London-based creative Simon Brown unveils his first capsule collection on Thursday. Brown, who has founded &&& Creative agency, has worked with renowned architect Rem Koolhaas and youth culture pioneer Virgil Abloh.
Interview: Rosa Thoneick
Under Covid, Simon has taken his extensive design experience to the world of wearables, infusing his characteristic fonts and imagery within a three-piece headwear capsule titled C.I.H.A.&.I.M.U? (Can I Have An & In My Username?). For this interview, we reached Simon in his studio in Tottenham, London.
Simon, you’re based in London. How much is this capsule collection inspired by your everyday interaction with people in public space?
It is inspired by London as a place because of the amount of different cultures that exist together. My studio is in Tottenham, one of the cheapest and poorest boroughs, and also most diverse. It is where the flashpoint of the London Riots happened. And it is where now all the vibrancy of nightlife has moved to, as London has pushed music venues out from central London and Shoreditch. It’s full of creatives, most of the young grime scene is coming out of here.
The different takes on life are infused into the whole capsule itself. What I love about clothes is that they can transform you into whatever you want to be that day. And there’s something magical in that.
You have invented the Banaclava. Please describe what it is.
The Banaclava is a cross between a do-rag, a bandana, a balaclava and a head veil. It is a twist on the familiarity of all these products, a multifaceted piece of headwear that is transparent to the wearer. You can see out whilst wearing it over your face. It makes me think about identity and individualism, about how you can either cover your face up or you can expose it to the world.
It seems as if you are describing a contemporary dilemma: We want to disguise ourselves from digital surveillance, on the other hand we want to express our individuality openly.
Is your Banaclava a solution to this dilemma?
I think it is also just fun. On one level it has a narrative and a dialogue. But on another level it just looks fun to wear.
It seems somehow quite political. How do you process what’s going on in the world in your work?
I don’t know if it is necessarily political. But the influences that are currently going on in the world are definitely part of my work. There is a massive shift in consumerism because of Covid. The capsule itself is exclusively limited edition, a numbered collection. Every offcut is used in it and saved from it, and we utilized creative crafts that are locally sourced.
And then there is the bigger kind of shift in society, a transition of creatives that wouldn’t have expected to go into the creative world, who are given a leg up. When I studied and graduated there were defined steps and routes to becoming a creative. Now, it is all about opportunity and hard work. There are lots of different ways to get to the same level. Starting your fashion label 20 years ago was very different to what it is now. Part of that is social media and that people are much more connected than they ever were.
How has that influenced you starting your fashion label this year?
It’s been a massive benefit. I could reach out to people when I didn’t have answers. I could quickly connect the dots between getting something manufactured in UK and delivering on it.
Apart from the material of the capsule everything is made in the UK. The silk screen printing is done by a company in Peckham who print everything from JW Anderson’s work. They are brilliant: small and really specialist. The manufacturers who have produced the garments are local as well. They’ve opened their doors and I have gone in, sat with them and have seen who has manufactured it. The boxes are manufactured by a 4th generation box maker in the UK. Everything is recycled. We optimized the boxes so that we would get small boxes out of the wastage of the big boxes.
In every part of the collection I have had an element of involvement. Eventually I will release a process newspaper with all of this in. Like an open source to say: I learned all of this, this is what the terminology means. You know, like the term Placement Print: I didn’t understand what that meant. And now I am going to tell people what I found out, I’m going to give this knowledge away.
What does your creative process look like?
It starts with something really ridiculous. The Banaclava started with wearing an oversized headscarf in a stylistic way, and realizing that you can generate this wonderful silhouette and persona from it. Then I started playing with pieces of material that would cover over your face. It was as simple as taking a napkin, drawing on it and holding that over a couple of friend’s faces to see what would work.
Then I was infusing this with other ideas I had at the time. The capsule’s title Can I Have An & In My User Name? is about individualism and identity – that when we are all together we are much stronger.
Can you say more about this idea?
If you take the logic of what an & (read: “and”) is, it is something that connects everything, the ultimate sense of collaboration. It celebrates me and you being together, and diversity. If that is ever stopped in our society, we should question it. That is what the whole collection is about: How would you wear this and be proud to be diversely together.
Whenever I hear people say “And And And” it is a way of saying: there is always more. It is never defined by the moment.
You have worked with Rem Koolhaas and Virgil Abloh. What have you learned from these creatives that influences how you work now?
The one thing that I have learned from all of them is: Invite yourself to unexpected places. What that means is, to broaden your horizon you have to challenge yourself and produce something that you might feel uncomfortable with. It’s been during Covid that a graphic designer who founded a design agency has picked up a needle and thread and taught himself how to produce garments. That is a good example of what they have taught me.