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Q&A July, 11 2013

How Did You Get Here: Jason Jules

Writer, blogger, “man about town,” brand consultant, P.R. man, Ivyist. These are all titles that have been given to Jason Jules. He’s starred in many a fashion shoot and even done the odd runway appearance (Paul Smith‘s Spring/Summer 2012 show was the last one he did). His personal style ensures that he’s all over Tumblr, and Complex recently featured him as one of the most stylish men in media, calling his style a “living, breathing jazz song.” There’s even a three page thread about him on the Film Noir Buff, where they have an argument about whether an unbuttoned button down shirt is an affectation or not. But despite all this, it’s still hard to find out exactly what he does.

So we asked him.

Photo credit: Stussy Deluxe

Jason Jules’s got his introduction into the media world while he was still at school. “The first thing I ever wrote was for i-D number 3,” Jules says. “I missed i-D number one, saw i-D number two and I figured I’d write for i-D number three. I was in the sixth form at the time and, obviously I didn’t understand anything about magazines, so I drew these panels and wrote this text about different types of subcultures and how people would move, like posing. I wrote the text, drew the pictures like stickmen and sent them in, thinking they’re gonna turn it into a fashion story. And they just printed it! I was so disappointed but still happy about it. I haven’t got the issue. And then I did something for another magazine in that year so I think that, to be honest I’ve been doing pretty much the same thing ever since I was 17.”

Then he decided to go into P.R. working at Lynne Franks, based on advice he’d received. “The reason that I went there is because I wanted to be a stylist and I had no idea about styling. So I called a few women’s magazines up. There was a magazine called Honey, one called Over 21. Honey said come down to a shoot. I went to it and they told me what styling involved. Then they said that in order to be a stylist you need to know lots of publications and the way to know publications is to do P.R. They said even though you’ve got a degree, get a job in P.R. doing anything. Then I started at Lynne Franks.” He worked at Lynne Franks for a year, first as a ‘goffer’ and then as a junior account executive. “Then I realized I hated fashion. This fashion industry is not happening and I didn’t want a regular job”

“So I started organizing clubs, but it wasn’t a big leap”, says Jules. “I was into jazz clubs but modern, young jazz so people were dancing and they’d be loads of vintage shops and I’d be part of it. You’d start off going to Bar Italia, then you’d end up at J. Simons, then you’d end up, on a Friday night, going to somewhere like the Wag. It was just like a scene almost”.

He became a well known club promoter, featuring in “The Face’s” 100th issue in their “host of hosts” shoot alongside the likes of Jazzie B, Gaz Mayall and Norman Jay. He did clubs for a while before stopping while in his mid twenties. “I decided to retire from doing clubs. House music was getting big and there were drugs everywhere. It was this weird ecstasy fest and that wasn’t why I was doing clubs, so I just decided I was gonna retire from them.” After around six months of “not doing anything” he decided to go back to P.R., but in a different form. “Even when I was doing clubs I always said I was a P.R. man. I wasn’t a promoter, I wasn’t a club organizer, I did P.R. That’s my thing.”

So when Jules was asked to join his friends newly launched P.R. and marketing company, he decided to join. “It sounded really alien to me, [but] I was sitting around doing nothing so I thought I might as well see what this is all about.”

The company ended up being The Watchmen Agency and their first client was Bond International, a seminal streetwear shop based in London’s Carnaby Street. The Watchmen Agency’s unique selling point was that they’d merge the worlds of music and fashion. Although it’s hard to believe now – in a day when band members regularly walk catwalk shows and even anonymous ones star in ad campaigns – but there was a time when music and fashion were treated as two separate entities. “At one point we were doing P.R. for i-D, then we were organizing events for them, then we were writing for them and then that would happen with other publications as well. I think what we figured was that at the time – it’s very different now – as three young black guys, it’s really hard to get any leverage in that fashion/music world, so we almost had to create our own leverage.

Like, as a P.R. company, if you’re working with a magazine then music clients will think if you’re dealing with these clients every day then you must be into it. So we ended up doing music on one side and fashion on the other and realising you had to balance both. It seemed quite separate and extreme at the time, now people do it all the time. But then it was ‘what do you guys do, what’s your speciality?’ and we’d say ‘well, we do what we wanna do’.”

This attitude led to them working with several worldwide companies, including the likes of Levi’s, Wrangler and Sony records. Jason did press for Soul II Soul “Used to do clubs with them at the limelight before they were famous” as well as doing the P.R. for another graduate of the Acid Jazz club scene, Jay Kay of Jamiroquai. The Watchmen worked on Jamiroquai’s first two albums, Emergency on planet earth and Travelling without moving and you can see Jason Jules mentioned in the liner notes for both those albums. “We were doing the quote unquote hip stuff and another guy, Dave Wolf, was doing the mainstream stuff. But I’d known Jay way before that. When Jay got his first number one album for about three weeks, four weeks, he was unbearable. Like completely unbearable. I was looking at this person and I didn’t recognise at all and I’d never experienced that hugeness. The guys at Sony said ‘don’t worry, he may come back. Something might happen that’ll bring him back to earth’ But he could’ve gone in the opposite direction, he could’ve continued on this ego trip. But fortunately he came back.” Other artists Jules’s did P.R. for include Des’ree for her second album, King Britt, Vernon Reed, Brand New Heavies, Norman Jay, Gilles Peterson, and Pete Tong.

This focus on music led to later projects, like the Edge ’08 festival with Paul Bradshaw. We wondered how this came about: “It’s like you have an idea and you figure let’s do it. When I left Lynne’s, I was involved in the first ever Soho Jazz Festival. Me and Andy Maconnell did some stuff with Blue Note Records, just promoting a compilation album and doing a jazz club. Then linking that to “Blues & Soul” magazine. So we’ve always known about the Soho Jazz Festival and watched it grow into this huge thing. And the bigger it grew the more, the more it was seen as more mainstream and less challenging. So, sitting with Bradshaw, we discussed doing something more pushy, more progressive in terms of a festival. Doing it at the same time as the festival but as a fringe to the festival. So we did these things (which turned out to be Edge ’08). It was almost like a free jazz event. Free jazz is a real challenge; it’s active listening. You have to pay attention and the musicians, have to listen to musicians way more intelligently than structured music. We figured we’d do that. Just go to the extreme; it’s the fringe. We’ll do something that’s experimental. And it was amazing.”

And while doing one off projects like Edge (there may be a Edge 14 if things go to plan), he’s also consistently ran Garmsville since 2008 and recently started doing a video series on Madoog TV, which you would have seen on this very site. “I’m working with Nigel Christian, who’s this crazy filmmaker person and we had a conversation about making short films about people we find interesting. We just did Shaka and Sam from Art comes first, did Ally Capellino, which was quite fun. The point of difference is there’s a lot of short film about fashion [that] is really stylized: clean white walls and all that and that doesn’t really appeal to me, so our discussion was if we’re gonna do it we’re gonna do it a bit more messy, in their environments.”

And how does he approach these videos? “For me, this is a document of our time. In ten years time I can look back and think ‘that’s what we were doing then, we were hanging out with Sam and Shaka from Art Comes First and lets’ see what they’re doing now’. So when I do that stuff with Dickies (he did a project called “Love your Work with Dickies,” looking at several creatives and the work they did). It was just a bunch of people, some of them are in the states, some are in Europe. We can look back on this thing and say ‘this is where we were, this is a moment in time’. But it’s a hint at the cultural landscape as well.”

We wondered, if you’d allow us to add some floral to the beige here, if the cultural landscape, more than anything else, was what captured his imagination. “Yeah, figure out where we are and what’s interesting about where we are.”

And how would Jules describe his career so far? “I haven’t got a career. Other people have careers, It’s not even a job. Hopefully I’m just doing what I’m interested in, being productive and doing, as they say, good work. That’s the goal. I never had a career because you need proper jobs for that don’t you?”

Jason Dike is a london based writer who’s contributed to the likes of Esquire UK and Men’s Health amongst other publications. He has a highly entertaining (his own words), but sporadically updated (our words) website at jasondike.co.uk and you can follow him on twitter at @jasondike.

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