As the name brand focus would suggest, we’ll be using this column to delve a little deeper into the brands we haven’t really gotten to know yet. This time we take a look at James Small, the London based designer we’ve had our eye on.
Take a leap to read our Q&A
SL: Your latest collection, “Marching Band,” is inspired by the outfits and uniforms of the American Civil War. What, specifically, attracted you to such a period and look and is there any particular piece/outfit that managed to really embody the ethos?
James Small: I loved all the different colours of the uniforms, the way they used to dye them themselves or add civilian pieces to them as there were not enough to go around. One book described their appearance as ragamuffin, I think that sums it up
SL: Cropped and hooded jackets, Chinos, tuxedo-style outerwear, ‘prospector’ shirts, skinny as well as pleated trousers – elementally, your collection says: “anywhere, anytime, any occasion, any combination”. Is this something we can expect from future James Small collections/pieces?
JS: I always design the collection to what I see as the modern mans wardrobe, and from my experience you need a wide range of looks and silhouettes for any situation that might arise, but I may in the future home it in on a particular look or silhouette
SL: You used so many different fabrics and colours (how many?) – so are you a particularly tactile designer?
JS: There’s over 30 colours across about 20 fabrics, this is a luxury for a small designer but actually makes it harder when it comes to manufacturing so in the future I will probably be less flamboyant!
SL: Obviously, military uniforms possess a very definite utilitarian character. Would you say this has been kept in your pieces and (alongside a strong aesthetic, clearly) does functionality have an important role your designs?
JS: I love function in clothing, and I think men get excited when they discover things that pop off or can be adjusted, I know I do!
Some of the pieces have removable sleeves attached to hoods, some trousers have cinches and sailor fronts, and some of the shirts have removable bibs
SL: “Marching Band” follows on from “Ground Control” (think Russian Cosmonauts). Both are very militaristic and both looks reflect strong cultural, identities. Now, your latest video, “Journey,” features the very English Rolls Royce, the countryside and Roxy Music. Therefore, could we say that James Small is actually very much Heritage by influence (if not necessarily by look)?
JS: Yes definitely, but I try not to show it in an obvious way – I always start research with history, weather it be rock and roll history, space travel history, or military history
SL: You’ve said before that you would “love to do a diffusion line” – it’s nice to hear a young, up-and-coming, designer freely admit they’d like to make and sell “accessible” clothes. Would you say that today’s new designers have more of a ‘let’s make it amazing, but let’s not be afraid to sell it too’ kind of attitude that, actually, makes your outlook/output potentially far more exciting than the ‘costume fantasists’ of yesteryear?
JS: There’s room for everyone, but I guess people are a little bit afraid to do something wearable on the catwalk and think they have to do crazy mad pieces. This works for some people and they get noticed and get jobs etc but people should not be afraid of putting wearable pieces on the cat walk either, as people can be just as interested
Wearability has also been something you’ve been keen to emphasise before, so having a “it’s no bad thing to be able to sell your clothes” mentality surely lends your clothes a sense of reality perhaps missing from other designers’, thereby making your clothes more accessible and therefore wearable. Is that accurate?
I hope so, its still early days to see if my system has paid off!
SL: The proof of all that, of course, is that buyers have been getting their wallets out haven’t they? So which designs will be available for us to buy, where will we be able to buy them and when?
JS: Daniel Jenkins and Sarah Coggles have both placed orders, really good ones so there will be a wide selection of the collection on offer
SL: So, we’ve had Russian Cosmonauts and American Civil War-chic. Well, I did Google your name and turns there was a James Small back in the mid 1700s who was famous for inventing a type of plough – so, what are the chances we could yet see a collection based on 18th century agricultural worker’s clothes? Alternatively, there was a lighthouse keeper called James Small in Truro in the 1840s if that takes your fancy?!
JS: Hmmm a bit too specific! The one I’m working at the moment is loosely based on art students but you wont know it when you see it…
Words by Alex Jackson