Thursday, 2 April 2009

Style Salvage Speaks to... oki-ni's John Skelton

The London based online store oki-ni has been around for seven years now and in that time has helped change the online shopping landscape for the better. The store frequently finds and breaks the most interesting products and brands available across the menswear design market and packages them in an inviting and interesting shopping environment, so we jumped at the chance to speak to the stores Creative Director, John Skelton.

oki-ni's very own John Skelton

Style Salvage: How long have you been at oki-ni and how has it developed since you've been there?

John Skelton: I’ve been at oki-ni for just over 2 years now. As a brand I hope and I honestly believe that it’s developed an awful lot. It has been updated to give a more ‘relevant to now’ offer of exclusive product and not so much what has become the very formulaic angle of limited edition 1/100 vibe which I feel is completely irrelevant and dated as a concept now.

SS: If such a thing exists can you describe your typical day?
JS: Ha, not really. Depending on the time of year I can be away a lot but outside of the scheduled buying season I am around base camp much more. We try to buy and find new product constantly so there is always an element of purchasing throughout the year. When I’m not sourcing product I am trying to keep a tight handle on what’s going on within all of the sub teams of oki-ni. I try to make sure that the brand is coming across the right way in the press, that we are expressing ourselves visually on the screen as best we and that the buying team are comfortable, happy and most importantly selecting the right brands and products to keep our signature/handwriting consistent throughout the product mix.

SS: It looks like a close knit team over there, how did you find everyone?
JS: It’s what I would class as cosmic ordering really. I’m a big believer in people finding you or coming across the right people at the right time due to the natural energies of the earth coming together and helping out with something that you have such a strong belief in. I have found a lot of different people from a lot of different places, but it’s certainly very apparent when you meet someone that would fit into the oki-ni environment. We are a very tight bunch and a perfect combination of youth and experience, with a very humble and positive attitude to what we do. Our team is completely unique, I have never come across this feeling within a team before in any role that I have had, and I extremely happy with everyone that is on board at the moment. We are all very different as people but all working towards and believing in the same goal.

SS: Do you believe that the way men and women shop really is fundamentally different- i.e. men are 'hunter-gatherers' and more focused on what they want while women accumulate and adapt? How do you think online shopping has affected this?
JS: I find it difficult summarise this by gender as different personalities from each gender have massively different shopping habits- I’m sure there are groups of consumers from either that have a comparable style of shopping. I am definitely a total consumer that buys constantly and never throws away, while I’m sure that there are guys that buy more ‘as and when’ they need and throw away the bits they don’t wear anymore.

Since taking on this role and being able to buy much more niche and discerning products I have found that there are a massive amount of consumers worldwide who really know their stuff and have collections that I honestly did not know existed. They are on a completely different level and their archives are absolutely phenomenal. I am massively envious of a lot of them! I think that our offer is an aid to these guys as I try to buy as much product as I can direct from the runways so they are getting a true reflection on each designers feeling for that season and not the watered down or cheaper fabrication versions that most stores buy into. If the customer is really into the brand we generally have the pieces that they want but can’t find anywhere else. The fact that our reach is global means that we can take a chance on the majority of this stuff and 9 times out of 10 it’s the first to go from the site.

SS: The new site looks great and we love the new features, in particular the tech-ni-cal section which offers a comprehensive guide on denim. Is this just the start of using the site as a resource of information on men's fashion?
JS: Yeah, it is actually. I think the denim guide is really well executed. Our team have put a huge amount of time and effort into producing this, it obviously took a lot of time and research which is clearly reflected within it. The initial idea is that we wanted to create not just a store but also a reference site for people who really want to learn and find out more.

We are also just about to launch an archive reference section on the site. Starting with Raf Simons we will be adding a new designer each month and featuring a rather large back catalogue of their previous seasons styles. The thinking behind this was that we wanted to give our visitors the option to delve a little deeper into what we are doing and to show them that we are hugely and genuinely into it- we have been for a long time previous to the re-birth of oki-ni. Most (or in some cases all) of the products featured come from our own personal archives which shows how deep our passion runs for this stuff and for what we do.

SS: Have you got any plans up your sleeve for expansion, a physical store perhaps? Would you love to see branches of your shop on every high street?
JS: Mmmm, it’s a difficult one really. I do sometimes crave a small space to show our product and mix in a different light… It doesn’t seem to make much sense at the moment as physical retail is experiencing one of its most difficult periods for a very long time while online ventures are still growing at a startling rate. The only stores I know that are doing a decent trade at the moment and are still putting on good growth are the ones that have a bolt on Internet site which I think is a true reflection of the way things are going. Some people still find shopping online a difficult concept to grasp as did I when I first considered the move but now I’m involved in it, it makes complete sense. If we ever do look to open some physical spaces I definitely wouldn’t want oki-ni to become a huge network on high streets nationwide. Initially we would look to open 4 or 5 spaces at the same time in key cities around the world- the aim would be to cement that we are now truly an international brand and not UK centric.

SS: How do you see oki-ni developing over the next couple of years?
JS: We have many different ideas and paths that we could potentially follow. We have already started to expand into different areas this year with the addition of our new music section (which we are extremely excited about and receiving a lot of love for already), as well as the archive and denim guide features- definitely expect some more projects of a similar vein in the near future. There is also the possibility of venturing into other areas of product ranges and offers which we have talked about.

The most important thing for me when considering this is whether we can manage these projects closely enough with the small team that we have currently to ensure that we are expressing our truest feeling at all times through everything that we do. I think we probably look like a much bigger operation on screen than we actually are but the reality is that we are still a relatively small team that really pulls together to execute a wide range of tasks. The one thing that I am committed to is that no matter how big we get I will never compromise our buying style or policy in search of more turnover. I honestly believe that the world is a big enough place with enough turned on consumers to be able to maintain and grow a good level of business through the products and brands that we love and believe in as well as new, uncovered talent.

SS: Did you get a chance to see any of the shows at LFW? Which shows did you enjoy most?
JS: Unfortunately, I was in the US this fashion week so I didn’t actually attend any shows however going through them online there we’re a few things that caught my eye. The two that really excited me we’re Christopher Shannon and Martine Rose, both of which you can expect to see on oki-ni for next season.

SS: Who are your favourite emerging designers?
JS: One of my favourite up and coming designers who I think deserves a lot more attention from the press is Satyenkumar. The craftsmanship, use of colour and fabrics is honestly as good as it gets and the guys attention to detail is unrivalled. Expect to see him again from AW09 on oki-ni with what I feel is definitely his best collection to date and to be honest is as good as anything on the market that I have seen for winter.

I have also bought into Julia Hederus’s mainline from Sweden which again is a fantastic testament to new and unique aesthetics and silhouettes that the next generation of designers can produce. I would also like to mention Brian Gathii who has the label TO-ORIST. I honestly feel that this guy is going to be a real force in years to come, with a totally unique proposition and taste levels that I have never come across in someone of his age before. A real star in the making, I’m sure.

SS: What item of clothing (if any) do you wish that more men wore?
JS: Again, I don’t like to say as a generalization that men should wear more of a certain garment as I am definitely of the opinion that what works for one will not work for another and in my opinion the key to having a great style is knowing exactly which pieces work for you. I’m also a massive fan of people who will wear something that is completely off key within their honed style and really ask questions of the observer, ie ‘I know that this guy has great style, so why is he wearing that really off key piece that doesn’t work with the rest of his get up?’ . This for me is a real statement of confidence in a person’s style and generally if they stick with a certain one of these pieces long enough it will eventually become a trend at some point.

SS: How would you describe your own personal style?
JS: Very much the style of oki-ni. I suppose subconsciously that was what I based oki-ni on as I was only buying the product and brands that I really felt something for. I have a massive love for mainline product, in particular for the Belgian stuff and always have, but I am definitely not a slave to labels and am a big believer in trying to support new talent which is very present within my wardrobe also. I have always tended to wear all of the product that I buy in a more relaxed and sporty way as oppose to the stiff and uncomfortable style that I think many brands are susceptible to showing their ranges in. One of my biggest bug bears with brand aesthetics is that they often don’t reflect how the majority of consumers would wear it. That’s why through oki-ni I have tried to show a more honest, relevant vision with product shot on a model who is one of us and genuinely into the product that we sell.

SS: If you could go back in time and experience any fashion moment, what would it be?
JS: Probably the Raf Simons kinetic youth show. I wasn’t on the circuit to experience it at that time but all the footage and coverage I have seen gives me that feeling that you don’t get very often, especially through shows at the moment. I felt that this seasons shows we’re the most dry I have seen for a long time and if brands are only going to show a flat and safe range for a season then they might as well not bother and save us and them a lot of time and money. It’s like the ‘show’ element has gone missing from the runway. This doesn’t apply to all brands, I thought there were a few real stand out shows including Jil Sander and Damir Doma who I thought both did a great job.

SS: If you could dress anyone, who would it be and what would you put them in?
JS: If I could dress anyone it would probably be the person I dress the most which is Dan our model as he completely gets our style and wears it exactly how I envision it to be worn. I am not a fan of celebrity or celebrity endorsement and would not get any pleasure from dressing them. They would either look like a fish out of water and probably wear the product really badly and the ones with style have already nailed their own which I think is far more important than dressing them in a way that wouldn’t work for them. I’m definitely not one to compromise my style to make it work for someone else.

SS: Have you got any recommendations that you'd like to share with our readers? (shops, hairdressers, designers, websites, bars)
JS: The recently formed Bad Passion Project parties are definitely the freshest angle on the party front for me, every third Saturday of the month at the Shacklewell Arms in Dalston (but the next one being on Easter Sunday with Mark Seven and Phoreski headlining). Well worth checking out if you’re into good music and good times. While we’re on that subject I would like to draw some attention Phoreski (aka Richard Gateaux) as a producer and DJ. He is the freshest proposition that I have ever come across with a completely unique style and angle. Really needs to be witnessed to be believed.

SS: Now this is your chance to ask yourself and answer the one question you wish you had been asked but have never had the opportunity to do so.
JS: Q: If you weren’t doing what you are for oki-ni what would be your ideal or dream role either real or hypothetical?
A: My dream role doesn’t exist and I’m sure it never will. I would be to be in charge of all forms of advertising within the UK. I would determine which brands and products were to advertise in all formats including TV commercials, bill boards and print/online advertising campaigns, not through how much money they are willing to spend but how strong there brand/product and vision are.

If this was ever made possible I’m sure that we would have a much more educated and discerning culture in the UK, opposed to the limited mindset of the majority. I’m a massive believer that the majority don’t know what to believe in so they just pick up on what’s around them which most of the time (not always) is a load of absolute rubbish from huge brands that have a huge budget but not a clue about style and product.

SS: Finally, what are you favourite pieces currently available from
JS: Again its quite difficult for me to say as I love them all but a few real standout pieces for me at the moment are:

Raf Simons Special Fabric Knit Oversized Jacket - Oversized single breasted Raf jacket in a multicoloured boucle effect cotton mix. The jacket fastens with a single row of heavy duty popper buttons and falls higher at the front than the back. Arms are wide and loose, shoulders are sloping and unpadded for an unstructured silhouette. Jacket is fully lined and has three inside pockets.

Linda Farrow Projects x Damir Doma Wayfarer - Part of Damir Doma's 4th collection and first time collaboration with Linda Farrow these sunglasses present a new take on the classic wayfarer. The cream coloured frame is faintly rounded to create a fresh approach with the addition of a distressed chunky matt nose bridge.

Finally, the Christian Peau boots from Japan which will be available to buy on the site from the end of this week.


Emy Augustus said...

i like ur blog and have passed an award onto u. =)

John said...

Great stuff again chaps. I wasn't too keen on oki-ni at first but now I love the site, they are taking men's online shopping in the right direction for sure.

dan said...

pure sex!!!

Anonymous said...

Nice work! Love oki-ni and it is no surprise to see that John Skelton comes across so well.

Daniel Jenkins said...

Mr Skelton makes a highly vaild point regarding Satyenkumar. One i'd like to take further. I find it astonishing that he isn't stocked in more stores or receives more press.

The aw09 collection combines his usual high levels of taste with increasing confidence in his ability to create and tailor interesting silhouettes in fantastic fabrics that exude class, drama and serious glamour. Menswear for men.

I'm struggling to think who has done a better job than him for next season. The fact that he does it entirely on his own puts most of the industry to shame.

Perhaps he doesn't play the fashion game enough? Choosing to concentrate on his craft than his 'celebrity' profile. We @ are proud to have supported and bought his collection for the last few seasons as talents such as his need to be celebrated and shown off. The clothes need to be available for the public to see and wear. Where else can you pick up items with this level of care and attention made in such limited numbers (sometimes 2-3 per item) for this amount of money? All made in the UK as well.

Matthew Spade said...

im getting a bit addicted to oki-ni right now, so much real quality stuff on there, even though i can't afford much it doesn't stop me from gazing.

im currently doing a uni project where ive been asked to pick a brand and a designer, and design a pair of shoes/trainer in their style. i chosen raf simons for kickers. it's a whole campaign, so adverts, press shots, design boards.. you name it im doing it. il show SS once its done if your interested. i don't think you guys have ever seen any of work work?

Anonymous said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Style Salvage Steve said...

Emy: Thanks so much for reading and for the award!
John: I have to agree with you on that point.
Dan: Ha, I used to say that little phrase all the time, thanks for reminding me.
Anonymous: He does, not met him yet but I'm sure our paths will cross one day.
Dan Jenkins: I remember bumping into Satyen whilst we grabbed a cheeky beer before the MAN show before last and how excited you were about him. I'm sure this year will be Satyen's year. After a few quiet words from you, you will be pleased to know that we will be speaking to Satyen very soon.
Mat Ahoy: Ooh great stuff! Let us know if you want to hear our thougts, looking forward to seeing what you do.
Conrad: Thanks for stumbling upon us. We aim to please here.

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