Saturday 21 December 2013

Treasured items... Will Hudson

Few items of dress are as necessary yet neglected than socks. Far too often they are an after thought that all too easily can become undervalued and mismatched before the odd hole, wear and tear forces them to hide in embarrassment inside their leather incarceration. The festive season is one of the few occasions in which socks are given a stage to perform. Wrapped up in all manner of finery and fanfare, watching cousins hang proudly above fireplaces and prominently positioned on the edges beds, socks are presented to hard-to-buy-for friends and they-have-everything-already family members. Just when they think they're about to receive the recognition that they truly deserve, they are met with indifference, scrunched up and used as a protective cotton shield around more valuable items. Dependable yet derided, I feel for socks at this time of year. Thankfully, there are a few people out there who cherish them and Will Hudson, founder and director of It's Nice That, sits amongst them with Paul Smith's iconic, spectrum showcasing stripes peaking between the creative camouflage of his everyday uniform. With an eye ever scanning for niceties it pauses over the festive go-to gift. Here, he tells us why... 


Will Hudson and the striped splash of something unexpected

"For anyone that knows me, you're probably surprised to find me invited to contribute any thoughts about fashion. For anyone that doesn't know me I should explain – I wear the same jeans and grey T-shirt or white shirt most of the year (even when not at work). This isn't because I'm not interested in fashion but because I sit slightly outside the average percentile that most clothes are manufactured for. I'm 6'4 and 'heavy' (this isn't the place to reveal certain information) and find it difficult to find clothes I feel comfortable in, let alone I'd leave the house in.

As a result I have always opted to play it safe. The little luxury I do have though comes in the 'one size fits most' category and the smallest of things can make a difference. As a result, Paul Smith socks, with all their colour, bring a smile even when paired with the plainest ensemble." Will Hudson

Tuesday 5 November 2013

Burning the midnight oil


"Having both the main line in Opening Ceremony as well as the capsule collection is great," Lou Dalton beams proudly over the Internet. "Both are very different, each say something different without compromise," she excitedly exclaims. Joining forces with the rousing retailer, the design talent takes our hands again, leads us across the border once more and we fall for the charms of her imagined rig of Zetland Oil all over again. Through Opening Ceremony's youthful filter, her autumn/winter 13 collection's sartorial sharpness softens and becomes that bit more sportier. As with her own collection, the collection's personal narrative falls seductively from the lips of the designer but here it feels like a fresh tale.

Having first been approached by Opening Ceremony for a series of London based designer capsules around the 2012 Olympics celebrating the store's arrival in the capital, Dalton chose to explore cycling and intricately incorporated house signatures into the sport whilst making a point of it feeling a little more commercial and easy-to-wear. Unsurprisingly, the collection went down a storm and with this in mind she approached Opening Ceremony earlier this year to do something similar and this latest collection evolved from these speculative conversations.

"I enjoyed creating a fictional Oil Company called "Zetland Oil" for autumn/winter 13. 'Zetland' is an old Nordic term for Shetland. Shetland is such an inspiration to me. As you know I met the Haigh there (Justin Haigh, Lou's fella of 10 years) who just so happens to work for an oil company that has an oil port in Shetland. The other logos used within the designs are all inspired by oil company branding from in around the late 70s mid 80s but re-worked and all carrying reference to Lou Dalton, either the year I was born or Shetland itself.

When I first discussed the ideas for the range with Opening Ceremony and the t-shirt prints in particular, we all agreed on the idea of making them take on a sporty mood. I looked at making them appear quite Motor Cross branded. For me, it was integral to incorporate the store's branding into the capsule as much as my own. As the collection was to be a little easier-to-wear and even more accessible than the Lou Dalton main line, I kept it easy and quite relaxed. However, I did want to give it a strong reference to the Lou Dalton main line and did so by introducing one of the fabrics we had used on the autumn/winter 13 mainline which was a particular favourite of mine, this being a cloth that I refer to as Bobble. This cloth came in a whole ray of colours but for Opening Ceremony, we kept it to a tomato orange, bordeaux and black. Throughout, this collection felt very natural. I always believe that if it feels forced then you should just leave it and move on. Opening Ceremony are so great to work with, they understand and appreciate design and its end use without it becoming to banal."

The capsule collection includes caps, t-shirts, jogging bottoms and sweatshirts.

Opening Ceremony's ever evolving relationship with some of my favourite London design talent, mixing straight main line season buys and really considered capsule collections, the fruits of which manage to balance the aesthetics of everyone involved perfectly, shows the way for other stores to follow. Meanwhile, Lou Dalton is sketching a fine blueprint that other designers can look to for inspiration. Since launching her own line in 2005, Dalton has refined a well crafted reputation for rebellious English sportswear with a keen eye for and attention to detail whilst establishing herself as the real shining starlet of British Menswear. As London menswear has demanded an ever increasing presence at London Fashion Week and respect far beyond the perimeter of the capital, evolving from an afternoon in to three full days of shows, presentations, previews, installations and exhibitions under the umbrella of London Collections: Men, she has matured in the spotlight, built a brand and helped pave the way forward. Long may Lou Dalton continue to strive forward and here's hoping more follow.

Sunday 27 October 2013

Minimal metamorphosis


As our eyes prepared to focus on the spring/summer 14 catwalks of New York, Converse and Maison Martin Margiela treated us to teasers of their much publicised creative coming together. For their first confident stride forward, Converse Chuck Taylor All Star and Jack Purcell trainers were drenched in Maison Martin Margiela's iconic white paint. Covering all canvas, eyelets, laces and soles, the old favourites are altered simply yet radically. All white everything. A palette and sole cleanser. For me, the French writer and aviator Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry best defined minimalist design as being “not when there is nothing more to add, but when there’s nothing left to take away.” This is a makeover from a true minimalist iconoclast. However, what interests me most is that the white washing is just the start. As soon as the paint filled brush leaves the Converse classics, they naturally crack and shed their outer coat to reveal their original selves beneath. So simple and transformative, the hand painted act is the beginning of a unique dialogue between both brands. As they advance with age with each step forward and evolve in the everyday, they reveal their true selves in their own way. Wear and tear is rarely so intriguing and so obvious.

From well loved wallets to beautiful brogues, the gentle ageing of leather is a an ever absorbing process but it takes its time. The blank Converse canvas encourages change. Thankfully, after following fashion's conveyor belt through from London to Milan and Paris, two pairs of ice white Jack Purcells were waiting for me at the office. A few weeks of pacy peddling, puddle plummeting and pavement pounding has seen a rich burgundy hue peek out from beneath the cracks on one pair (black, blue and an exclusive yellow are also hidden behind the white wash) whilst the other is still perfectly wrapped in its thick blanket of white. Minimal metamorphosis. Using a recent paint tin spill in the car park as the ideal backdrop, I couldn't resist documenting their difference.

New new and old new. 
Converse and Maison Martin Margiela

Wednesday 25 September 2013

The Meeting of Two American Dreamers

"We both like to inject a bit of attitude and our personality into classics," George Esquivel excitedly exclaims whilst standing at the centre of his hive of craftsmanship, a lively leather scented, three and half thousand square foot workshop in Orange County. His voice races as he whizzes us around on a whistle stop tour of his world. Between three and four thousand shoes a year are clicked, closed, welted, finished and furnished by his close knit family of craftsmen but there is a discernible delight echoing around the space today. Why? The reality of two American dreamers' shared fantasy is taking shape before their ever eager eyes. After creating exclusive shoes for Tommy Hilfiger's autumn/winter 13 menswear show, the pair have taken their collaboration to the next level. Forming a dynamic duo draped in red, white and blue, the result is a limited edition capsule collection of footwear hand made in California.

"It all comes out of here," Esquivel proudly proclaims, arms and smile stretched wide. From the quiet, unassuming, commercial enclave that his workshop resides to the temples to high society in the centre of Los Angeles, this is very much George Esquivel's world. Having been warned that is was something of a Marmite metropolis, that I'd either love it or loathe it, Esquivel and team Tommy combined to be the skeleton key to a once in a lifetime exploration of the ever sprawling an wildly eclectic city. They combined to make it the perfect summer getaway and I left in love. Esquivel's first excited words of many as he welcomed this fortunate group of bloggers and journalists were a declaring that he'd be taking us bowling. "It's at the Rosevelt Hotel, it's a two-lane, it's a gaming parlour with a vintage bowling alley called the Spare Room, I actually made the shoes. Everyone is there. I received a text the other night that Brad Pitt and Angelina were bowling in my shoes, it was amazing. It's so much fun. It's what I call cool LA not crazy LA." Like any good guide, Esquivel combined local knowledge with a constant flow of captivating narrative. His path into shoemaking alone could easily translate to the silver screen and be a box office smash.

"My childhood was pretty crazy. We grew up mostly in and out of motels, on welfare and food stamps. I’m the oldest of five so there were seven of us in the motel room and then my dad went to jail." From running drugs in his youth to watching his father go to jail for murder and homelessness to a life backstage at punk gigs, Esquivel is not your typical shoemaker but it is fuelled by a familiar passion. He fell into shoemaking in the mid 1990s after a failed attempt to find the perfect vintage-inspired shoe. A muso, the designer was immersed in California's rich punk and rockabilly scenes and needed shoes to match his unique aesthetic. "I used to buy vintage clothes and shoes but I could never find anything I liked in terms of new footwear," he reminisces. He spent years scouring the state for an able shoemaker to realise his whims and fancies but to no avail. After arguing with one cobbler over a pair that didn't meet his insatiably high standards, he was about to throw in the polishing rag but his shoe salvation arrived in the form of a bystander who, intrigued by Esquivel's impassioned pleas, followed him out of the shop. "He introduced himself as a shoemaker and said, 'I don't know why but I like you and I want to make you some shoes.'" The man was Emigdio Canales, a retired master cobbler who operated a cottage industry shoe factory out of his garage. He quickly became Esquivel's collaborator and mentor.
"In the beginning, it was just a hobby, selling shoes to friends," he modestly explains. These friends soon morphed into musical heroes. From admiring glances towards his own feet at gigs to requests from musical friends and ultimately to touring buddies, the good word of Esquivel spread. "The small local bands that I used to hang out would go on tour with the big bands, and they would often ask about their shoes and they'd hand them my card and say 'Call George, he'll sort you out.'" A business began to thrive. Esquivel has never stopped learning. From scurrying around shoe repair shacks to crafting shoes for the elite of Los Angeles and beyond, the collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger marks another confident step forward. As Esquivel's tale bounces around your brain, take our hand and let us lead you, as he did to us, on a quick tour of his world as the fruits of his latest creative coming together began to take shape.


Much like Tommy Hilfiger,  George Esquivel is a great American dreamer. Stars and stripes pulsate through this authentic product of California. Artefacts of this technicolour world are scattered throughout his studio. Like two well crafted canoes, a pair of size fifteen dress shoes destined for the feet of a New Knick's baller float on the wood floor are joined by a battered and well weathered trunk belonging to Sylvester Stallone that the actor had hoped would be transformed into footwear fabulousness, whilst a mood board of leathers provoke daydreams for the sole of Janelle Monae grace the wall.

"Tommy used to have my whole wall. but as it went in to production it shrank. It started with ten styles, twelve colours and all manner of different leather options. There wasn't a brief. the styles just evolved out of our conversations. We looked at what Tommy does, he does preppy Americana and we explored what we liked and it reduced down to a brogue and a loafer. It was then about making preppy but adding the soul of rock and roll, a little bit rebellious. For example, the perforation on the toe is a really cool design process that mimics the signature plaid pattern of Tommy Hilfiger," adds Esquivel as an interested, ever analytical eye is focussed in on one his experts applying the described touch to the toe of a brogue. His love of the craft is both obvious and infectious.

Having first roamed onto Hilfiger's radar as a Vogue/CFDA Fashion Fund finalist in 2009, Equivel was one of ten designers included in an "Americans in Paris" showcase sponsored by Vogue and Tommy Hilfiger 2011 and a friendship blossomed. They are two kindred spirits, each dedicated to their own craft within Americana. Whilst Tommy Hilfiger is a sartorial star bangled banner gently blowing outside the college of preppy, Esquivel's carefully crafted shoes are inherently Californian, rebellious and a little rock 'n roll. It makes for a happy marriage. "He adds a fresh take to timeless pieces. His designs use unique details that give classics an updated look," Hilfiger declares of Esquivel. "Tommy calls it the twist. We've both been transforming the familiar into the exciting in our way for years but it's been fun putting our heads together," adds Esquivel. Every pair is hand-crafted by skilled workers, adding unique and distinctive elements to the styles whilst each is assigned a one-of-a-kind shoe number that’s hand-written on the shoe and its hangtag to make these objects of desire even more desirable. Ten weeks after our visit to the workshop and as their collaboration hits stores global wide, Tommy Hilfiger and George Esquivel sent through my own limited edition brogue.

Delighting in the duality of new and old, expected and unexpected, traditional and modern, the two complimentary world's collide beautifully in a collaboration that sees two prepster staples re-imagined. With antiqued washed leathers, hand punched perforations and contrasting hues, both the humble brogue and loafer are elevated to new heights. The Tommy Hilfiger + Esquivel logo has been burned into the leather using a hot branding iron. Soles and heels are polished individually using layers of polishes and creams. The results are unique but elegant, whimsical yet sophisticated.


Tuesday 10 September 2013

Treasured items... Kit Neale

From the moment I first stepped inside Kit Neale's dazzlingly printed world, a cultural kaleidoscope that reimagines suburban and multicultural Britain, I have felt right at home. His studio, an enclave of effervescent energy on a quiet street located just off Columbia Road, is a busy universe filled with rails of reverie dancing around haphazardly placed trinkets, paintings and well thumbed magazines. Amongst the noise, the confident face of Felix quietly watches on. Shot by Jamie Morgan for The Face in 1984, the cocky twelve year old guards the memory of Buffalo as Ray's revolution rumbles on. The book has pride of place in Neale's space. "It is our bible," he proudly proclaims whilst stroking the good book, ripples of reverence course through his slight frame. Here, he tells us the story behind it.


Kit Neale and the buffalo stance


"When my family moved from Peckham to Gosport, a small town on the south coast, I missed London style. I had to order in The Face, i-D and Arena because it was my connection back to the capital, my escape. Ultimately, it's what excited me. When I discovered Ray Petri and the Buffalo movement my eyes were opened. I was and continually am, drawn to this moment. I remember stumbling across this book in a strange little bookshop inside Old Street station. At that time I had no idea that such a volume of his work existed but squealed 'Oh My God!' when I realised what it was.

It sounds really cheesy but If I'm ever feeling uninspired I return to it. I think every Kit Neale collection will take something from atleast one image. I look at it, not for garment design reference but to channel the attitude. I've lost count of the number of times I've mentioned his work in interviews. I'm obsessed. It is extremely well edited and his body of work is so impressive. It's so far reaching. There can't be many London menswear designers who haven't referenced by Buffalo. I think London menswear would be quite different without Ray Petri. Kit Neale would undoubtedly be different without Ray Petri." Kit Neale


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