to the brand who have helped shape it into what it is today. My intention was always to go back to the archives and back to the true essence of the brand in that sense to create something that is relatable for both loyal fans while also bringing a sense of authenticity and excitement that feels relevant for a new more urban customer.

Your role as Head of Design oversees the entire collection, where do you start at the beginning of a season and what is the process like for designing the range?
With a brand like R.M.Williams, I build the collections from the ground up, beginning with the footwear. I will look to establish key seasonal footwear shapes, materials and finishes that will anchor the line. It then becomes about layering on the apparel and Craft (small leather goods) collections across men’s and women’s to build a strong cohesive story.

Campaign image from R.M.Williams’ A/W 2017 collection.

What are your favourite pieces from the current R.M.Williams collection and why?
From my first season for the brand (AW17) the key seasonal footwear statement is around the round toe Turnout boot in a beautiful waxed and treated roughout leather developed exclusively in Italy and made by hand in our workshop. The roughout leather is designed to take on age and character with each wear. There is also a strong story of DNA rich outerwear. On my initial pilgrimage to Percy St, I pulled from the brand archives a leather Drover’s coat from the 1930s. The quality, craftsmanship and detailing was just exquisite and had truly stood the test of time. I referenced this piece for our waxed Drover’s coat, which is crafted from British cotton and trimmed in British moleskin. It’s a richly detailed piece and like the roughout boots, one that will gain only get better with time.

That increasing pace of fashion has led to the idea of ‘slow fashion’ and embracing handcrafted and unique items, how do you feel about that in the context of your role and how important is it to you?
R.M.Williams is a brand that is built on craftsmanship. From the first pack saddle to the first ‘one piece of leather’ boot, all its most iconic product has been crafted by hand using age old techniques. Having cut my teeth on Savile Row and worked with some of the best ateliers in the world, this sense of true craftsmanship was what attracted me most to the brand. The boots are still made in much the same way they were in the 1930s. Sure there have been some advancements over time and RM always prided himself on innovation but the true craft techniques themselves remain the same.

In this day and age of disposable fashion (aka landfill), a brand like R.M.Williams is very refreshing. There is a purity of design to its products (take the one-piece elastic sided boot as an example) and an extremely high level of craftsmanship. This equates to products that are truly built to stand the test of time. Alongside this, I try to ensure a level of provenance in all our sourcing, working with only the best tanneries and mills from across the world to create honest hardwearing product.

How did it feel designing your second collection for R.M.Williams and what can you tell us about what’s coming up for the new season?
For Spring Summer 2018, I built on the foundations I established with AW17 and further explored the brand archives. There is a reinterpretation of a 1960s Stockman’s workboot in a vintage nubuck tanned exclusively in New Zealand and made by hand in our Adelaide workshop. There is an expanded story of Made in Australia heritage inspired denim. The denim again has been sourced from Cone Mills who are the world’s oldest running denim mill, based in Greensboro NC, USA. True to the brand’s status a masters of leather, there is also an exciting story of suede and leather outerwear across men’s and women’s apparel.

Images supplied.

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