With a well crafted design signature of playful, utilitarian, masculine clothing ever livened up with polka dots it was only a matter of time before I fell for the charms of William Richard Green. The design talent grew up on an English farm and loves traditional things like solid, well made shoes, proper knits, and well constructed coats. However, before you start envisaging the world painted on your Grandmother's biscuit tin, he's also one half of DJ act Joe and Will Ask, who play banging techno and house, and likes staying out until lunchtime the next day. Intrigued, I finally visited the designer at his Dalston studio to talk through his latest collection for SS12 entitled I Hope I die Soon.
The moment I walk into his small but perfectly studio base, I am confronted with two pattern cutters and the sight of Green transfixed by his other love, music. Before graduating from London's Central Saint Martins, a place Green confesses he attended more in the hope of meeting interesting people than anything else, he honed his skills on Savile Row where he learned tailoring, craftsmanship, and interned at David David to be introduced to his world of colour and print. Quite the education. Soon after graduating however, rather than rush in to the world of fashion, he opted to tour Japan with his band. Upon his return and somewhat bored, Green made a collection. Today, it is clear which passion he takes more seriously. Thankfully for us it is menswear design.
Three seasons in and William Richard Green has grown to produce a wearable label that reveals more subversive aspects on closer inspection. It is a heady cocktail of traditionally utilitarian mixed with hints of flamboyant menswear including leather fisherman shorts, rubber jackets and techno detailing. The beauty is in the detail after all. "With each season I think Central Saint Martin's is diluted from my design aesthetic, I'm moving towards designing items that I personally like and would wear" he states proudly. "The fashion aspect of fashion gets to me at times. Ultimately it is the design element of fashion that appeals to me." Whilst so many of his contemporaries aim to create the theatrical and the shocking, Green is content producing garments that men, himself included, would want to wear. "You have to be your own brand, always true to yourself. It is particularly important in menswear for garments to have a story. It's great to be able to go down the pub and show your mates a detail or talk about a fabric - it's a sweatshirt but a cool sweatshirt."
"Men tend to be quite brand loyal so it is important as a designer to have some continuity through collections and also, it really isn't about inventing the wheel with each season. For example many of the patterns are carried through and tweaked slightly. In terms of fabric I use a lot of waxed cotton and wool. I've developed quite a utilitarian style whilst sportswear and knitwear have come in more recently." As a developing label, it is important for Green to respect provenance whilst celebrating the craftsmanship of home grown British manufacturing. "One of my points is that the collections are British made and predominantly use British fabric. It has been a case of building relationships over time and the quality improves." On the subject of sourcing mills and suppliers, the designer admits that "it was hard to begin with but my eyes were opened during a visit to the British Fabric Expo. From early on, Alex from the Centre of Sustainable Fashion has been really helpful, the CFE have also helped out and it has also been the case of working with friends. William Kroll of Tender is a useful guy to know in this department as well. I love this artisan world but I'm far from pursuing heritage. I want to take the morals and use the skills of this world but still create a design led collection." William Richard Green aims to push it forward rather than reminisce about the past. "I'm enjoying this ongoing research project of finding British sources and manufacturing, so I'd like to build up this list of contacts. Ultimately, I would love to collaborate with British made labels and so far the wish list includes New Balance, Brady Bags, Tender and even Dashing Tweeds." Here's hoping Green is able to turn this dream in to a reality.
A selection of presentations shots I captured on Menswear Day
For SS12, William Richard Green presents a melancholic collection inspired by suicide and depression. "I know, not a common Spring/Summer theme," concedes the developing design talent. "In previous collections I've tended to be drawn to an overtly masculine muse and even next season I've been drawn to fans of Millwall football club but SS12 was a bit of a deviation, more of a feeling than anything else." Throughout he demonstrates a fascination with the paradox of suicide – caused by a post-recession Weltschmerz on the designer’s part, whilst the mood is obviously set for the label’s darkest collection to date. Albeit a touch bleak for a balmy June day, the sartorial alchemy is little short of overwhelming regardless of the season.
A print of sketches portraying post-suicide characters in their eternal ‘waiting room’ surroundings, illustrated by Martin Wollerstam, appears on a silk shirt and vest. "I'm a huge fan of Martin's work, he is best known for the Wet Yourself flyers. With the collection's monotone and graphic leanings, I knew that his style of drawing would work well. We did it as a repeat so it is more of a texture. From afar it almost looks like an old Moschino shirt," something that obviously excites the designer. The result print hints at the designer's humour and ironic distance to the topic in question. "I'm actually working with Selfridges as part of their Bright Young Things promotion and initially I wanted to blow up the print and use it as wallpaper within the window display. It has certainly shocked a few people but I guess I'm not a very sensitive person."
Acting as inspirational filmic backup, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s gory masterpiece from 1975, Salò, enters into the all black-and-white collection in the shape of fetish-like pieces ticking off Green’s signature boxes, such as a cotton satin blazer with harness, or a zip up black rubber coat with a contrasting trans rubber sleeve. An un-dyed rubber t-shirt with contrasting black rubber stripes allude to classic convict suits, and the idea of limbo as God’s prison. This is also seen in a sweatshirt-jersey trouser covered in individual panels resembling stripes. The now Green trademark, polka dot lining appears throughout the collection and even appear on a brogue produced by Underground for William Richard Green – the second collaboration between the designer and the legendary English footwear label.
Lookbook images supplied by William Richard Green
In addition to catching my eye, SS12 marks something of a new beginning for the designer. "This is my first proper season where I actively sought sales. Previously, I would only do things if they came to me but for this season I felt ready and therefore was a bit more active." Over the course of writing this blog and meeting with a wealth of British menswear designers, it is clear to me that it is always a struggle to convert talent in to a viable business. The business side of fashion cannot and should not be rushed. "If you do it in an organic way, the right amount of people see it at the right time." With solid foundations in place, Green is now ready to push on. Having impressed in the sweltering heat of the London Showrooms in Paris, William Richard Green has been selected as one Selfridges' Bright Young Things for January and thanks to a personal recommendation from Kim Jones, will be stocked in Tokyo store Eliminator.
With the foundations of the label in place, I'm looking forward to watching William Richard Green grow. "In addition to making the core pieces perfect and slowly developing the label, I'd like to work on a show. At the moment I am designing purely for sales, so I've not been creating showpieces but I'd like to because it would bring out more extravagant pieces," confesses the designer. Alongside the likes of Agi & Sam, Astrid Andersen and Baartmans & Siegel to name but a few, there can be little doubt that competition between emerging talent for an on schedule show slot is fierce but Green must be close to making the step up. I'm just glad that I don't have to make the decision and can instead, support the blossoming menswear talent that exists in this capital of ours.