Ten Minutes with Simon Kneen
A Designer and Creative Director
Simon Kneen was executive vp of design and creative director for Brooks Brothers and Banana Republic for decades, and now spends his time between New York City and Litchfield County designing products for his fine Italian-made, leather-goods company: Grey New York Grey New England. We sat down with Simon, getting to know more about who he is, where he comes from, and how he landed in Litchfield County.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in the UK a stones-throw from Penny Lane in Liverpool, grew up in Ireland and Northern England, then went to fashion school in London.
What brought you to Litchfield County?
After spending most weekends and summers out on Long Island, we needed somewhere to walk our dogs and feel free from the New York fashion scene. We rented at first, then found our home in Washington, which was really only meant for weekend getaways. However, the longing to be here more and more ultimately inspired us to move here full-time about a year ago.
What do you love about Litchfield County?
It is simple, beautiful, and quietly refined. I love the grey stonewalls and understated, colonial-style homes.
Can you describe your Washington home.
A simple 100-year-old colonial “L” shaped farmhouse with an attached barn sitting in a small, rural, historic district. Someone recently described our home as “a warm embrace”. Hopefully that warmth comes from making people feel at home when they visit.
You were with Banana Republic for five years. What did you love most about being the creative director?
Over the years, I have been truly lucky to work with some of the most talented people in the industry from around the globe. Setting up a store, styling a photo shoot, or working with a seamstress, the multi-faceted approach to a design vision is hard work but very satisfying.
What was your very first job?
Working one summer for a fabulous woman called Lady Clare Rendelsham the ex-Vogue editor, who owned the Saint Laurent Rive Gauche boutiques in central London. I ended up running a small tailor shop in the basement—after the Italian tailor abruptly left one morning screaming Italian profanities—because I was the only person who knew how to work a sewing machine.
What’s the best advice you ever got in life?
Give don’t take.
How did Grey New York Grey New England come about?
I wanted to get back to working with my spouse, Paolo Secchia, whose expertise is accessories. I also wanted to get back into the atelier with the high-end artisanal process of making beautiful pieces that last beyond trends and seasons.
Focus on growing our business for Grey New York Grey New England. I’ve been very open minded about other projects, but the right opportunity would have to be extremely appealing to lure me away.