It’s been nearly a year since I spoke to Marc Psarolis, the Ayrshire-born owner and managing director of luxury menswear brand Duchamp, famed for its eccentrically coloured accessories and shirts. At that time, he was in Scotland launching the label’s latest collection at the Cruise store in Glasgow, and what struck me most was his unique sense of style. He was wearing a pinstriped, boldly accessorised ensemble -- the perfect outfit for a man who refers to himself as a “bit of a dandy” (but not necessarily what you would expect from a west of Scotland-born boy).

When I meet him at Duchamp’s flagship store on London’s Regent Street, he looks no less dapper. In fact, he reminds me of Willy Wonka, more Johnny Depp’s version than Gene Wilder’s, but with the peerless individuality of both.

The London store, which will have been open for three years next month, is a kaleidoscope of colourful ties, cuff-links, shirts and scarves, all meticulously displayed against a classy dark-wood background.

“It’s all dynamite,” Psarolis enthuses in an Ayrshire accent, before explaining that the décor was inspired by the interior of a New York flower shop. “You’ll find no MDF here.”

His crushed black velvet jacket is paired with a white shirt and cravat patterned with tiny polka dots, matching cuff-links and ... a pair of denim jeans. Hang on ... jeans?

“Jeans are important, as long as you’re wearing a nice shirt and tie,” says Psarolis. “My wife actually questioned the shirt and tie this morning, but debate’s always good.”

Psarolis gives a lot of thought to his appearance, and colour is always key. Even his stylish specs have stripes. A glossy-locked mop of dark hair -- which he tells me he’s just had cut from “chin length” -- frames his angular face. In the past three years, this 41-year-old rising star of the men’s fashion world has had two sons with his wife Alison Stewart, moved house and, most significantly, bought the company he once worked for.

He joined family-run Duchamp as managing director in 2002 after receiving a call from owner Mitchell Jacobs, who founded the brand in 1989 and was looking to expand with Psarolis’s help. Within his first year, he increased the company’s range of products and sales grew significantly.

“I knew that the ties and cuff-links were fantastic, but the customer base was very small,” Psarolis says.

“I had experience in branding and it was a great partnership. For three or four years, Jacobs and I worked together and grew the business really quickly. But it became stale for me and I wanted to go to the next level. Jacobs said he wanted to sell so I just plucked up the courage, got the advice I needed, and made it happen.”

Psarolis secured the necessary £3 million in financial backing and forged ahead. Since taking over in 2006, he has transformed the “wee family business” into an ever-expanding global brand. When he joined the company, Duchamp had only one shop, on London’s Ledbury Road -- with Psarolis at the helm the label now has five stores in London, two in Dubai and the label is stocked in hundreds of retail outlets worldwide.

I wonder if he keeps in touch with his former boss Jacobs. “We went our separate ways,” he says curtly. So did things end badly between the pair? Psarolis won’t elaborate. “You move on,” he says cryptically, and that’s exactly what we do.


Celebrity fan list


His latest project with Duchamp -- a ready-to-wear collection -- launches in Edinburgh’s Harvey Nichols and other stores throughout Britain next month. His growing celebrity fan list includes Sir Anthony Hopkins, Jon Snow, Jonathan Ross and Jimmy Carr.

But, for a man who boasts about serving Princess Diana and dressing Bob Geldof, Psarolis seems to play down the importance of his famous following. “It’s a pleasure that they buy our stuff, but I’m not really bothered,” he says. “I think we’ve got a nice intellectual, media type of crowd that like us. We’re not interested in conquering the world -- it’s just about making a good product.”

Psarolis himself is a walking advertisement. His garb attracts plenty of attention while we’re having lunch at a chic Italian restaurant around the corner from his shop. “I’ve always stood out in a crowd,” he says matter-of-factly. “It’s very difficult to miss me.”

By chance we bump into a former coursemate of Psarolis from his days studying fashion at Glasgow’s Cardonald College in the late 1980s. Clearly the woman has no idea of his rise up the sartorial ladder and Psarolis seems reluctant to boast of his achievement at Duchamp. But, when talking to me, he is less humble. “I want to be the best menswear brand in the UK,” he says. “I’m absolutely ambitious. That’s why I’ve been to Selfridges and John Lewis this morning and Harvey Nichols this afternoon. I’ve been going to all the stores, making sure they’re all geared up [with Duchamp stock] for the weekend. I’m very competitive.”

After finding no sales assistants at Selfridges this morning, he claims he just started cold-selling to customers on the shop-floor.

This hands-on, driven approach is no doubt one of the major reasons for Psarolis’s success. But he’s also quick to acknowledge the influence of his roots. “My dad is French so he was always a cool dude,” he says. “He introduced me to travel and style, so it was always a very different way of life for me compared to my friends. Culturally, my father gave me a step in the right direction.”

A stay in Paris aged 18 helped shape the man he is today. “My dad dropped me off in Paris and said ‘You’re spending a year here’,” he recalls. The temporary move from Ayrshire also put paid to another of his early ambitions: “Until then, all I wanted to be was a professional footballer.” He had little interest in fashion prior to going to Paris, although he “always tried to look good and smart”.

Psarolis -- the son of a historian father and hospital administrator mother -- discovered in the French capital that his extended family all worked at some level in the fashion industry. “My uncle was a tailor, my aunt worked at fashion house Celine, my grandfather was a shoemaker and my other uncle made beautiful bespoke shoes,” he says. “Living in Ayr, I was brought up in a beautiful environment, but to go to Paris at that age was really fascinating fashion-wise. I was introduced to luxury, standards and quality.”


Passionate about selling


On returning to the UK, he was drawn to London and scored a job on the shop-floor of the English heritage brand Mulberry. “I had to work very hard, but I’ve always had this strong work ethos. I worked night and day, six or seven days a week. I think it came from footballing, that attitude of trying to be the best at what you do. I was passionate about selling and I was a great salesman.”

Does he think his Scottish accent and background helped or hindered his progress in London? “There weren’t many Scots down there at that stage. Within a couple of years, I was smashing all sales records.”

As a result, he caught the eye of Mulberry founder and boss Roger Saul. “He really took me under his wing and soon I took over the menswear business. Within three years I was opening stores over the world. I stayed at Mulberry for 12 years, so I’ve only had two jobs in my whole career.”

And then, after four years at Duchamp, came the takeover. “I was at the right age to take it on -- my late 30s. I was ready for it. I knew it would be a challenge, but I had enough experience behind me.”

Soon after, he asked his wife Alison, a fashion buyer for Marks & Spencer, to join forces with him. She now heads the brand’s design and production side and has played a key role in its leap to the next level. “It’s been fantastic working with Alison,” says Psoralis. “It’s very hard work, but I couldn’t have done it without her.”

The couple met while at school in Ayrshire, but got together only after they met by chance on holiday in Spain in 2001. Was it fate, I ask? “Possibly,” says Psoralis thoughtfully. “I’m very lucky to have met Alison. And we’ve got a great life. But we work very hard and we’re very passionate. It’s teamwork.”

Having two boys younger than 18 months old keeps the pair on their toes. Alison is taking a career break to be with the children, and Psarolis is trying to cope without her. “I finish work at 6 o’clock and go home and put the boys to bed. Spending time with the family destresses me. And the BlackBerry’s a great thing as well.”

I wonder how he sleeps at night, given the pressures of his career. “Fine, except when the boys wake me up,” he jokes. “I dream about having my products in the best stores. We’re still very small but we’re growing at a nice pace now.”

He thinks the brand’s growth is about more than simple business instinct. “I just have good taste,” he says confidently. “And I definitely put it down to being Scottish.” He cites fellow Ayrshire businessman and philanthropist Sir Tom Hunter, of Sports Division, as an inspiration. “Maybe it’s an Ayrshire dynamism for business. I think the Scottish have a great way with people: charm, passion, creativeness, whatever it is.

“There must be something in the water in Ayrshire.

“I wasn’t scared to meet investors and try to get the money [to buy Duchamp]. I never thought ‘I can’t do this’. You can do anything if you put your mind to it, and Tom Hunter showed the way.”

Back in the shop after lunch, Psarolis is posing for the Sunday Herald photographer. It’s clear that 20 years away from Scotland have done nothing to dampen his native banter. He frequently calls the photographer “big man” and recounts his student days in Glasgow going to hear local DJs Slam at Tin Pan Alley. Continually adjusting his tie and smoothing down his hair, he keeps a sharp eye on his staff, pulling up one sales assistant for not having the shirts hanging perfectly in order on the rack. Another new sales assistant is quizzed about how many shirts he’s sold that day.

So what about business in the recession? Has Duchamp taken a hit? “We’re having one of our best years ever because design really comes through in challenging times,” he says. “It’s the survival of the fittest. Our products are excellent. Our pricing is great. We’re a premium brand that’s also affordable and beautifully made. Our autumn/winter 09 collections are pretty much sold out already.”

I suggest, half-jokingly, that his brightly coloured clothes may be perfect for cheering up customers at a time of financial gloom. Unsurprisingly, he agrees. “We’re a niche brand but I think there is definitely a feel-good factor about our products. They’re exciting and there’s a wee bit of humour about them.”

As for the future, Psarolis is full of ideas. “I’m always pushing myself to do better. They say it takes 25 years to become a global brand and next year’s our 20th, so I’ve got four years to do it.” Until then, he will continue to cut a dash as ambassador for his brand.

“I live and breath my brand and product and that’s what it’s all about,” he says. “I feel good in what I’m wearing and my customers tell me they feel great. Life’s too short. Let’s enjoy life. Some clothing is just so serious.”


Duchamp’s ready-to-wear collection launches in Harvey Nichols, Edinburgh, next month. Visit . Psarolis is presenting the award for Most Stylish Male at next weekend’s Scottish Style Awards 2009.