Ian Hylton Featured

Our interview with the Creative Director of menswear for Ports 1961
by 23 November 2011

When Ian Hylton was growing up in Toronto, his parents ensured that he and his siblings never left the house without being impeccably dressed. Seated before me today is a testament to that upbringing: clean shaven, slick black rimmed eyeglasses, crisp white shirt, silk tie, a perfectly fitted two button charcoal suit, leather lace ups worn without socks (a must for the season), to sum it up, the best dressed man in town. As the Creative Director of Ports 1961’s menswear division, Hylton has been riding a wave of praise alongside creative partner Fiona Cibani (womenswear). His unrelenting quest for high quality materials and unequivocal good taste have steered the future of the fashion house in an exciting new direction – which means a substantial amount of travel. “I did the math last week, it’s 30% of my time here (Milan, ndr), 30% of my time in New York, 30% of my time in China and the other ten I’m in the air,” he shares. Making the most of precious time, I get right to asking him about the brand, his design inspirations and style secrets.

Port authority

The concepts of travel and the global landscape have been at the forefront of Ports 1961 since its beginning. Japanese-Canadian founder Luke Tanabe was a highly skilled craftsman with exceptional business acumen to boot. Tanabe opened his first boutique in Toronto, selling clothes and accessories for the modern working woman of the sixties and seventies. Thanks to his ability to create highly appealing and functional fashions, Ports soon became an international success.“Ports, the name originally was from the idea of ports of call, ports all over the world, an international global attitude. I think that today it is more relevant than ever… I think that we are more global than ever,” remarks Hylton as two models stroll in wearing outfits from the new spring collection. Hylton springs up to greet his creations, enthusiastically pointing out the intricacies in the fabric. “What’s nice about this is that it’s solid navy, but if you look closely there’s ten shades in there, it just gives the fabric dimension. This is basically an all-weather jacket… these storm system fabrics are the best, you just can’t beat them up,” he demonstrates by scrunching up the sleeve and then releasing it to its former creaseless state.

A man for all seasons

When I ask him about the importance of all-weather clothing for the travelling man, he imparts his personal philosophy on the science behind the male wardrobe. “This whole attitude for me is what I call 300-day clothes, I feel there are 65 days where it’s either too hot or too cold to wear something. You’re always in air conditioning, in heat, from a car – I feel that there are always little changes that you make." He gestures to a slim fit jacket. “Probably 90% of the time, this is going to be worn with jeans and more casually, it looks slim, but it actually has enough room to fit over a slim suit, it’s completely water proof, completely wind resistant and it’s got this thermal inner layer. There’s a lot of technology mixed with the styling of it.”

This studied approach to fashion is the reason Hylton’s designs have garnered so many new fans. His methods give modern men credit for their ability to dress themselves. “Men for so long were told what to wear by their wives, but I think that contemporary men today are free thinking, they’re thinking period.”

Hylton's hunt for the highest calibre in material and method lead him to the craftsmen and wool mills of Italy. “It’s so great to go to these small Italian towns and work with these artisans, I have been doing it for years. I worked a lot in the Florence area and outside of Florence for many years and it’s kind of nice to be back here and in Como working with the silk mills and working on ties right in the factory. It’s my favourite place on Earth, Como. I always say I want to die there,” he says grinning.

Our attention shifts to the new model walking in, he guides my eye to the trouser hem, “I’m very much into this seamless detailing, you see there’s no topstitching. Everything is invisible, on the inside.” There is no doubting that this man is a major player in the modern salvation of men’s fashion. His clothes are elaborate beings in and of themselves, attractive at first glance, yet multilayered and multi-purpose. I ask him what inspired all of these choices.

“I looked at what was on the market, I thought about where I shopped, what I wear and what was missing from what I liked to wear and what I realized was that there was more and more quality being compromised and there were very few brands at the top end keeping consistent with the quality and make. The problem with the brands that were at the top of quality and make were that they were really an older man’s brand. I hate using age as an analogy when it comes to this, but it is about an attitude, but the blocks were quite boxy and sort of felt more mature that way and you don’t want to age yourself.” A view he takes to heart, dressing young, still classic, but made in a new way unlike the heavy grandfather suits of the past.

Speaking of new trends, we can’t help but bring up one of Hylton’s preferred accessories, one in particular that is slowly, but surely working its way into the male style vocabulary: the man clutch. In 2008, the designer’s long-time friend Scott Schuman – the creator of the widely popular fashion blog The Sartorialist – immortalized Hylton in one of his infamous street style photos. In the photo, Hylton is suited up in a made-to-measure suit, standing on a street in Soho, New York City with a brown crocodile man clutch hanging off of his wrist.

“You can’t believe the amount of emails and people who ‘facebooked’ me and found me out of nowhere because of this bag, constantly. One guy from Japan said: 'you single handedly, in one fell stroke brought back the man bag!'” Happily, there are plans to bring more accessories into the mix for the upcoming fall collection, so we’ll just have to wait and see what Ports and Ian have in store for us.

Ports 1961 boutique listings
Interview with Fiona Cibani
Ports 1961 launch at Harvey Nichols London