As the schedule at Menswear Day becomes ever more tightly packed with each passing season, competition for a showing space is fast becoming a struggle. James Small narrowly missed out on an on schedule slot but thankfully the show did indeed go albeit without me. In a cramped afternoon schedule that saw me bounce from James Long to E. Tautz to the NEWGEN MEN and Fashion East Installations to Lou Dalton without time to pee. Fortunately, London menswear is more than just one hectic day and think week I was afforded the opportunity to be talked through Small's third collection, Marching Band.
Ever since launching his eponymous label for AW10, James Small has quietly and assuredly introduced his talent to the capital's menswear scene. It is here though, with Marching Band that sees the design talent take a huge strive forward. Taking its inspiration from the ragamuffin regiments the American Civil War, Small has created a complete wardrobe of military influenced pieces for the man of today. Below we talk to the man himself and learn about the origins of the label, the trials and tribulations of being a designer and take a closer look at the fabric rich collection.
SS: What were your inspirations, your dreams and the driving catalyst behind launching your own label?
James Small: There was a time when I loved working for other people. I can remember that when I was working with Kim (Jones) I declared that I would never want to do it on my own, it felt like it would be too much hassle and stress. However, I left a job that I wasn't particular happy in and couldn't quite find anything quite right for me. Obviously at that time it wasn't the best of economic times so it was tough. Bryan McMahon kept on telling me to do my own thing and I suddenly decided to give it a go. With a help of a few friends, I was able to create my collection and then with the help of Lulu Kennedy I managed to show it on schedule. In a sense, it all happened so quickly and before I knew it, I was doing it.
SS: How have the first twelve months of James Small, the brand, been?
James Small: It is stressful and a learning experience but it is great. I had a game plan and I'm sticking to it. So this season, the goal was to work on production and build on stockists and we've done this.
SS: Now, on to Marching Band. You were influenced by the American Civil War but what was your starting point?
James Small: The initial inspiration came from this really great book that I picked up in Foyles that details reenactments of the Us Civil War. In addition to the imagery, there are some great quotes in the front of it and there was one phrase in particular that captured my imagination, "regiments took on a ragamuffin appearance". I love the idea of them wearing and modifying their civilian clothes for war, for example jackets with plaid shirting fabric stitched on to the elbows. However, as much as I love research and I particularly enjoyed it this season, the key is not to take it too literally, you can't be caught up in it
SS: The collection certainly doesn't feel like fancy dress...
James Small: Exactly. When people hear about the influence of the Civil War, they tend to expect more obvious references within the collection but I didn't want it to feel like costume. There are a couple of pieces in the collection that are directly related to the period, for example the Civil War Bolero, the Cavalry jacket and the Civil War trouser that are just great and haven't been exaggerated at all. However, most of it is just influenced by this ragamuffin mood.
SS: I was instantly struck by the variety of fabrics used within the collection. It has everything from camo to florals to jersey to cord to Harris Tweed...
James Small: The collection uses so many different fabrics, there's even a corduroy cape which I've never seen before. When you are a smaller designer, you can have that bit more luxury in working in fabrics for particular garments and experimenting that bit more. It can be a lot of fun. We used camo and floral in the SS11 film and the reaction to it was great so and it made me a little braver so I wanted to do it again. I love the camo print, we made a pair of shorts for last season and had some left over and I wanted a pair of trousers.
SS: In terms of your design method, do you begin with the fabrics and work from there?
James Small: I consider the fabrics quite late if I'm often. It always begins with sketching and drawing and evolves from there. I'm always doodling. Also, I collect quite a lot of military wear and there might be a particular detail on a jacket that I want to explore. I do enjoy sourcing fabrics but most of the time I have everything worked up in toile form before I start considering them. I do love going in to places on Berwick street for shirting and to Cloth House to see all of them lined up.
SS: You mentioned collecting military garments. How does your collection influence your design?
James Small: I never like to imitate and any influence is much more subtle. It could be a particular detail, for example a hood or in the case of a number of the jackets for this season, a shin guard strap and this is taken from oversized military stuff I've found.
SS: Do you design with a particular man in mind?
James Small: The collection really is a reflection of my wardrobe and my friends wardrobes. I strive to create a rounded wardrobe in each collection. I do love proper trousers, two pleats down the front, a cinch back, trousers that you can wear with braces with a notch in the back and I just love the sailor pant. This season I have used Harris Tweed for three pairs. They are really easy to wear, two buttons down the front and you're away.
SS: Finally, how do you see James Small, the brand, developing over the next few seasons?
James Small: I would love to show on schedule. It is a lovely thing to do, I enjoy the instant response and the fact that people who might not ordinarily see have the the opportunity to do so. It is a treat at the end of the season really. Looking forward, I want to develop the brand, I want to see the collection in department stores and I want the collection itself to grow.
Now, both the look book and above interview demonstrate James Small's eye for detail and love of fabric but as I spoke through the collection with the designer, I could not help but take a few close up shots...
A selection of close up detail shots.
As well as the admiring glances from the press, you'll be pleased to hear that the collection has led to a few buyers reaching for their cheque books. So the designs will be available next season.