Wednesday 27 June 2012

A visit to Ian Batten

Ian Batten Feature Button 2

Just like the long and frustrated wait for a bus only to be greeted with a convoy of double deckers, I've posted a series of posts on a man who often operates in the sartorial shadows. I could apologise but Ian Batten deserves such fanfare. Before meeting Batten at his Highgate shop-cum-studio, I google'd him. A tumble weed of information slowly rolled past my wanting eyes. A link to his two stockists and the BBC Four series that followed him and his seven grandchildren on a trip to the seaside a few years ago now is all that mind boggling algorithm could muster. In this world of mass information, such cases are rare. Having long fallen for the charms of his garments and with a few stories ringing in my ears from the lovely folk at b, I hopped on the 43 and chatted with the man himself over a cup of coffee.

As Ian Batten welcomed me to his narrow work space and recounted countless tales from his forty years in the industry, it was impossible not leave mesmerised and inspired. From finding himself accepted to study at Hornsey Art College with a whole host of creative talent in early 60s London to following in the footsteps of Anthony Price at Sterling Cooper, launching his own line in 1992 to forging a business selling clothes to a few considered accounts and a growing number of sartorial devotees, Batten's is a unique and fascinating story. Periodically finding himself on the cusp of something bigger, he has cultivated a business whilst remaining something of a hidden gem. Today, with the unveiling of a look book for AW12 and the relaunch of his website something tells me he won't remain hidden for too much longer.

With over forty years in the business Batten could be forgiven for not evolving, but he does constantly. In fact he thrives on it. "People used to say to me 'Ian, the problem with you is that you get bored very easily, you move on too quickly'  and that is probably true in a way. For me, the whole bag is being creative, pushing it somehow." Despite being a bit cautious of technology, the relaunch of his site will help introduce him to a new audience. "Just last night I was talking to a few of my old art college buddies and we discussed how we were all part of this last generation that have their feet in both camps, once we're gone it will all be the technology generation. I like it (technology) but it is not something that I rely on." Thankfully for us, Batten has opted to edge his feet a bit more confidently in to the digital realm and more can discover his work.

Whilst failing academically at school he was nudged in the direction of art school. Clueless of what it entailed he applied to Hornsey Art College. "At the time that I went to art school, I didn't even know what it was about. My art teacher knew that I wasn't very academic but saw something creative in me and suggested that I apply. I took some drawings with me and got in." This was at a time when the capital was at its swinging best. "there were people there like Charlie Watt's wife, Allen Jones, Ray Davis of the Kinks was there." Now, you often hear about musicians forming groups at art college but rarely careers in fashion design. For Batten it was a slow process of experimentation. "I did my foundation, then a graphics course because I didn't want to be a painter and then I moved towards fashion illustration. At the time, there weren't fashion illustration courses. If you wanted to do that, you had to do the whole lot. So I did. I don't quite know how it evolve but somehow it did, it was a process of discovery really." After his graduation he took the first job that he could in the rag trade and learnt from there. "The big one for me, in the 70s and 80s, was Sterling Cooper. It was a big deal, Anthony Price and Sheila Brown were there and then, I was the next one in. I was there for four years and it was the making of me. I left and then went freelance, travelling around doing bits here and there, I did womenswear at Swanky Modes. In the early 90s I got fed up with womenswear. It was the start of a real big push for menswear. I opened up a shop with a friend of mine in Chelsea and it started from there."

"Today, there's a growing band out there that really get my stuff and it is absolutely lovely but I would like it to be a bit more solid. For some reason, my main customers are all architects. They seem to love that my clothes are unstructured. It is quite fluid and I guess that is where the energy comes from, driving it forward. At times, I feel like that performer at the circus who spins plates on the end of my pole but I do enjoy it. I'm fortunate that I enjoy what I do, from life drawing to films, it just grows. What I have to do but what I'm hesitant to do, is get back on the fashion loop as it were. In recent years I've been producing capsule collections for the likes of b store and Livingstone Studio. Both have been quite organic and just grow. It's been a nice way of working but I probably should work more to the seasons.

People either call me a tailor or a fashion designer, I'm neither really, I just make clothing. Everything is unstructured so it is not strict tailoring, that is an entirely different bag. Also, I'm not interested in fashion either. I used to work in trends. I don't follow trends anymore. It is just me designing clothes that I hope provoke a reaction like 'ooh, that's a nice detail!' It is all about shape really. I just do what I do. Some people love it and some might not like it all. It is subjective. One of the first things I ask my customers is 'how does it feel?' because if it feels great then that's half the battle." 

I could have listened to Ian Batten talk all day and I'd happily transcribe it all for you but I know you must all be eager to see a few images to help break up the text. So, take my virtual hand and lets explore his shop-cum-studio. Squeezed in to a narrow but long unit, the space allows discovery at every turn...

The retail space is full of Ian Batten treats.


A selection of shots from his studio and workbench

You should have noticed from above that Ian Batten is a great talker, dropping tales, nuggets of wisdom and excitedly bouncing from sentence to sentence with consumate ease. However, when it comes to describing what he does and his clothes, he is succinct and at times stumped. After asking him to describe his AW12 collection he inhaled deeply and looked blank for a few seconds before replying with, "God, I never know what to say...". He took another sip of coffee and recounted another story. "Years ago, Michael Roberts who used to be fashion editor of The Sunday Times, asked me to describe one of my collections and I just said 'Michael, I don't know what to say… they're like a big sack with string through the middle of it.' And he printed it, I could't believe it but I guess it serves me right really." With menswear, its very much a continuation from season to season. You get a good shape, find a great fabric and it follows on. It's a process of evolution. I don't think about it really. It's like when you're running down the stairs and if you think about the movement of your feet, you often trip up but you can do it fine without thinking about. It just happens...That's a great analogy. Right, enough talk... here's a selection of AW12 look book shots by Retts Wood...

AW12 look book shot by Retts Wood.

Having lurked in the sartorial shadows for a number of years, now is the time for Ian Batten to step in to the spotlight.


Rachel S said...

Great post! Personally, I'm really impressed! I love the way you write your blogs!

Unknown said...

Awesome posting really nice i found mens suits on Mensusa

Dunia Fashyon said...

"People either call me a tailor or a fashion designer, I'm neither really, I just make clothing."

He sounded exactly like Yohji Yamamoto!

I love the chambray coat and all the silhouette in general - tailored but unstructured at the same time; just like Yohji's designs...

Anonymous said...

Great post guys. There's not many like Ian in the rag business.

Syed said...

Thank you for this post. His work sounds right up my alley. That first photograph from the lookbook is gorgeous, the cut of that blazer is superb. Will definitely get into town to try on his stuff as soon as possible. The BStore opposite Issey moved a while back right?

Anonymous said...

if i hadn't read the name of the designer and just looked at the photos, i would have thought the clothes were made by a japanese designer. there's a certain aesthetic about them: the fabric choice, the layering, the head garments! sublime.

Anonymous said...

if i hadn't read the name of the designer and just looked at the photos, i would have thought the clothes were made by a japanese designer. there's a certain aesthetic about them: the fabric choice, the layering, the head garments! sublime.

hooded down jacket men said...

I really do not like this style but that color seems pretty good to me, forgive my rude please!


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