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Character Building

Posted 04.03.14  - Style

Illustrator Pete Ellis is the creator of the latest series of Mid-Life Crisis pocket squares and the gent behind Turnbull & Asser’s men about town, Mr St James and Slim St Jim.

'When Turnbull & Asser’s head of design Dean Gomilsek-Cole came across one of my drawings on a website, he knew it was what he needed for the brand. It was one I’d called Mid-Life Crisis, which showed a portly gent in a suit, riding on a chopper with a young woman, drawn in a flat-colour mid-20th century graphic style. I also do caricatures and political and editorial commissions but this is the kind of style I like – beautiful, decorative and graphic.'

'Dean liked the drawing and asked for three or four more ideas around the character. He then became Mr St James, the epitome of a Jermyn Street dandy with a sharp suit and colourful accessories. Slim St Jim was then created as a contrast to Mr St James, he is the younger man-about-town character and the inspiration for Turnbull & Asser’s slim-fit shirt collection.'

'I thought of Mr St James as a kind of Captain Mainwaring from Dad’s Army. "There’s no fool like an old fool," as the saying goes. I always like to inject a bit of humour into my work. He was almost complete in terms of development when Dean discovered him but we made sure that in each image he had the right accessories, such as the red umbrella, bowler hat and glasses.'

'For the Slim St Jim character Turnbull & Asser wanted a younger guy in his early 30s who would be slim and trendy. He needed to have a typically London look, so I spent a lot of time looking at what makes a face look cool, or as if it’s from London. I looked at my heroes such as Clint Eastwood and James Coburn, as well as the more urchin look of the Small Faces, Johnny Rotten and Johnny Depp, dandies like Nick Wooster and even David Beckham as a modern style icon. The character became Slim St Jim, and some of the early sketches had facial hair and a square jaw but we gradually made the character more refined, with fewer lines, less jowly and with a slender profile.'

'Both characters wear a lot of colourful clothing, which is important as it reflects Turnbull & Asser, who are known for their use of colour. For the new range of handkerchiefs, I put Mr St James in different scenes, based on the mid-life crisis idea.'

‘I thought of Mr St James as a kind of Captain Mainwaring from Dad’s Army. "There’s no fool like an old fool," as the saying goes. I always like to inject a bit of humour into my work.'

'So we took the idea of the chopper from the original drawing and expanded it to other cool vehicles such as a speedboat, a Spitfire and a British sports car. We wanted to bring in style icons from the 20th century and thought that it would be interesting to use different vehicles. For the drawing in the speedboat we needed to decide whether Mr St James would be driving the boat, or a passenger with the young women driving – at one point he was hanging off the umbrella at the back – but now the champagne bottle is hanging from the umbrella and I think it works really well.'

'The drawings all incorporate paisley sections, inspired by Turnbull & Asser’s own patterns, and each scene has a different bright colour background in purples, blues, pinks and yellows. It’s carrying on the brand’s idea of "putting the peacocks among the pigeons" – I’ve also drawn some pigeons for the store, complete with bowler hats and umbrellas, which have been used in the window displays.’

T&A Editorial Team

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