1. Please introduce yourself. How did SJC start? And what did you do before?
Before I founded SJC I worked in theatre and film for many years as an actor, director and producer. On its day of release, I saw that one of my films was on Pirate Bay at the top of the list of downloads. Even back in those days, it was evident to me that the film industry was in trouble. If it was digital, it was free and the newest art form on the planet was in a very bad way, at least for now.
So, sitting on my bed in a moment of despair, I was looking at my phone and saw a discussion on the Fedora Lounge Forum asking what would make the best early 20th century American work shirt. I knew all the features - throat latch, elbow patches, chambray collar lining, gussets in the sleeve and side seams, et cetera. However; instead of just discussing it, for fun I decided to order some denim and send it to a factory in India to have it made up as a shirt, complete with all the right features. After posting this to the forum, the Fedora Lounge blew up with excitement and this triple-stitched denim shirt received a lot of interest, with over 20 being snapped up almost immediately. It became abundantly clear to me that there was an untapped market for classic shirts, footwear, tailoring and outerwear that vintage enthusiasts would want to buy if made with attention to detail, authenticity and at an affordable price.
2. Can you explain the concept behind SJC?
The vision for SJC has been to rediscover and reclaim some of the forgotten gems of classic menswear from across the 20th century. The main concept has been to specialise in particular decades, often where there is little being reproduced (and therefore a huge demand from collectors hoping to complete their looks and wardrobes). Finding and making hard-to-get menswear that was once a staple of a man’s wardrobe is a fantastically satisfying and rewarding pursuit. Another challenge that we explore is to find hybrid styles that, whilst drawing inspiration from classic pieces, do not look out of place in the 21st century. This adds a certain element of comfort that I think gives these particular garments an advantage.
One thing I always seek to rekindle is the attitude that men used to have with respect to fashion. If you look back to the early 20th century you will see men dressing with confidence, elegance and style. I am referring here to individuals and not advertising images. Men felt freer to experiment with their look and were much more open to learning about cloth and cut. It would not have been uncommon for a detailed conversation to take place between customer and storekeeper. The tailor would share new weaves and cuts and reasons to consider them, be it for work, travel or leisure. The customer experience was frequently one of intrigue, new understanding and focused conversation. This has largely been lost over time with mass production. With the exception of places like Savile Row, cloth, cut, trim and other features are often lost on a modern audience who fail to investigate the clothes that they wear and buy. This shortcoming is reinforced by the most popular brands, who have relegated the processes and technicalities of manufacturing to the side-lines, only to be ignored by all involved. We aim to go against this trend in everything we do and offer.
3. How has the style and clothes of SJC developed over time?
SJC found its beginnings in the humble denim shirt. But you know like anything, the more you do, the more you learn. Making and learning from mistakes over the course of several years has been invaluable to me, and my customer base is also acutely aware of the slightest details of every garment, which has applied a positive pressure to my work. My style has developed throughout this journey, and my tastes have deepened and changed in line with my constantly evolving understanding of the design process.
We have made pieces that the world hasn’t seen for 60, sometimes even 100 years, and are sharing them with a group of buyers who understand the details and intricacies in their construction and who appreciate the opportunity to share in the creative process. In doing so, we are stitching together a community of enthusiasts who share this hobby and lifestyle. I have opened up a forum to these people through which they can share and exchange ideas and needs. I’d describe my mission as aiming to enable men to be beautiful again in an elegant and sophisticated way, to gain more knowledge of make and cloth, to dress themselves knowing it’s okay to ask and to learn, and to share their style with confidence. The concept is essentially to empower men to look good again, and to try and add some interest and style to an otherwise boring and dull menswear landscape.
My creative aspirations have developed alongside my ability, to the point now where I can make, for example, a full vintage suit from 1918 (with the help of very experienced tailors and pattern cutters, some of whom have worked in the industry for 40 or 50 years). Also, learning about the commerciality of garments has also helped. As the French say, “little by little the bird builds her nest.”
4. What inspires you for your collections? Do you have a style icon?
I don’t know if I have one in particular. I appreciate some men who are representative of certain decades. If we look at the 20s I would consider Edward VIII, for the 30s people like George Raft and Gary Cooper. We should also pay attention to past influences like Ivy League for style cues and examine the leading lights in those movements. Every decade has its style icons, as do movements in art and politics - look at Anthony Eden and George Bush Snr., both very stylish men. Not just tailoring though, dig a little deeper and we find that Bing Crosby, for example, was a great icon of workwear. Wherever you look, if you dig a little you will unearth such style icons. The secret is to pick a subject or garment, style or atmosphere; Then think about what it is for, and where you are going with it, and you will find someone.
5. How big is the impact of the members from the SJC forum on your design decisions?
In the beginning it was a discussion - members would post general ideas and needs. Most of these guys are collectors or specialists, and so are naturally both knowledgeable and pay meticulous attention to detail. From the start I really have had my work cut out for me. But all things considered, they are like a large group of friends. The Forum is an exchange. They share anything from suggestions to measurements to a button or detail that might be overlooked in a sample. Often they have original period garments, so they know what they’re talking about, which allows them to participate in the making of a garment from scratch that they have been pining for.
It is all in the details. Everything from a label to a lapel, my job is to figure out how different pieces can be pulled together to form a collection that will work in a modern setting and fulfil the needs of these guys. The importance of the exchange between what they know and what I make cannot be overstated. They are usually very helpful and are always great company.
6. How do you select your fabrics?
I search through piles and piles of cloth from rag merchants. I’m literally up to my ass in rags sometimes, often moth-eaten and stuck together like dried paper in huge bails, just to find a jacket or pair of trousers made from a particular weave. I go where many would not and really like to get stuck in. I look for what is essentially unavailable in the marketplace but what was once popular, and close the gap on those two. Ultimately, I look for beauty - beauty is always a good guide. I get the cloth tested in labs to extract the weight and composition so that I can reproduce it to the right specs, sometimes with a few changes here and there. This has worked well so far. Friends find things too and send me links to old garments purely for their cloth.
A friend of mine once sent me a tiny swatch of a “Tupelo chambray” (as advertised in an original catalogue from 1927), and from a 2 cm square I have managed to create a run of shirting. I think that’s very special.
7. Can you tell us a bit about the production of the SJC Garments?
I have a small Hong Kong tailoring firm which specialises in particularly complex tailoring/manufacturing. This company supplies some of the most exquisite brands in the world and so they have very high and very exacting standards – something that my customers and I both appreciate.
I make the pattern and the toile in London, and have help from Savile Row tailors, professional garment technologists and pattern cutters along the way. The design and specs are developed here in London, at which point the back and forth exchanges of samples and adjustments/amendments begin. Once absolutely perfect, we commission small runs of these items, which often sell out very quickly.
8. What was the best experience you’ve had with SJC?
I think that growing as an artist, overcoming the many difficulties and stumbling blocks along the way, has been an exciting and strengthening experience. There is nothing great about failure unless you can pick yourself up and carry on, albeit with a hard lesson learned. I guess that being able to make a workwear suit from 1914 or an American tailored suit from 1935 from just about any cloth is something I can be proud of. It is a lovely thing to know that I can turn what was once only an idea into a high quality, tangible reality.
I am looking forward to summer where we will be making our most ambitious collection of workwear and tailoring to date. Developing our workwear collection has been especially important to us and we are very much looking forward to its reception from the heritage-loving community.
9. How would the perfect world look like from your point of view?
I went to the Tate Modern the other day, which if you don’t already know, is a large contemporary art gallery in London. It attracts a staggering assortment of tourists, artists, art fans and other onlookers who are all stylistically so different – bold, creative, sometimes boring, and yet they were all accepted in that one space as equals. I pointed out to my son how great it is that a girl with an extreme look could be sitting next to an older, more conservative man for example, with neither one having any issue with the other. You do not often see the same acceptance of diversity in other public spaces, like a cafe or library. Maybe on a bus if you are lucky but usually people will be reluctant to sit near another person who is vastly different.
When I was growing up through the punk scene, individuality was the ultimate goal. The more individual the individual, the more considered and respected they were. Now it seems like dark grey nylon is the uniform de jour, and deviation is often discouraged. I simply despair when I look out of our office window and see all these kids wearing cheap, uninspired fabrics head to toe. It makes me chuckle when I see young people wearing “comfort clothing" which in my day was reserved for old people who needed help getting up and sitting down.
The issue for me is that young people are at a stage of freedom in their youth to experiment and to explore life in all shapes and forms before they get old. For the past 100 years this was expected of them, yet they are for the most part wearing very basic, dull and predictable clothing. What ever happened to rebellion, to expression, to being yourself? The lack of thought behind what the young in London are wearing is staggering - it is like The Matrix where they are being spoon fed nylon and rubber. It’s as if they are prisoners in their own overbranded clothing - overly sensitive to others in a critical and aggressive way and underscoring in style and courage so badly. It is such a shame. But I will say that there is hope - the vintage movement is gaining momentum in London and I am starting to see growth and sprouts of individuality and creativity once again on the streets of this historically rebellious and expressive city.
10. What are your plans for the future?
We’re planning to open The SJC Forum to the public (it is currently a private community), and of course grow SJC in every respect. I would like to open a new office/warehouse in London with a studio. Maybe a restaurant or bar with a performing space for bands, theatre, stand-up etc. We are hoping to move into new offices in the next couple of months, which will enable us to work more efficiently, build upon what we have created and open up our space to customers and others who wish to get involved. I am very interested in exploring womenswear - there is much work to be done here. I have made lots of samples for women and am preparing a launch for them soon. I am also venturing into leather jacket collections as well as building-up the workwear range to be broader and more developed.
We’re preparing for several trips abroad, including Germany, LA and Scandinavia, to meet some of our fans and customers, and to share with and learn more about them and how to serve them better. Gotta get outta the building you know.
2019 is already proving to be an exciting year of change and growth within the SJC community, and we can’t wait to share our journey as it progresses.