Using wool from Scotland, Ross Barr-Hoyland began his fashion brand with a classic piece of men’s knitwear called The Spencer.
Inspired by the elegance of the Regency Period, Barr-Hoyland has reinvented the garment, which was originally a woollen outer tail-coat with the tails cut off, worn as a short-waist-length, double-erased man’s jacket in the 1790s.
Elegant knitwear for men remains Barr-Hoyland’s passion. We spoke with the designer recently for a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to design clothes for the men of today.
Where do you draw your inspiration for your line?
I draw upon the history and culture of the UK. It can come from something I read – which is where The Spencer originated from – or from photographs, art work or just something I see.
Suddenly something pops into my head and then I spend time drawing out the concept, and then it’s made, where things are tweaked, to the final garment that you see.
Do you plan to continue to focus on wool or will you move to other materials?
I do plan to expand and work with other materials, but wool is so key to what the brand is about and will always be a key material.
My home city of Wakefield in West Yorkshire was once such a big part of the wool industry, but now doesn’t have anything. Wool was, and is, such a big part of the industry of the UK and its uses continue to grow and are becoming prominent once more with the Slow Fashion movement, and the British Wool Marketing Board.
But as Ross Barr continues to grow and evolve, other materials will come into the brand. So, watch this space.
Who are your role models?
I have many people whom I see and whom inspire me in different ways. But I draw upon three individuals whom I know and whom I have seen over the course of several years.
One of them is the author Juno Dawson whose writing and thoughts I find so completely inspiring. She is a legend.
Then there are two in the corporate business world: Daniel Winterfeldt and Simon Rodgers. Both of them have championed and worked tirelessly for the LGBTI community within their working environments and have made immeasurable achievements.
I have several role models, but these three are key. We draw strength from individuals and events that happen to others, as well as our own struggles and experiences. My own have shaped and will continue to shape the person I am now.
Do you have any designers and models you’d like to work with?
I think I am so incredibly lucky to work with the people I have already worked with. From the gracious and amazing David Gandy, to designers and brands such as Timothy Everest, Emma Willis, Cheaney, Goodwin Smith and Taylor Morris.
The models and photographers I’ve worked with have been the best and most brilliant people.
I have met so many other incredible brands and designers too. To single out anyone else would be cheeky, but this is an incredible community where everyone is warm and friendly so we will see. I can tell you there is something coming with a lady celebrity. Who and how, I can’t say.
Two designers though I would love to meet one day are Tom Ford and Ralph Lauren as they are personal idols. But I think I have some way to go if ever I cross paths with them.
You showed your collection to The Queen. How was that experience?
That will go down as one of the most surreal experiences of my life. I was asked to be part of an event to celebrate the 40th anniversary of The Prince’s Trust.
I was only told a few days before that Her Majesty as well His Royal Highness would be attending. As composed as I am, in that moment of my initial reaction I really was not.
I had no idea what to expect, but strangely when they came into the room, I wasn’t nervous. However, I nearly committed a faux pas when I almost did a curtsy instead of a bow. Luckily, I quickly corrected myself.
The Queen and indeed The Prince of Wales are two people who I, like many of us, have grown up with them in our mindsets. She was incredibly warm and engaging, asking several questions and actually feeling the garments for their texture and buttons.
Inside I was like: “OMG! Is this actually happening?’ On the outside I hope I was giving off the impression of being composed.
His Royal Highness was incredible. Joking, laughing and asking how we were all doing. I think and hope he was proud of all the people who there to represent the fruits of the hard work of him, and the large army of employees and volunteers who support all the people who come to the Trust for help.
Both of them have an incredible aura about them which makes everyone relaxed to be in their company.
How does your sexuality shape who you are?
They say everything you experience makes you the person who you are, and that’s certainly true for me.
My coming out wasn’t easy, and it was a long process due to my experiences and background.
I grew up in quite a conservative environment, and the only person I had knowingly met who was gay is one of my oldest and dearest friends from school who’s attitude of ‘I am who I am, love it or go away’ has been so inspiring for me.
When I was learning who I was, I turned to someone whom I thought I could trust and who could be a source of solace. But I was young and incredibly naive and sadly, their intentions were different and when that became clear, I felt betrayed and I went back into the closest because I thought that wasn’t me.
I was so scared to lose my family as I felt like they wouldn’t accept me. This led to years of depression and a battle within myself which, in all honesty, nearly cost me my life.
However when I came out, the world started to open up.
Besides feeling free and living for the first time in complete honesty about myself, it allowed me to meet some amazing people who have become some of my closest friends.
But all of what has happened has made me appreciate the struggle those who came before us, and indeed the struggle we still face for those who want to judge us.
My own struggle, and the struggles of others, I think brings us all together and gives us strength. Something we saw so beautifully orchestrated all over the world after the immense, unfathomable tragedy we saw in Orlando last year when the LGBTI community came together and held hands across the globe.
Being out of the closet, do you feel more free in your designs?
I can’t say that being gay effects my designs. My designs are very much based upon British heritage and culture, and how they fit the wants and desires of men today.
However, I do have more flamboyant designs in my design books, but I think they would be one-off pieces rather than something you would find selling in a store. Maybe I should do Haute Couture for men?
Have you ever felt any anti-LGBTI sentiments before or since you’ve become a designer?
In the industry, absolutely not, and none of my customers particularly care either to be honest. There is sometimes playful ‘flanter’ when people know. But I have never experienced any anti-LGBTI sentiments and I think that’s mainly because my industry praises and encourages individuals just to be themselves and your sexuality or gender is not important.
With your success do you think you will be giving back to the LGBTI community?
Absolutely. I have supported, and will continue to support, the community I am a very proud member of and which has done so much for me personally, whichever and whatever ways I can.
I’m asked regularly to support causes ranging from children with cancer, AIDS charities, charities supporting injured servicemen and women, and The Prince’s Trust. For whatever kindness you receive, it’s always important to pass it on and spread it.
This is what will always be important to myself and the brand.