January 28, 2011 6:09 pm

Heights of fashion

 

Charles Finch with some of his line

It’s only taken me 25 years of talking about opening my own store – Chucs Dive and Mountain Shop – to actually do it.

“Chucs” is an old Hollywood nickname of mine, coined by the film director Damian Harris at a time when we were both trying to make a name for ourselves in the film business – which also happens to be the time (circa 1986) that I first thought of creating a swimwear, safari and mountain-wear brand for men and women that would bring back some of the glamour of yesteryear.

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It began as a simple idea: to make swimming shorts that are flattering to men, and not like the baggy balloons or bikini-bottom looks that dominate the poolside at most resorts.

What I had in mind was something of the kind I remembered from my childhood in Jamaica, where my father, Peter Finch (star of the 1976 film Network), and my mother, Yolande Turnbull, built a glorious banana plantation called Bamboo, and hung out with Errol Flynn, Ian Fleming and Blanche Blackwell. That, plus the gear invented by my grandfather, Captain George Ingle Finch, who set a world altitude record climbing Everest with George Mallory in 1922 while wearing two of his own inventions: a down-filled jacket (the first puffa), and a portable oxygen tank.

I found a shack on La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles, and convinced my old pal Peter Morton, owner of the Hard Rock Café, to be my first investor – but the planning application was rejected and the project took a back seat to the movies.

Then, a couple of years ago, on a trip to visit Chris Blackwell (founder of Island Records) at Goldeneye, the former home of Fleming in Jamaica, I stumbled across a pair of Ian Fleming’s swimming trunks. These, coupled with pictures of my family and some Blackwell rum, got me thinking again. In the Jamaican sun, it all looked simple: heritage + story = business. My other business, Finch & Partners, focuses on marketing and PR; I work with stars so the marketing and celebrity aspects looked pretty simple ... what could go wrong?

Everything: 97 per cent of start-ups fail. Manufacturing swimwear is one of the most complex, costly activities in the clothing business. Finding a factory you trust that will agree to your minimum orders is almost impossible. Production processes are aggravating, and not an exact science. Retail in a flat market is insanity, and the UK was flat even before the recession.

“Jeans. You need jeans,” said a super-rich Indian perfume magnate when I told him about my idea. “I like T-shirts,” he added. “They sell! But it’s going to cost you millions!” Naturally, I don’t have millions.

So I told myself something else. Chucs is not a brand at all. We are all over-branded. It’s a shop, and hopefully a Harrods concession, selling well-made swimming trunks, T-shirts, polos and shorts for men and women, as well as high-altitude jackets (prices from £55); and it can’t be as hard as the film business. Then I started writing the cheques and found out I was wrong.

It took me two years to develop swimming shorts for men that are comfortable, dry quickly and have a shape I like. First attempts by my tailor, Anderson & Sheppard, were marvellously cut by John, the trouser-man – but impossible to mass-produce. We ended up changing patterns at least five times before the product worked.

Now we also have a safari jacket of thick cotton (the sort of thing John Frankenheimer would wear in the jungle or on any movie set); a great polo shirt and so on. Next, I plan to make a hopsack blazer, like the one that tailor Mariano Rubinacci once made for me which never creases.

Then a small space became available on Dover Street, in London’s Mayfair. We covered the walls in rattan paper, built cabinets, and painted stripes on the ceiling. My grandfather’s picture is on our shop hoarding, and next week, we open. Every time I walk by, I can hear his voice in my ear: “You’ve reached base camp. Now there’s a helluva mountain to climb.”

Chucs Dive and Mountain Shop opens in London on February 2

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