The Shropshire menswear designer talks David Hellqvist through her RAF influences and art school aesthetic
There’s always a narrative behind my collections. This one’s about a Royal Air Force kid who, because of his family moving from base to base, doesn’t really have a true foundation in life – there’s no sense of home. It made me think about growing up in Shropshire where we had an army base a couple of miles up the road. At the beginning of each school term, there would be a bunch of new kids who we befriended, but they always had to move on and it was quite heartbreaking, especially for them. The collection is about that nomadic kid who’s trying to find his home, a sense of stability and a place where he belongs. In the narrative, the RAF pilot dad has this idea that the son wants to follow in his footsteps. But actually, the son doesn’t want to do that. Although he’s fascinated with the machines and the technology behind the planes, he doesn’t want to fly them. He ends up going to art school but he still admires the machines, technology, mechanics of the aviation industry. The result is this dark undercurrent of being a misfit trying to fit in, attempting to find stability – and I think it’s something we can all relate to.
Based on that, we created a print which came together when my stylist, John McCarthy and I went to the RAF museum in Hendon. One digital print is based on the branding and stencilling that you can see on the machines, different letter and number combinations from the 40s, and even older planes. We turned them around so the prints had less actualmeaning and more focus on the aesthetic. Other prints were based on plane tyres. The tyres we saw in Hendon were different from the ones you’d see these days because during the war, the planes didn’t take off and land on modern concrete airfields – it was mostly just a field – and the tyres had to be able to handle that. One of the tyre prints is from the legendary Lancaster bomber, which we saw at the museum.
I was very adamant that if we were sticking with this RAF association, it had to feel contemporary. After last season, I felt that we had to keep on pushing forward. I don’t want the brand to be pigeonholed. I’ve been inspired by uniforms before, but this time around I wanted something lighter and more relaxed. There is tailoring in this collection but it has a slightly more boxy fit. They’re made from the same block I normally use, but they’re a lot easier to wear. The art school story is visible in some of the tailoring as well, a sort of idea of homespun creativity; you can see it in the shrivelled, painter scrub linen jackets. They’re made so that the interior becomes the exterior – I wanted to show the construction process and engineering that goes into making them. They look like they could have been worn either by an artist in his studio or a mechanic doing up a plane. I really like the dirty-looking coat, it looks like it’s got tea stains on it. And we’ve continued the western style jackets. There is even one in terry cloth which I’m yet to decide upon – but the fabric makes sense in home furnishing kind of way. The collection is about an art school kid who rebels against life as we knows it and, along the process, finds himself and his identity.
Photography Christian Alegria
The Scottish print supremo injected colour and elegance into his LC:M presentation
London is known for print and colour, it’s the aesthetic our young and avant-garde creatives – at least a good few of them – have been broadcasting to the world for a good few years. But ages ago, before it became norm, it was a look we all associated with Jonathan Saunders. Not to say he invented it – because he didn’t – but the Scottish designer sure enough made colourful and optical prints his forte while most other London designers were yet to send in their UCAS applications to Central Saint Martins.
For SS14, Saunders mixed his usually loud colour palette with a few sombre beige and grey tones. Still, spots of blue, green and lime yellow were injected for effect – some of it as floral prints on cropped jackets. The pixelated prints, pop coloured satins and bright ombres on laser cut wool blazers and belted trench coats defined the collection, which was shown as a presentation rather than catwalk show, as per usual. All in all Saunders continued his refined and assured look, quietly dominating the London scene without making a fuss about it…
Photos by Morgan O’Donovan
The magazine publisher and retailer expands into Manhattan, selling Needles, Margaret Howell, Sassafras, The Real McCoy’s and Orslow
Fashion retail is like any other aspect of society; different people want different things. Some are after a quick fix, cheap clothes suitable for living in the moment. Others are looking for expensive, qualitative and luxurious threads from big brands and acclaimed designers. But there’s a third factor in the retail equation. The actual shop. Where you buy your clothing, the brand combination on offer, the staff and their service – it all matters when you are spending your hard-earned cash. Because of this, there’s a new breed of shops dedicated to curating a shopping experience that goes beyond the clothes. These shops offer a small but focused collection of specialised brands. They realise that they are niche and won’t necessarily cater to the mainstream masses – but that was never the point. One such shop is the new Inventory store in New York.
Inventory, originally founded as a magazine in Vancouver, Canada, has taken its knife sharp print concept and applied it to fashion retail. I use ‘fashion’ in a broad sense. Iventory doesn’t sell fast food fashion, they don’t subscribe to trends. Founders Ryan Willms, Owen Parrott and Simon Roe launched Inventory in 2009 as a way of accessing the brands and designers they loved and respected: “Inventory was set up to explore our aesthetic and cultural interests,” the website states. Since then, Inventory has grown from an online platform to a much loved biannual magazine, hellbent on introducing new brands, the often hidden taste makers behind classic brands or a new angle on a well-known designer. The three lead words for Inventory are design, craftsmanship and culture.
Earlier this year, Inventory opened up a shop in New York. Already selling clothes through a bricks and mortar store in Vancouver and concessions at both London’s and Tokyo’s Dover Street Market, the US store was a natural progression – so much so that Inventory has been pursuing the Manhattan location for years: “In many ways it’s our ideal space: a small, somewhat hidden, blank canvas. We wanted it about two years ago, but someone else had put an offer in before us and they ended up getting it. Then, last summer, our friend Koji who has the shop next door emailed us and said that it was on the market again. We put in another offer and eventually got it,” says Simon Roe, Inventory’s Editor and Creative Director.
On the racks in the NYC store, you’ll find a selection of goods from, among others, Arc’teryx Veilance, Engineered Garments Workaday, Margaret Howell, Needles, Sassafras, The Real McCoy’s, Orslow and Workers. The buy is not all-encompassing, Inventory isn’t about stocking the entire collection, rather the company is based on a curatorial approach to publishing and retail. “From a personal perspective, it’s always been about having a connection to the product, so that naturally informs the buying policy of the store. It’s a very particular set of priorities, not based on an assumed right or wrong, but rather a deeper, genuine appreciation of something. This stems from the feeling you get from it and the things that surround it: the identity of the brand in your own mind. Those responses eventually become intuitive and very difficult to distill, but I think they usually come from having developed a clear sense of what you like, and more importantly why,” says Roe.
There’s a few equally appealing and well-curated stores around the world today, but what makes Inventory interesting is the relationship between their publishing house and the retail arm of the company. Simon Roe explains the symbiosis: “For us they co-exist based on the same principles, with the magazine allowing us to explore areas of interest beyond the defined focus of our stores. They interact at a retail level because we sell the magazine, but they do not serve one another, nor do they need to. Both are fulfilling and healthy enterprises in their own right that allow us to be creative in different ways under the same umbrella.” Look them up next time you’re in New York, or browse their cyber shop, but whatever you do, remember to take pleasure in knowing that someone has put a lot of effort into your shopping experience.
Photography Aaron Wojack
Inventory Store, 12 Extra Place, New York, NY, USA
The first rule in competitive fashion is to have a product that people believe in, a qualitative brand with integrity. Once you have that, customers will know and respect you. Still, it’s a truth with certain modifications. Fashion is a harsh market with lots of brands fighting for attention and, inevitably, your money. How can labels make sure they are the first port of call for shoppers, what will drag them in through those doors and steer the mouse in their cyber direction. Said quality helps, but lots of brands can claim such authority. A two week tour of menswear shows in January and June – and added trade shows – will throw up a wide array of international talent claiming to be all that, and more.
A few clever brands have realised that they need to take the fight to the customer, it’s a a bit like up close fashion combat. Marketing campaigns – digital or analog – are all over the place, but at the end of the day they all rely on customers to consume the message, not communicate it back. What brands want to do is to start a dialogue, to interact and talk with the customer. The end point, the destination they want to reach is to make them, the paying customer, part of the actual design process. This is called ‘customisation’ and it enables people to ‘personalise’ goods. It’s easy; online or in-store, customers are encouraged to make their mark, as it were. Kind of like in the olden golden days when people who couldn’t read or write were asked to just sign with an X. It’s a bit more advanced than that, but just. Getting people to put their name, or at least initials, on bags, wallets, shoes or clothes is such a simple idea – but genius. First of all, you make more money.
This service isn’t free. Whether it’s printed, stitched or painted, those few letters are turning a profit for the brand – after all, that’s what retail is about, isn’t it? But also, on a more subtle level, it allows the customer to become one with the brand, they are unified in a holy commercial matrimony, where they both promise to love each other until death, or at least, until the wallet falls apart and needs to be replaced. It’s very easy to fall for this. I’ve done it several times. Earlier today a PR officer emailed me, offering a bag that I could customise with my initials. I went for it straight away. The other week, I got a satchel bag with the same four letters stitched on. I’m just like everyone else – I want to be involved, I want my name on these precious and expensive items because it means I’m like them, we belong together.
Last week, I flew to Ferrari’s Maranello factory, a 45 minute drive outside Bologna in North Italy. It’s a beautiful place, with lots of great food and wine. The Ferrari plantation is as impressive and mighty as you expect it to be. Thousands of red and powerful cars are produced here every year, sold to people with extensive bank accounts and a flare for flamboyant cars. But what do you do when the Ferrari Spider, FF, California or Italia isn’t glamourous enough for you? What do you do when it’s not enough to have spent £200,000 to £300,000 ($300,000 to $450,000) on a car? Well, you customise and personalise it, of course. Every Ferrari dealer has an ‘Atelier’ corner. There you can change a few details, request a colour and maybe say if you want a CD or tape recorder in the car. But if you really mean business, if you’re serious when it comes to upgrading the Ferrari from special to unique – and you got the cash for it – then you go to Maranello and visit the ‘Tailor Made’ building. It’s not the most imaginative of names, but it does what it says on the tin.
Here you can add, change and swap just about anything on your car. You want a kevlar steering wheel or denim seats? Stitching in your favourite colour? Carbon fibre gear stick, a pink prancing horse logo or, eh, your initials on the engine? It can all be arranged. About 100 customers come here each year, mostly from Japan, the Emirates and the US, and often they have more than one Ferrari in the garage. They not only expect the best possible in motoring technology, but also their very own design. That’s the USP, that’s what makes them come back for more. The fashion and car industry has more in common than most people think.
Talent spotting in the capital with Sasu Kauppi’s Nordic black metal collection
At the top of Finland’s fashion hierarchy sits a former Central Saints Martin student. Tuomas Laitinen not only presents his eponymous menswear collection in Paris but last week, as part of Pre Helsinki, he also guided his Aalto University fashion students through their graduation show. One of his students, Satu Maaranen, was earlier this year awarded the Hyères fashion prize, the second time in a row one of Laitinen’s disciples has been given this industry accolade. And if that wasn’t enough, Laitinen – together with co-founders Timo Ilola, Salli Raeste and Chris Vidal-Tenomaa – also launched the third issue of their Finnish biannual fashion tome, SSAW. True to his Finnish DNA, Laitinen might be shy but with his forays into design, styling, tutoring and, many years ago, modelling, Laitinen is the unofficial head honcho of the local fashion pack.
The other designers taking part in Pre-Helsinki had a lot to live up to. Not only did Laitinen give us a taster from his SS14 collection, but fellow ex-Londoner Heikki Salonen, the creative director of Diesel’s womenswear line, also launched a side project. Together with local creatives, Salonen presented ‘Deadstock’, a fashion and music project based around improvisation. The second day saw A Magazine’s Dan Thawley debate the future of fashion with Jonathan Anderson and Benjamin Bruno from J.W.Anderson, sound artist Michel Gaubert, Candy Magazine’s Luis Venegas and Parisian art director Marc Ascoli.
The fashion scene in Finland, much like in Norway, lives in the shadow of fellow Nordic countries Sweden and Denmark. With strong and characteristic styles, these two nations has birthed several internationally renowned brands, and are arguably at the top of the fashion game today. Finland doesn’t lack talent or iconic designers, artists and architects - but there’s seems to be a less well-oiled domestic PR machinery promoting them. Looking at the sophomore Pre Helsinki edition, that’s about to change. Except for shows and presentations from classic Finnish design brands like Marimekko, international press and buyers viewed the next generation of local designers.Partly in the shape of Aalto’s grad show, but also through smaller individual brand presentations, like the one from Sasu Kauppi. Like Tuomas Laitinen, Kauppi is a Saint Martins alumni who’s returned to the mother land. Here, Kauppi has matured a specific streetwear-led design aesthetic, mixed with his own take on the Nordic mentality and doses of sub-cultural attitude. Leaving London for Helsinki made sense for Kauppi, though he sometimes misses the big city: “I graduated from Saint Martins in 2011 and came straight back to Finland to set up my own label. I like the snowy winters, I find inspiration here. But of course I miss London.” But Kauppi isn’t bound to any European country; most of his stockists are in Japan and other parts of Asia.
For AW13, Kauppi’s collection was inspired by the work of Norwegian black metal photographer Peter Beste. His images of this very Nordic music scene gave Kauppi his visual language, but not the colour palette. “This season it’s all white and blue, a bit like the Finnish flag. I felt black was too obvious.” Instead, it’s an indigo blue that plays against the pale, white shade: “Just using all-white was too plain as I’m into contrasts and colour blocking.” At his presentation, a moody affair set in a warehouse lift sliding bars, Kauppi showed off his layered looks. But what looked like layered outfits were in fact layered garments: “Yes, I used jersey, satin and denim in different shades in a few pieces, creating new colours. You can really see it the last piece, a combined coat and jacket in a blue and white denim combination with ornamental elements made from patches on the back.” Kauppi works out of a small studio in an industrial area in central Helsinki. Next to his studio, there’s a car dealer selling vintage rides and 50s memorabilia. Opposite, new residential buildings are being built.
Finland, like many other Northern European countries, have escaped the worst of the financial crisis, unlike the Mediterranean area. Building sites are can be seen all over the Finnish capital; the region seems to be recession-proof. This can be sensed in the fashion scene. The Aalto student show, comprising 19 hopeful students, felt vibrant and energetic. Under Laitinen’s guidance, the college has managed to identity an aesthetic; they are shaping the future of Finnish fashion. Pre Helsinki works like a smorgasbord of talent, not a three-day long show marathon. By mixing presentations, panel discussions, catwalk shows and studio visits, both international press and Aalto students gained something.
Photography Meri Karhu and Jukka Ovaskainen