“Repetition works, one season a store will see it, they’ll see it again another season, and then the 3rd or 4th season maybe a bunch of stores will say ‘I’ve seen this now. I need to buy it.'” – Edward Cuming
There’s a very human and personal feel to your work, so I would love to hear how you would describe your last collection.
I think it’s about elevating classic pieces, like a shirt, but layering that up, or cutting it away, or washing it. I love this process of making things that feel like they’ve had to be handled by someone. It’s like a rejection of the industrial process – even though we need the industrial process. I love the idea that we receive a bunch of shirts and we are going to hand cut these circles out of each one. It’s such a simple gesture but it’s something that people who connect with the brand or know about fashion and how a garment is made will see that and go “ok that had to be done by hand.” There’s no other way for it to be done, especially when you’re not producing thousands of units and you can convince a factory to do that for you. That handheld touch and feel is in everything, even the volumes we create as well. If I am trying to make something comfortable, I really want to exaggerate that so like the cardigans in the last season are really really oversized but also very cropped so you can really swaddle yourself in them and that feeling in conjunction with the way we layer and things, and how things will fray, is what we are all about.
Looking at the very literal human touch in your collection that you just spoke to, your pieces also have this very ephemeral quality to them; they seem almost inspired by observations of simple moments in daily life that are then made special through your designs. How do you source that inspiration?
When I was doing the MA at Saint Martin’s I would take a lot of photos and it felt so intuitive. Taking so many photos to keep on my phone of just things and people. Actually, for my first project there my research book was just full of photos and photos – a whole journal just full of photos: someone walking down the street and their top was just kind of pulling up in a weird place or a guy on the metro and he’s like laying against the window and his shirt crumples in a certain way. It’s just little things that catch my eye or catch my attention and sort of the banality of getting dressed in the morning. It’s just these very nuanced things like seeing someone who is wearing three t-shirts for some reason – whatever brought them to do that, I don’t know – but it all catches my attention. One piece that was kind of integrated from last season is mimicking a large top that is slipping off the shoulder, so it is about engineering and integrating these feelings that I notice into real pieces so that it becomes less of a styling thing and more of a garment. That’s the information that I am always looking for: you’re in a taxi and someone outside is on motorcycle without a jacket and you can notice the texture or the lightness of the shirt and maybe that can inspire a jersey that evokes that feeling that it is really really light and with just a little bit of wind that the whole thing is just going crazy. I don’t know, that’s really just how I start thinking about garments. My process is not so much “okay this season is about the 1950s and this is all the research we have on the 1950s.” It is so much more about pieces and garments, and as we start making and experimenting, the whole thing just starts to develop and we’re making, and making, and making and somehow with the help of our stylist, Patricia Villirillo, a collection comes out. That’s the process.
“Sometimes you get something else from the same image; you get two different feelings or two different ideas from one thing, so I really try to recycle research as much as possible.” – Edward Cuming
It must be very stimulating to look through your research book and to discover all of those little moments.
Yeah! There are so many little moments and my research is just an ongoing thing. I have folders, and folders, and folders of images and every season I’ll look back through because sometimes you get something else from the same image; you get two different feelings or two different ideas from one thing, so I really try to recycle research as much as possible. When I have a new intern in the studio, I give it to them, or even now I have an assistant and it’s cool to give him things that I was looking at 4 years ago and say “Well what do you think?” or “What are you seeing?” It gives you an opportunity to look at it in a new way. I think it’s important just having people around us to keep us thinking in new ways and at the same time the brand is really rooted in real clothes; I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel. It’s just a nuanced way to think about a garment – engineering and elevating things that feel quite normal to make them a little bit more special.
Once you’ve got this wealth of research and you’ve bounced your ideas off of some of your creative collaborators to hear their input or their vision, what does the design process look like for you when you sit down and start to draw out your collection?
Well, I don’t draw. I have to be honest; I don’t draw, or maybe I’ll do some crappy little sketch, so really I would just say “let’s start with a shirt, there are three ideas” and then let’s look at this manipulation with the fabric and see what we can do with that. Then things just get things rolling from there. I think about everything like a category, so I will think about knitwear because that’s the first thing we need to work on in order to launch because it takes a bit longer. We’re thinking about qualities, defining some key images and then developing off of that – it’s very organic because the design process goes simultaneously with production and with everything that you have to do on a day-to-day basis with a brand. I think just to get the ball rolling I need to see a trouser, a shirt, and maybe a piece of outerwear maybe in toile form and then from there it’s off to the races; it’s time to develop, develop, develop. I also never feel like it’s done. I don’t know how to explain it, but I never have a start point and an endpoint for a collection, I just keep going and saying “this is the last piece,” then “no, this is the last piece.” It’s kind of cathartic you define these feelings or these little notions that you want to put into clothes, ideas for color or print and then you just vomit it all out.
It’s fascinating to me how this parallels your story of how the brand slowly started to grow from trial collections into what it is today. The collection starts with these little moments and garments and organically grows into its shape.
Yeah, totally, and of course, there are the realities of wholesale – people want certain things or certain amounts of things – they want to have options, but I try to keep things edited. I don’t like the idea of overproducing or oversampling, so for my collections it’s more of a question of what feels like a sensible amount for the brand that we are and the amount of space that we take up in the retail world. Making a 100-look collection or even a 50-look collection for us would be silly because it would start diluting things, so I like to keep it edited. I don’t want to make things that feel unnecessary or that don’t feel like “I would really like to see that on somebody” or “I would love to wear that myself.” Even if some seasons have less or more, I try to keep it open and edited because sometimes the overproduction of things or oversampling is insane. Some large brands produce so much stuff that it just kind of becomes a merchandising exercise.
“Are we going to stop creating things simply because they may not have a commercial endpoint? The answer is no.” – Edward Cuming
To come off of that and tie in your goal of never wanting to dilute the brand and your vision, as you have developed your brand do you feel like there are any sacrifices that you have had to make for the business?
Yes, I think so. I think that’s reality. In the beginning, there were some pieces that we were making that were very intricate in the sense that the process was long. It was like dying 7 fabrics in different colors then hand-tearing them apart and hand-patching them together to make 1 shirt. I have seen what that is like in the production process now, on a slightly larger scale, and there comes a point where you are like “We really love what we have done, but we can’t put this into production.” But that’s fine! I wouldn’t even call it a sacrifice; I would call it a compromise. Are we going to stop creating things simply because they may not have a commercial endpoint? The answer is no. I want us to keep doing these things and just have enough awareness of our situation to say “Ok, we’re not going to offer this to every store” and we’re not just going to say “Order, order, order, order,” because it’s too much. But, we still make those pieces and there are some stores that we have a longstanding relationship with or where we have a good relationship with their buyers and we’ll know that they’ll be interested and that’s the compromise, even if it’s just for this one piece or two pieces. Then of course there are fabrics too – it’s money stuff really it’s just understanding what’s possible and what’s not possible because sometimes you’ve just made this piece and you do your calculations for your price and you’re like, “I can’t even afford that.” It’s hard to compromise, but you have to think about how to balance the offerings so that it’s affordable but doesn’t lose their essence. For example, we’re not a brand that will ever make logo t-shirts because that wouldn’t make sense for us – I mean I love a logo t-shirt and I’m wearing one right now from a Gyro restaurant – but I think that’s the kind of merchandising stuff that doesn’t fit inside what were making.
I think even compromises on a very honest level mean that when you’re the founder of a brand you also realize that you’re the last person that gets paid. If you want to grow your team, you have to have them reimbursed for their work. I can’t have someone working for me 5 days a week that is not earning anything. We have interns – we only take on 1 or 2 a season – and they are often doing that for credit with the university – but if they are going to be here and work for me, I prefer to pay them first and one day my time will come to have a salary. I teach on the side; I am a teacher at the university in Barcelona. I take on this other job so that I can keep doing the brand. I think that the sacrifices and the compromises you make are to put your team first because you can’t do it without a team, you have to have a team that feels respected and valued for what they are doing.
“Compromises on a very honest level mean that when you’re the founder of a brand you also realize that you’re the last person that gets paid.” – Edward Cuming
I really appreciate your perspective there because the fashion industry can be pretty cutthroat.
And people at some places can take advantage of the clout associated with what they are doing and that can often create loopholes. One thing with an internship is that companies have their own conditions on what that entails, but you’ve got people that have graduated from university and there has to be compensation for what they are doing. It doesn’t feel right otherwise. Then of course there’s this oversaturation of interns and some really talented design students that are just sweeping the floor and making coffee all day, and it’s just a waste of time – you’re not offering them anything in that way. That’s why we try to be very careful about how many people we bring in so that I don’t see that someone is doing nothing. There’s nothing worse than that. I’ve had that feeling before of being a bit useless, and I think that’s awful. I don’t want anyone to feel useless. I want to inspire them and make sure that they feel involved in the project, so I think being careful of the people you have around you is really important.