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Clad in a chic Breton shirt and double-breasted wool jacket, collar turned up to block the biting wind outside, London based Jason Basmajian rushes into Hoppers, a hip new Sri Lankan restaurant and one of his favourite spots in King’s Cross. We were together at a friend’s birthday dinner just one week ago, but there was too much wine – and thus today, much catching up to do. Since we last had a proper chin wag, the Boston-native had stepped down from his role as artistic director of Cerruti, a four-year project that pushed the label back into the fashion limelight, and was importantly blessed by the brand’s almost-nonagenarian founder, Nino. Basmajian, a veritable menswear star, is one of those rare creative talents who seamlessly lends his style across industries and mediums. Today, his path has shifted from menswear, as he leads the creative development of a new boutique-hotel project in England, and sits on the advisory board for new art-fair concept, Eye of the Collector. Few in the style world have creatively helmed three men’s powerhouse tailoring labels consecutively. After working for brands such as Armani, Donna Karan and Calvin Klein, Basmajian took over as artistic director of Brioni in Milan, then in 2013 went on to helm and revamp Gieves & Hawkes at 1 Savile Row in London. This was all before he took the reins as chief creative officer at Cerruti 1881 in 2015. Fluent in French and Italian, the designer is a true globetrotter having worked in Boston, New York, Milan, Paris, London and, extensively, in Asia – Hong Kong’s Trinity Ltd, part of the Li & Fung Group, owned both Gieves & Hawkes and Cerruti before selling the latter to mainland Chinese firm Shandong Ruyi in 2017.

Basmaijian’s sartorial success is hardly an orthodox story. But his commercial realism combined with creative vision made for a powerful combination in the world of traditional menswear. Collaborating with the likes of Paolo Roversi, Ellen von Unwerth and Patrick Demarchelier on brand campaigns, he communicates his vision through the best. “I’m American, so a lot of the training I had in the States – at these big brands like Donna Karan and Calvin Klein – always had a commercial touch,” the designer explains, “I’m quite happy I went from the American structure to the European one, rather than vice versa, as Europe is much more focused on the creativity.” Studying communications and marketing at university, he worked summers in a speciality fashion shop for men and women: “That’s where I kind of got bitten by the fashion bug. All these beautiful clothes, cuts and fabrics – the cashmeres – I loved it. And I thought, ‘I’ve gotta do this.’” The hands-on skills, however, were honed in a very small shop in Boston, with a head tailor from Abruzzo who taught him tailoring and pattern cutting. Ironically, Basmajian would later do work in Abruzzo at Brioni. Learning on the job in those days, “We had to do everything,” says Basmajian, whose shaved head and perfect stubble recall a designer Jason Statham. During an Armani internship, he discovered the power of branding: “The ambience, the flowers, the uniforms, the music, the way people spoke – the world of this brand. Twenty-five years ago, it was rare for a fashion brand to create a universe that was so immersive.”

Basmajian’s direction, Gives & Hawkes revamped its 1 Saville Row store

While modernising Cerruti menswear into a punchy, powerful fashion-forward offering that revelled in the lessons of detailing, quality and heritage, Basmajian also reintroduced womenswear at the label. I still remember screen-grabbing those runway images for my own style inspiration. “I had so many female friends telling me they loved that jacket, coat or shirt and asking if they could buy the samples,” he says. “Then female influencers started calling over the men’s collection.”

Cerruti 1881 Autumn/Winter 2019 runway look
Cerruti 1881 Autumn/Winter 2019 runway look

Great tailoring and style, whether male or female, is about a good cut, fabric or colour – designers since Coco Chanel have been borrowing across genders – the idea, he reminds us, isn’t new. There’s also been that flipping, between being more Italian, English, then Italian suiting styles. Brioni was a continental Italian style, power suits and all, then at British heritage powerhouse Gieves & Hawkes, his sexier revamp of traditional British Savile Row style fit a contemporary customer – introducing a fresher lifestyle to the brand: cool runway shows, revamped stores and shopping experience.

Gieves & Hawkes Autumn/Winter 2014 campaign

“It was such an exciting project … taking on 240 years of history at the brand. London just has such creativity, but it was an international business through and through, as it was owned by Trinity – there was scalability.” The last two decades have seen major shifts in menswear – traditional codes are being questioned and shaken up. There’s been the relaxing of suiting and tailoring, a vigorous new take on men’s accessories and Dandy-ism, as well as a focus on casual, sportswear and summer suits for warmer climes. Brands have a more global audience, and a younger set of men from Europe and Asia have also embraced the pleasures of well-tailored clothing. The power of streetwear on men’s fashion is undeniable. All of it came to a head during Basmajian’s tenures at these famous labels – it required a deft hand and precise vision to modernise each without straying too far from their DNA. “The best advice Nino Cerruti gave me was, “You can do this, but don’t get distracted by the nonsense and noise of fashion. Stay true to your vision and voice, because you’re creating style, Jason,” he says, reminiscing with twinkly-eyed enthusiasm. So perhaps it’s not so surprising that Basmajian’s focus turns towards interiors, hospitality, art and design. His North London flat, Paris apartment and a pink 19thcentury French villa in the Sancerre countryside have all made it into pages of The Times Magazine, Elle Decor and Architectural Digest USA.

 

Basjamian’s designer Paris apartment

“When I was a kid, my mom said that I used to sit and draw little sketches for restaurants and hotels, spaces like that. I always loved interior spaces and furniture. I think it’s a very organic link to fashion – your eye is always linked to shapes, textures, colour.” His spaces are often filled with contrasting black and whites or warm neutrals often making for stylised minimal base palettes. Striking pieces, such as photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe and Candida Höfer, a vintage Beni Ourain carpet, or a work by American artist Kara Walker, betray an art-loving nature. There’s a penchant for vintage and antique European lamps, chairs and statement vases often filled with gorgeous blooms. Books, trinkets and treasures from his travels make each space feel like a proper home. “An interior, whether residential or commercial, has to convey an emotion and a mood, as does a fashion collection,” says Basmajian. Today he’s concerned with how it all “integrates into a modern lifestyle without compromising an elevated, luxurious and meaningful experience”. Having worked in style and aesthetics for more than three decades, one personal memory sticks in his mind and still informs his take on luxury, whether it’s sartorial, hospitality or interiors. Thirty years ago, learning the trade in that Boston men’s tailoring shop, a young Basmajian strutted into work one day, “very proud of this gorgeous mustard, Shetland wool Italian jacket – from a very prestigious men’s store – that I bought from the money I’d saved up all summer.” The head tailor Giuseppe, an older Italian man, just said, “Gimme that jacket.” Basmajian initially refused.

Giuseppe demanded it, saying, “It doesn’t fit you right,” and reluctantly Basmajian handed it over. He took out his scissors “and to my horror I watched him cut my jacket. He told me to stop panicking and watch what he did. He re-cut my jacket, with minor tweaks, sewed it back on to me and it fit beautifully! It became like a bespoke piece.” “That’s when I realised it’s really all in the details,” says Basmajian, smiling and folding his hands as we finish our meal, “You see, it’s all about the subtlety and the craft.”

Interiors that Basjamian designed for his French countryside villa

 

 

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Jing Zhang
Editor at Large
Jing has lived in the UK, Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai, and now splits her time between the latter two. Despite studying psychology and anthropology, she has worked in media, magazines and newspapers for over 12 years, covering fashion, culture, arts and design, and social issues. Having developed an expertise in Asian creative industries, she's a regular speaker/moderator at forums and events around the world like the Australian Fashion Summit, Fashion Asia and Inside Retail. She appreciates living in extremes and is just as comfortable in luxury spaces as gritty streets. When she’s not working, discovering or globetrotting, she’s reading escapist novels with a glass of red in hand.