A few months back a number of names*, the sales and distribution agency behind BBC, Gourmet, FPAR, CE and a host of other brands presence in Europe, announced it would be opening it’s own flagship store in London, inheriting the Upper James Street location that previously housed the BAPE store.
a number of names* is a multi-faceted beast, hawking high-end Japanese garments to European customers, hosting some of London’s best ‘you wish you’d been there’ parties (Billionaire Boys Club party in disgraced city-boy conman ‘Fast’ Eddie Davenport’s mansion townhouse anyone?) and more recently their own brand clothing line. The whole operation is founded and spear-headed by Craig Ford, a mainstay of the UK menswear industry since he came up under the wing of Duffer in the 90s. Today he’s a respected, if not feared, figure in the scene and can always be counted on for a wayward story of egos and malice in our fickle industry.
BREAKS caught up with Craig in the wake of the store opening to find out a little about his past, Soho’s resurgence and what collaborations he has lined up for the brand.
Before the agency really took off, you were a shopkeeper with BAPE, did you ever run a store prior to that?
I never ran a store before, but my first job in clothing was in the store Ichi ni San in Glasgow, I then worked at the duffer store and did buying for it. Then, whilst at BAPE, I worked alongside Michael on the Stussy store, Hideout and Footpatrol.
Has a multi-brand store always been the plan with anon*?
There’s never been a plan with anon* or any part of my career. I’m much more pragmatic. The idea of a multi brand store with predominantly my brands had been at the back of my mind for a while. A few years ago, I was working on a multi brand streetwear concept with Dan Doyle called Cornerstone. We secured the brands – only a couple of mine, the rest mainly US streetwear – but the unit fell through at the last minute, so we scrapped it. Things just fell into place at the right time to do this store with my brands and a few others, plus the own product.
Regardless of the agency’s success, do you think there is a part of you that wants to stay a shopkeeper?
I’ve always enjoyed a multi-disciplined approach to working. At university I DJed and worked in a shop while I studied. When I got my first job at Duffer I was DJing, styling, wholesaling sneakers and selling a brand – Product 250 – on the side. Nowadays I work on a number of names* and all the facets that entails, plus the shops and e commerce, plus Jacket Required. So I could never be content being a shopkeeper with no other gigs. Nothing against shopkeepers I wouldn’t be here without them.
How important to a store like anon* or BBC is cultivating a community around it?
Paramount. It’s easy for people to do parties and events now. Hopefully ours have an authenticity to them. Additionally, with our store the community is extended through the brands we work with. Each we have an existing personal relationship with. We’re not just approaching random brands cause we think they are cool or will sell. It’s our international community of friends and family. From Jey Perie and Kinfolk to Jimmy Sweatpants to Kenneth Mackenzie and 6876. They are all personal friends and colleagues. Hopefully we can communicate that point of difference and people can recognise and respond to it. It’s important.
Do you think there is a gap for the kind of community that existed around Bond back in the day?
Yes, of course, but it has to be a new kind of thing for a new community, not a nostalgic revival.
Soho is abuzz at the moment – resurgence almost – were you buoyed by the openings of Oi Polloi and Palace around the time you opened?
I planned to open before I knew both those stores were planning too. But it came as welcome news. Before Supreme opened and after Hideout shut, Soho was dead, BAPE and Maharishi were the only stores around. Hardy and I bemoaned the demise at great lengths.
Are you going to do events in and around the store? As previous anon* events have been in one-off locations, bar the store launch
We did a very low-key shop launch just for close friends and family, we may do something in the future on a bigger scale. A major function of the store is to showcase our brands and others in an interesting way. That will be through in-store displays, merchandising and visuals, and – only when it fits – events. But we won’t be doing parties for the sake of parties. There’s more than enough of those right now.
It’s cool you’re opening up your brand outside of the gifting only, family only approach from before. What are the goals you want to achieve with this?
I look on it as not so much a brand more of an ‘own label’. Like at a supermarket. I’m not going to be selling it elsewhere, and that where I got the original branding and font idea from. There’s been some great own label branding over the years, from Ralph’s to Sainsburys, Tesco and even Wal Mart’s Great Value.
Likewise, is this going be an outlet for designs, products and ideas that you couldn’t with other brands in your stable?
We’re only planning to make items we wear or would like to wear. Unlike when we design for the other brands we have complete control and freedom as it’s our brand.
You’re going to be selling product from Jimmy Sweatpants, which is the sweatpant brand from ex-Ice Cream pro skater & now Gourmet Marketing Director Jimmy Gorecki – is there some merit in doing one thing and doing it well? Rather than brands that try do everything?
The problem with a lot of brands now is that they are too trend driven. Just jumping on the latest trend. Rather than staying true to your brand and accepting you’re gonna come in and out of fashion and trends. So yes there’s definitely merit in doing what you do well. I look at brands that extend into new areas and I just think why? You’re devaluing the brand. It’s pure greed.
You previewed upcoming collaborations from anon* in the latest Hypebeast Magazine (FPAR, Ebbets, TSPTR) – are you able to let on any more?
You mentioned Jimmy Sweatpants before – I hadn’t worn sweatpants since I was 11 or 12, but last summer I was hanging about with the guys from LA, like Greg Lucci (of Gourmet Footwear, another brand anon* represents) and Jimmy (Sweatpants) and thought the way that they wore it looked really smart. They were wearing them with some really expensive designer shoes and an expensive Comme des Garcons down shirt and it just looked amazing.
Everyone my age in my industry wears chinos or jeans turned up short with a pair of fucking brogues. So for me, it was almost punk-rock to wear a pair of sweatpants and I started wearing them religiously with an oxford shirt.
I’m also working on something with Kenneth Mackenzie from 6876, and a few other individuals I’ve know and/or worked with since I came to London.
Your views on anarchist punk are interesting, I have an artist friend who used to put lots of slogans in his work like ‘punk turned dandy’, i.e. all the punks are now running companies and taking senior jobs in their middle age. Do you think there is a link between punk attitudes and the blind aspirations to want to succeed and progress in your career?
Mmm I’m not sure about that. I think the DIY ethos of punk can spurn people to try things they may not be formally trained in, and stick two fingers up to people (parents/teachers/politicians) who don’t have faith in them.
The Internet and Information Age has made this easier than ever. If I have any blind aspirations to succeed it probably comes from a West of Scotland Protestant Work ethic.
It’s like everyone I grew up with in skateboarding. Skating leads people to creative outlets like photography and videography, design etc, and now these guys are big deals in their fields, but they found those routes through an ‘outsider’ sport. There must be people in fashion that are the same?
It’s not something I consider. I was always into clothes and music, but my first job was an electrician. I then went back to study clothing design and manufacturing whilst working part time in a shop. I learned a lot about manufacturing but not much new about the kind of design I was into. I went for an interview for fashion college in Glasgow they asked me my favourite designers I said Duffer and Ralph Lauren, so they thought I was weird so I never got in. They worshipped Westwood and Galliano. Thinking about it there’s many non-formally trained people in menswear. And especially in retail in the UK, guys from bands, club promoters, ex drug dealers. Outsiders.
a number of names* Store
4 Upper James Street London W1F 9DG
Portrait: James Clothier
Words: Tom Kirkby
Additional Words: Calum Gordon
Additional Store Photos: a number of names*