Essentials of style
… and they talk about their collaboration for the multi-label boutique’s first anniversary, the origins of their own brands, hype and streetwear.
Three designers walk into Dover Street Market…
E S Q: Tell us about the inception of A-Cold-Wall?
SA MUEL ROSS: I was travelling through Europe and North America, working with friends and contemporaries, and working for several brands, such as Stussy, Been Trill, Kanye x APC, OffWhite and what not. I began to understand that there was a zeitgeist movement happening globally that was related to high fashion and what is known as streetwear. These pockets across America and Europe were telling this narrative and of course being from the UK, and the UK having such a deep connection to subculture, I knew there was an entirely new story of British working class subculture that had to be told. That was the point where A-Cold-Wall came to fruition once I realised there was a gap to tell this story.
E S Q: How did the brand come to be known as A-Cold-Wall; was it in reference to the cold pebbled surface of the council estate? SA MUEL ROSS: I’m talking about the council estate, but more so, what I’m talking about is what it represents: the sociographic notions of a council estate and the architecture impeaching on the people in that area, and I’m also talking about the Victorian and Edwardian five-storey home in Islington. It’s the mixing and melting pot culture of London, where you get the working class and the upper middle class amalgamating together, and that really is A-Cold-Wall. It carries a very rough and corrosive nature, from the architectural references, and it also carries a string of intellectual communication which is also more shared with upper-middle-class studious environments.
E S Q: Why pick fashion as your medium of expression? SA MUEL ROSS: I’ve always had an interest and relationship with clothing specifically, I think it was clothing before fashion, and then it slowly bled into fashion. The first instance for me when clothing and fashion could be paired together was when I saw a video called The Aliens. I started to understand how you can take one article of clothing and put it into a fashion context and then Shane Oliver followed with the Hood By Air short videos, and then Virgil Albloh followed with the Pyrex Vision videos. So those are all predecessors to me and they showed me inadvertently how to communicate. Then naturally, I studied these videos and was mentored by certain people and I learnt slowly how to communicate a bit more with clothes and fashion.
E S Q: What does designing clothing allow you to do that graphic design doesn’t? SAMUEL R OSS: Clothing and fashion are macro cultures, and it is a billion-dollar industry, whereas graphic design is not. So the resources, efforts put in to supporting graphic design and product design, often don’t reach a certain level. And I also felt that I was starting to lose fulfilment from graphic design, a field I majored in from when I was 15 or 16 years old. I did that for seven to eight years and it felt like a natural step to work in a field which allowed five to six levels of sensory stimulation to exist in one place. Film, sound, installation, garment and movement could all live in one place, whereas graphic design is quite linear. So it felt too restrictive.
E S Q: For this collaboration with Dover Street Market, there’s a soundtrack and capsule collection? Is there a certain direction you’re going for? SA MUEL ROSS: There’s a soundtrack, capsule collection and a physical installation. The capsule collection was really to deliver the key and core fundamental aspects of A-Cold-Wall into the Dover Street Market story. That story is being led by the colour palette, it is very monotone and quite coarse and cold, which is
comfortable for myself because I tend to wear black anyway (laughs). It was also really important for us to ensure there was an installation aspect that embodied movement and acoustics as well, because as much as A-Cold-Wall is about the clothes, it is about experiential design and art, so to pair all three layers together was the perfect way to introduce the collection. So you’ll find paint stains across the garments. Our signatures, such as asymmetric overlocking and threading and clean minimal pieces of type, are then juxtaposed against large, engulfing pieces of type and logo graphic. It’s really a good capsule to show a core market what A-Cold-Wall is and where it started.
E S Q: A-Cold-Wall has been labelled as streetwear and you have another diffusion line where you do more T-shirts because you worry about A-Cold-Wall being too avant-garde. How do you feel about all these labels that people put on your brand? SAMUEL ROSS: It’s interesting isn’t it? Because initially streetwear was strictly T-shirts, screen-printing, which was fine and important but I think what happened was a wider community starting using the term ‘streetwear’ to separate the movement from traditionalist fashion. Now it’s really interesting because streetwear has become one of the most important points in our generation of fashion, so you’ll find larger fashion houses joining ComplexCon. Things are really changing. Just take a look at who’s being appointed to fashion houses—like Virgil at Louis Vuitton and Demna at Balenciaga. Even Gosha and his close, tight-knit relationship with Comme des Garcons and Burberry, I think that it’s time the term ‘streetwear’ be discarded. But it’s also becoming an incredibly powerful word— both culturally and financially.
E S Q: There’s a certain negative connotation to streetwear which comes with hype and reselling etc. What are your thoughts on hype? SA MUEL ROSS: I think that engagement is important. It’s very important to allow a brand to grow and for ideas to mature, and without that level of engagement, it is incredibly difficult for independent designers to mature and reach a point of, not just interest, but creative intelligence without having that initial interest to fuel growth. What we’re calling hype I would call engagement. And that engagement is really essential to mature and fuel independent niche businesses.
E S Q: What is your greatest fear? SA MUEL ROSS: I’m driven by a fear that stems from being born into relative poverty. Fear fuels the idea to succeed for me.
E S Q: What would you like your legacy to be? SA MUEL ROSS: I would like my legacy to be intelligence. I also want it to be one that is respected for the hard work and for having a long-term plan for my brand. Also, to be remembered for not compromising on my values or vision.
E S Q: So what does ‘better’ mean to you? AVI GOLD: It’s hard to use ‘better’ in an answer. There are two parts to it. First, it’s elevating things that we’re into. My interest is to put them on a platform in a better way. I want to make people think about things and remember them. It sparks nostalgia.
Second, it’s about putting your money where your mouth is. You’re sitting there when things can be better. And you try to make them better. That’s the mindset that I and my team have, to try to run a store and create a memorable brand. With A Better Gift Shop, we have so many unique products that there’s nowhere else you can get them.
E S Q: That’s the beauty of a great bricks-and-mortar store, right? It should feel like you have undertaken a pilgrimage to visit it. AVI GOLD: That’s how it was like when I was a kid. Even up to really recently, there’s a place in Harlem where you can only get a certain type of New Era hat. That place closed down. So now where do you go? It’s on me now to carry the torch in my stores. Also for Dover Street Market. What’s interesting about this place is that it’s cool to see a big company, which isn’t really that big. It’s like a family situation. There’s a lot of good people working together. But they all understand each other. It’s understanding how to drive people into this space. The experience of walking into a bricks-and-mortar store, right?
E S Q: What do you feel about the resale culture of streetwear? AVI GOLD: I think it’s cheesy. If your existence on this earth is to resell somebody else’s brand or product, you need to figure your shit out. (Laughs) I can understand making money, which I’m all about. That’s why I hate resellers. They are the worst part of the street culture. It’s greed right? I don’t like people who are driven by greed.
E S Q: I feel the same about viewing streetwear similar to stocks— an appreciation of the product. AVI GOLD: I see a lot of that now all the time when people view it as a status symbol and hype. It’s the same reason why print is not doing well. We grew up just outside Toronto. The closest thing that we can get to New York, London or Tokyo, we have to read these interviews in magazines right? And we’re really into it. And nowadays, the younger kids, not all of them, but the large majority, they don’t care. It’s the status symbol. ‘It’s out, I want to buy it. I want to put it on.’ There’s no story to it.
I remember going into Hermès and wanting to buy a belt. The staff looked at me like I was crazy. ‘You cannot afford it.’ It’s true, they started at 800 dollars. But the good thing about Hermès is, not to change the subject, their products are really well-made. That’s a luxury brand that’s doing it right. They are not going for the low-hanging fruit. They are staying true to what they are and that’s amazing.
E S Q: So why a hot dog stand? AVI GOLD: There are two aspects to it: hot dogs are popular in my city, where I come from, Toronto. That’s like a big Toronto thing. For me, it’s like the marketing and advertising behind the way a hot dog stand functions. Like the vendors sell in a unique way. It’s a very ‘street way’ to sell food. I think that’s really cool like the branding and the signage, it’s just so marketable. Everybody can be drawn to this main attraction. I just saw the brilliance in that and the way that it can sell unique products.
E S Q: What do you feel A Better Hotdog tastes like? AVI GOLD: It’ll be very cultured (laughs).
E S Q: What are your greatest fears? AVI GOLD: My greatest fear is not being relevant. I have always wanted to be relevant. As I get older, my perspective is changing every day, and I don’t want to lose touch with reality and perspective on relevance. I always want to be making the right products. I always want those products and my ideas to resonate with people in five, 10 or even 15 years.
E S Q: What would you like your legacy to be? AVI GOLD: To be memorable. I want to be remembered as being original and a funny dude. If I wasn’t doing this, I would be doing stand-up.
switch up my wardrobe quite a lot, so a lot of the vintage pieces didn’t stay in it for long. I explored many different types of styles, from skater to punk.
E S Q: Is that what Doublet is all about? A mix of everything from the past? MASAYUKI I NO: It is a little different now. Because Doublet also means word puzzles. It’s like changing from one thing to another thing. So Doublet is kind of like this, everyday wear where I apply different techniques, and in a way that daily piece becomes something totally new, which is a feeling that I enjoy out of clothes.
E S Q: So what made you want to start Doublet? MASAYUKI I NO: I have always been seeking out the opportunity to start my own brand, since ages ago. When I was working at a Japanese brand, I was looking for the chance to be an independent designer. So that’s what inspired me to start my own brand.
E S Q: Is it difficult to be an independent designer? MASAYUKI I NO: It is very, very difficult. Till this day, I don’t have my own standalone store. When I started my business, I had to visit retailers, multi-brand stores and departmental stores to buy and stock my brand. If they didn’t, I would not have been able to continue Doublet. That was the hardest part initially.
E S Q: What does winning the LVMH prize mean to you? MASAYUKI I NO: I think winning the LVMH prize was a very good opportunity for my brand. Before winning the prize, Doublet was still relatively underground, but winning it helped push Doublet into the international scene due to the attention and exposure from the media.
E S Q: How did you feel when you were awarded the top prize? MASAYUKI I NO: I was really surprised. I was thinking: ‘me!? are you sure?’ (Laughs).
E S Q: Can we talk about the container that you’ve designed for Dover Street Market Singapore’s first anniversary? What was the inspiration behind it? MASAYUKI I NO: The inspiration was to build a ski lodge in Singapore. I like the irony of creating the juxtaposition of a cold climate setting to debut Doublet’s autumn/winter 2018 collection, in a country that is hot all year round (Laughs).
E S Q: One of the aspects that I really like is how you meld packaging as part of the product. MASAYUKI I NO: Oh thank you.
E S Q: What is this fascination that you have with infusing packaging as part of the enjoyment of your garments? MASAYUKI I NO: Some of my happiest moments are when I receive a gift and unpackage it. It’s an experience that I would like to translate to my customer. Instead of just buying the item off a shelf, they have to unravel it and experience that same joy. Packaging is very important for my collection.
E S Q: Is there any very special packaging you have done for Doublet that you want to tell our readers? Or anything that is memorable to you. MASAYUKI I NO: When I was designing the packaging pieces, the design was based on dead stock pieces. Dead stocks are new products but kept in storage, where nobody can buy them. They’re basically useless. But to me, dead stock doesn’t mean that it can’t be worn anymore. To me the items are still alive, waiting to be worn. So the concept is based on that because over time, the plastic packaging sticks to the clothing. The packaging has a hidden meaning.
E S Q: So do you feel that packaging breathes new life into dead stock? MASAYUKI I NO: Yeah, also I think there’s no expiry date for clothes. In the fashion world today, items become dated in a matter of six months, which is something I disagree with. Because fashion is forever if you take good care of your clothes.
E S Q: What does hype mean to you? MASAYUKI I NO: I would not like it if my brand were to suddenly become an immediate ‘hype’ brand.
E S Q: It’s not sustainable. MASAYUKI I NO: I’d rather my brand grow slowly and gradually like Louis Vuitton. That’s what I would wish for my Doublet. Slow hype (laughs).
E S Q: (Laughs) Slow hype. Can I ask what is your greatest fear? MASAYUKI I NO: My biggest fear is finding defective items during the production phase. To me, taking care of the production process is a big part of the process. Often I will make visits to the factories, to inspect the production process. The products from Doublet are not cheap and my customers are my priority, so I would not want defective items to reach them.
E S Q: Is it difficult to infuse plastic into your garments? MASAYUKI I NO: The packaging technique is a combination of two different techniques that have been around for a while. It’s a lot of experimenting with these two techniques that others have not tried melding together before. So in the beginning, it was harder to achieve the effect.
E S Q: So is that your design ethos, combining different techniques to show garments in a new light? MASAYUKI I NO: Yes, combining different techniques and discovering new techniques is part of my design ethos. The only thing I don’t do is inventing techniques from scratch. I prefer finding factories with production techniques that interest me and to work together with them by adding my ideas to discover a different way of making garments.
E S Q: What would you like your legacy to be? MASAYUKI I NO: I would like to be remembered as someone who brought a smile to people’s faces. When they think of Doublet or myself, I would like them to remember all the good items they had. Happiness and humour are what I would like my legacy to be.