Drake's assistant store manager talks about facial products, clothing and how jiu-jitsu has changed his life.
“I like to smile because I have gold teeth, so I show them a little!” Smiling (and showing a few of his gold teeth) as he opens the door, Benjamin Glyn Phillips welcomes us into his warm living room on a sunny day in Walthamstow, north London. With jazz playing in the background, the assistant store manager of Drake's (a brand that started out making ties before becoming a benchmark for effortlessly elegant style) sat down to talk about his favourite face products, his passion for clothes (today, he's wearing Gucci loafers, a knitted tie, and a soft-shoulder navy blazer), and how Brazilian jiu-jitsu changed his life.
Hello Ben, thank you for having us today! Can you introduce yourself for our readers?
I’m Ben Phillips, I’m 40 years old. I'm the assistant manager of the Drake's store on Clifford Street. I’ve worked at Drake's for a year and a half.
Before you started working for Drake's, what were you doing?
I worked in the tattoo industry. I owned a tattoo parlour in Swansea called Swansea Tattoo Company. It lasted 6 years. Before that, I had a business that sold supplies for tattoo parlours: I sold inks, machines, all that. I worked in the tattoo industry for almost fifteen years.
How did you go from the tattoo industry to the clothing industry?
I had worked in clothing before, and I always had a love and passion for clothing. The lease of our tattoo parlour was coming to an end, and I felt the urge to change direction. I was a little disenchanted with what the tattoo industry had become, as it had changed a lot. I just wanted something new. You know, I'm only good at four things. The first is tattooing, and I think I went as far as I could since I'm not a tattoo artist, although I've been lucky enough to work in this industry for a long time. The second is to fight, but I'm not good enough to make money from it. I’m also savvy in music, but there’s no money in music anymore. The last thing I know is clothes. It was the obvious choice. Not to mention that my wife was very motivated to return to London after 6 difficult years in Wales!
Where does your passion for clothes come from?
I’ve always been interested in clothes even as a child. I wanted a certain pair of sneakers, of course they were always more expensive than the others, it's always like that! All my friends had Nike tracksuits, but I wanted an Air Jordan tracksuit which is kind of ridiculous when you think about it, but that was just the way it was. I loved what was happening in Japan for example. I was a big fan of A Bathing Ape when it came out. I think the first collections are some of the best things ever. I was lucky enough to become friends with a guy called Kei Hemmi, who has a brand called Time Worn Clothing in Japan. And I was very lucky to work with Michael Hill at Drake's. To me, he and Kei are two of the best dressed people I know. They're both awesome, and I've never seen them go wrong!
How is your morning organised?
I wake up pretty early, around 5:00, 5:30. I do the usual things: I take a shower, wash my face. Right now I’m very into your products. The exfoliator, le the cleanser,the moisturiser… My skin tends to be dry, especially on my face, and these products have helped me. You'll think I'm overdoing it, but when people tell you “you look different, you look good” and the only things I've changed are the products I use, that says it all. … These three products, I know I’ll use them for the rest of my life! I'm afraid to see them empty! They are so good. My wife is a make-up artist so as soon as I bring a product home, she looks at the composition. She looked at the Horace products and said they were really good! She stole my travel pouch, too. Before that, I used a lot of Santa Maria Novella products. I like things that have a story. My flavour is either Tabacco Toscano de Santa Maria Novella or Royal Bay Rum, depending on my mood. When I was younger, it was Brut or Old Spice! I used Baxter of California for shampoo and conditioner for a long time, but I switched to Horace's and they’re great. Before, I wore my hair slicked back and I used Cool Grease from Japan. I cut my hair recently so I don't have to comb them every morning. Now I use the Horace styling wax..
Do you shave often?
I shave once a week with a clipper. I look like a fat kid when I'm clean shaven!
What time do you arrive at the store?
I'm there around 8:00, 8:30. I take the train, it's pretty convenient. We're near the station so it's about 45 minutes, which is good for London! We open at 10 a.m., but I like to be at the store very early. I like to put on a little music, something that we wouldn't play during the day, and gently enter into my working day. I really like doing manual tasks, setting up the shop: sweeping in front of the shop, vacuuming, opening the cash register, putting the bench in front of the shop. I appreciate these elements of the seller's life!
What's your breakfast of choice?
I rarely eat breakfast, to be honest. Sometimes I'll grab something, but most of the time I walk to the cafe and have too much coffee. I normally drink two before I even leave the house. Even if I don't need it, I have a coffee with me on the way because it's my routine! I drink half the coffee, I go outside, sweep in front of the shop, come back, drink the other half… We just got a Nespresso machine in the shop too and it's dangerous. Our customers love it!
Your work revolves around human contact. Who are your clients, and how do you work with them?
We have a very interesting customer base. Some guys buy a full look, they're big Drake's fans. There are guys from the city who come to buy three or four suits at once, and other guys who save all year to buy a tie or a Drake's pocket square. Every customer is equally as important whether they spend £50 or £10,000. Clothes mean so much to every one of our customers, and for the guy who bought himself a tie for his wedding, that's more important than anything. Our customers are the best and some of them have become friends. It's easy with Drake's: the product is so good. I don't need to sell it. I just need to give you your size and make sure you got what you wanted. It's always very natural, never forced.
It would seem that when you work at Drake's, you also lend yourself to being a part-time model. Do you often get shot?
It's true that there are often shoots at Drake's. I often posed, even before working here! If you ever need a big tattooed guy, I'm here. I did quite a few shoots in Japan, including one for Wonderland Magazine where I wore 3 million pounds worth of diamonds. I made music with several groups, so I'm a bit used to it. It’s interesting to work with different photographers. My friend Jamie Ferguson often works with us. We hang out together and he takes pictures, it couldn't be any easier! I just did a shoot with Fred Castleberry. He has a different approach, but it was very interesting and fun. I'm not sure I'm the easiest subject to shoot, but they always manage to get a good result.
Are you often in a suit?
I'm often in pretty formal attire, yeah. If I spent my days hanging out at home, maybe it would be different, and I’d wear more tracksuits! Before, I was quite passionate about workwear, denim, and heritage pieces. I was already a fan of Drake's, even before working with them. On my wedding day, I wore a Drake's shirt, tie, and pocket square. Since my daily uniform is a suit, I feel uncomfortable when I'm not wearing one! So when I go out, I always put on a shirt and tie. I still have my old clothes, but when I try to wear them I find that they no longer correspond to my current lifestyle. There's a pretty relaxed side to wearing Drake's too. Their clothes can be worn both formally and casually! It’s really easy to wear to events or when going out. I recently went to an Oh Sees concert and I was wearing a seersucker suit. I didn't feel like I belonged at all, although I was definitely the only person in that outfit that evening!
As long as you haven't had a beer spill on you...
We were upstairs in the VIP area! (laughs)
Music is an integral part of your life. What type of bands have you played in?
I was playing in a hardcore punk band called 33. The band was basically me and some friends. We did that for a while, toured a lot, put out a record, and opened for some of my favourite bands. I had no idea that we would accomplish so much! We put together this group for us. The goal was never to start a band to be hugely successful. I always found it incredible that we had people come to see us in concert and that we had managed to sell even one album. It was great. I didn’t expect so much from this lousy music that I played for my sole pleasure.
The music you play today is quite far from hardcore punk, however!
I’ve always enjoyed jazz, even though I have a very limited knowledge of it. I had the classics of the genre, ‘A Love Supreme,’ ‘Kind of Blue,’ and I always liked listening to it. During my last trip to Japan I bought a lot of new records, a bit by chance. There are plenty of speciality shops in London too. I often go to ‘Sounds of the Universe,’ it's my favourite record store. There’s a guy who works there, Alex, who takes care of me. He also does jiu-jitsu, which gives us an additional commonality. Usually I go there saying “I would like such, such and such a record” and he answers me “Yes, I know, I already put them aside for you”. He knows what I want and can recommend things I don't know at all. It is a well of wisdom. I’m very lucky to know him. I have two jazz teachers, him and my friend Tony Sylvester! If you want to know more about New Orleans doom metal, or New York hardcore, I can help you, but jazz... I'm a neophyte, but I really like it.
You are, to say the least, tattooed. How many tattoos do you have in total?
I only have one, it's just not finished! (laughs)
Alright, so when did you start this unique tattoo?
I started when I was 24. I had to wait until my father died to get a tattoo because it really wasn't worth getting yelled by him about it! Luckily I was friends with Thomas Hooper whom I had met through music. His career took off there, and he was able to introduce me to some amazing tattoo artists, great people, some of whom became close friends. Everything I managed to accomplish in the tattoo industry I owe to Thomas. He was the one who got me started. I owe him for that! He is an immense artist, completely incredible.
You do jiu-jitsu. Since when has it been a passion?
I've been practising for 11 years, but I'm not very good. I started training in Swansea with a guy called Chris Rees. He is the first Welshman to obtain a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. At the time he was still only a purple belt when Rob, a friend of mine, started training with him. You know, I'm quite heavy. At that time it was something else. I must have weighed 60 kilos more than now and Rob said to me “I practise this thing I think you would like it a lot.” He knew I liked MMA and those kinds of sports. I've been following UFC fights since UFC 1. He said to me, 'I know you love this stuff, you should come try it out.’ I was too scared. Rob told me there were beginner classes scheduled. He said to me, ‘We’re going to do beginner classes over the next six weeks. You're going to go, you're going to register, and you're going to train.’ He didn't really give me a choice, but he was right: in many ways, jiu-jitsu saved my life.
Firstly, I’m in much better health now. I’m very dyslexic and I left school feeling unable to learn anything. I didn’t have my driver's license, for example. And I had a lot of trouble at school. But with jiu-jitsu, I was finally learning something. And I told myself that if I could do that, I would certainly be able to do a lot of other things! So I started to learn to drive to pass the license. And last year I went back to school for an English degree, which was pretty scary. Everything I accomplished in my life, I owe it to what jiu-jitsu taught me. And the people I met there are great.
How many times a week do you train?
Right now, I do it far too rarely, but I'm very busy at Drake's. I prefer counting the number of training sessions I do per month! I really need to change that, by the way. My master, Mauricio Gomes, is in Brazil for three months. You know, "master" is not a word that I would use for many people. My friend Miles once told me ‘No grown man needs a master,’ and I pretty much agreed with him until the day I met Mauricio. He's truly my jiu-jitsu master. When he returns I’ill train more intensively. I’d like to do some fights and I’d especially like to get my brown belt!
Where do you train?
My master Mauricio is the father of Roger Gracie, who in my opinion is the best fighter of all time. When I train with Mauricio, I go to the Roger Gracie Academy, which is in White City. I also sometimes train in Soho with a guy called Sacha.
We feel that you really like what you do. Do you manage to separate yourself from work?
In theory I only work five days a week. Sometimes it overflows a little, especially when we have shows or events. Sometimes you have to work a little more, but I do it with great pleasure. Drake's is a great employer, so I try to be a great employee!
What do you think makes Drake's so popular today?
Drake's is very popular right now. Their marketing is extremely well executed and their brand concept is presented beautifully. Before working for them, I was like many other guys looking at their Instagram page wishing to wear their ties and be in Florence too. So you can understand how proud I am to work for them. Their goal is to make good products. Michael and I approach work the same way and that's part of why I love working at Drake's so much!