When we meet Sam Fayed at his midtown Manhattan office, he’s hovering over his desk, doing three things at once. The creative director is halfway through an informal design meeting with his team, simultaneously checking texts on his phone as he finishes off an email on his computer. We’re on the top floor of 50 East 57th Street, in the office and showroom of the menswear label Bespoken that he owns with his brothers, Liam and James.
The lower floors are occupied by another bespoke Fayed family business, the iconic clothier Turnbull & Asser, and family friend Orlando Palacios plans to move his Worth & Worth hat showroom to the sixth floor this fall. The building is a testament to a tight-knit family and close group of friends. With a full-facade Turnbull mural facing Park Avenue and a prominent storefront open to passersby, even among the bustle of Manhattan, the structure is difficult to miss.
The same can be said about Fayed, lanky with an infectious smile. To friends, he’s Sammy, the former film major who’s unapologetically outspoken about his opinions and tastes, yet gentle enough to level with you politely. He’s spent his life learning clothing and branding by observing the family business, but he’s a non-conformist, restlessly seeking perfection while unafraid to make mistakes. With his naturally disruptive tendencies, he seeks to create a brand that, first and foremost, doesn’t fall in line.
“To be honest, I’ve done everything the opposite
and it feels more effective. It’s a disruption to what the
classic model is, but you get more out of it,
and people are into it.”
— SAM FAYED
Raised between New York, London, and Connecticut, Fayed moved to L.A. to pursue the arts at the first chance he got. He found himself juggling music and film school while working at Turnbull. Naturally observant, he began to notice the disconnect between the world of fashion and the varied scenes in his day-to-day life.
“I just saw the different customers come in [at Turnbull] and I felt like there was a need in the market for an elevated staple,” he says, “an elevated wardrobe essential that is timeless and has contemporary design and just sits in your wardrobe season to season.” Fayed sensed an opportunity in a younger crowd-—one he felt was overly embellishing their looks. “I think at the time there were a lot of embroideries happening, there was a lot of that L.A. Ed Hardy shit. So I think that negatively influenced me, but also inspired me . . . like, we need to create items that are going to be timeless items, but also through a little bit of a younger lens.”
In 2008, despite a tough recession, he and his younger brother Liam sent a small run of shirts through the Turnbull factory, aiming their design at this newly envisioned customer. “It was my last year of film school and I was making my thesis documentary,” Fayed explains. “I shot this 15-minute short, and I remember getting our first order, getting a text from my brother saying, ‘I think we just sold a bunch of our shirts to Bloomingdales.’ I just remember being like, ‘Cool, I think I have a job when I’m done with this gig.’”
The two brothers in business would soon became three. James, the eldest—and as the director of Turnbull & Asser, the most experienced—jumped in, fortifying the group. The Fayed brothers worked in L.A. for two years before moving operations back east and setting up shop in Manhattan. When they started working with publicists in New York’s showrooms, they realized that their brand’s ethos didn’t align with that of the competition. Feeling the need to secure their identity, they took over a section of the Turnbull building to do in-house fittings, telling themselves, “Let’s make a conscientious effort to create this experience in our own space.”
As word spread, the brand began to expand. The shirts led to jackets, pants, hats, and ties, and before they knew it, they had a collection. By 2012, Bespoken was on the tip of everyone’s tongues in the New York menswear industry, which was exploding with “Made in” stories. Brands were bending over backwards to push craftsman narratives in the hopes of giving substance to their products, but with deep roots through Turnbull by way of London’s Savile Row and a long history outfitting the likes of Pablo Picasso, Winston Churchill, several U.S. presidents, and the British Royal family, the Fayeds didn’t have to craft a narrative. It had already been written. All that was left was to add their chapter.
“We had that story, and then I was mashing up a lot of [my] musician background into it,” Fayed says. “So there was almost a drugged-out, sort of rock ‘n’ roll undertone to the collection, which was kind of tripping people out . . . We didn’t have to create fake branding around anything. It’s just how it is.”
For Fayed and Bespoken, it’s not necessarily about where it’s made but how it’s made. “Now when you say, ‘Made in New York,’ it’s like there’s been this gold rush, as if it’s like this mecca for manufacturing,” he says. “There’s some amazing manufacturers, but there’s also a lot of bad ones. It’s not just about where things are made—it has to fit right at the end of the day. A lot of brands have sort of hopped on this ‘Made in New York’ wagon and you kind of wonder, is it made well?”
Fayed is starting to focus on denim-washed items out of the New Jersey factory BPD Washhouse, a two-man business born in L.A. For Bespoken, it’s more about the beauty of having that relationship with BPD; they can sit with them and develop a custom wash formula, something they’ve already started doing for their next collection.
While they still serve bespoke clients out of the U.K.-based Turnbull factory, the Fayed brothers have pushed themselves to find the best manufacturer for every category of production. Their leather goods are produced in Portugal, fully fashioned knitwear comes from Italy, denim is out of L.A., while bottoms and outerwear are produced in New York.
“We always try to work with factories that are a little bit smaller so that we have that relationship and can share what’s happening in the market,” Fayed says. “When you develop something, you want to know that the factory is capable of producing items that are also relevant to the marketplace.”
Last year, exhausted by the grind of producing a new line every season, Fayed took a season off to focus on his music, but this year, as Liam heads up the daily operations and James continues to oversee the business direction of the brand, he’s taken on the title of creative director. Driving the team to refocus energy into the customer for whom he had originally created the brand, the voice has become clearer than ever. “There’s no room for error in the market,” he says, “[nor] to position ourselves in a place where people don’t understand the brand or don’t get what they’re buying.”
To counteract this, Bespoken is moving away from a wholesale focus, and pushing for a personal connection to their customer online, through the showroom, and collaborations with brands like Worth & Worth. “Our main focus is [selling] direct,” Fayed says. “That’s where we see the future of the business, to elevate our web experience, push our collection business online, and really grow our in-showroom experience.”
As the brand has recently started to buzz again, with major publications like Vogue and GQ taking notice, Fayed’s main focus is to keep being authentic to their collective history and following his offbeat nature, while staying away from industry expectations. “To be honest, I’ve done everything the opposite and it feels more effective,” he says. “It’s a disruption to what the classic model is, but you get more out of it, and people are into it.”
In a market full of uncertainty and confusion, Fayed is clear-headed about the direction for future seasons of Bespoken. “That’s where you have to keep trekking on with your vision and being like, no, this is what we are doing,” he says. “And you will come up against some road blocks where people don’t think that’s right, and you might make mistakes along the way, but having a linear insight into what you want and a clear, focused vision—it’s really important.”