Changes in Soho, the Raymond Granddaughters and the Tom Beard lookbook all get put to rights.
LET MY PEEP HOLE GO
Charlie from A.IN.T London (Art In Transit) recently teamed up with the infamous Tom Beard to shoot a lookbook for his returning collection and we jumped at the opportunity to pick his brains on all things Soho, what he’s been up to and how he creates his pieces. Safe to say he went in with some of his answers, notably about Paul Raymond’s granddaughters, and this might be one of the most honest and insightful interviews we’ve ever done. It’s juicy, so enough with the intro, the good bits are all below. Thanks, Charlie.
What’s your take on how this area of London has changed in recent times?
I guess my take on how Soho’s changed…
I feel Soho is a neutral ground of London. I feel that it’s the one place that doesn’t belong to anybody and belongs to everybody, and it’s always been a place that people have conglomerated to, and met up with, and I guess it’s been a place that people who can go to and unify with other like-minded people. And it’s always had that. It’s been a– it’s been quite a relevant place for what I guess we call street wear and fashion in my youth and in my young adulthood. And it’s always been a place that’s, you know, been for everybody. And recently a lot of these places that people have congregated to and hung out in it’s just got a little bit harder. The rents have shot through the roof. There’s less diversity there because if you’re not running a super commercial business that makes lots of money you can’t really afford the rent. So a lot of the diversity has seemed to have slipped away quite drastically, I’d say, in the last ten years. And it’s the diversity of these businesses which I guess has attracted people to it so my take on how this area changed in recent times is disappointing. I’m slightly disappointed in where it’s heading in. It still has a soul and essence of what it always has had. I don’t feel like it’s a different district or a different neighbourhood or there are different people there that weren’t there before, that were maybe abstracting the life and soul out of the place. It’s just a little bit harder for these people to be there in such abundance with as much diversity.
This is the first collection from A.IN.T in quite some time. Why the hiatus?
Well, how long have you got? There are many reasons why there hasn’t been anything put out for a while. I guess the main reason being that I haven’t really wanted to necessarily explore my creative angles through the medium of clothing. I wanted to develop myself in other areas, and I feel that sometimes loving and churning through something and keeping on going with something for the sake of doing it, if it’s not going to be the best that you can produce or it’s not going to be something that you necessarily have any particular interest or desire or passion for, then you’re not really doing anyone any favours. You’re not doing the people who like your stuff any favours, and you’re not doing yourself any favours by producing stuff that your heart’s not in. I really needed some time out to explore some other areas of things. I opened a screen printing business studio, and I developed my craft and my skill set in printing for quite some time. I also had a pop-up store, which then I extended for another year until the landlord wouldn’t renew our rent, which sold artwork and clothing. In that period of time, I kept getting lots of requests coming in for it. So it kind of started to make me think about it a bit more. I guess when you start seeing coming in, as nice as it was, but I didn’t have the pressure of having to make it or come up with concepts for the stock that were in the store. It did start to inspire me again, because there was stuff that I was looking at that I thought was a bit middle-of-the-row, not very… there was a lot of stuff that I thought was quite obvious, and there wasn’t anything that excited me too much, and that was the stepping stones and main drive for why I started the brand in the first place. So it reignited that, and I decided to pursue it again.
I did drop a couple of bits here. There was a couple of hats and a couple of T-shirts, and I’d throw a hoody in every now and again. But it was very chilled and a very relaxed way of getting into it, but it all seemed to sell out pretty quickly. So I reconsidered going back in again, and I wanted to do things slightly differently the next time around, and I had already done a lot more research in the time that I wasn’t producing anything. So I kind of came off some new angles. You get older, you get wiser, and you get more experienced. Hopefully, I’ll be able to bring where I’ve grown in the time I’ve been away back into the brand.
So, to bullet-point: a screen printing studio, myself as a screen printer, and as a designer, I’ve learned some new skills such as web design and web building. I’ve also become quite a dab hand at photography, and retouching, and I’ve also opened a store, as mentioned in the earlier question, and dabbled in the other side of the post. So I became a retailer of a wholesaler. It’s always good to see all the different angles that are out there, and I’ve been able to experience them.
Why did you choose to shoot a lookbook in analogue format and then do so much editing for the website?
Good question. I really wanted to do a photo-shoot with Thomas. I really love his work and we’ve known each other for years, and a lot of the photographers that I’ve… well, photographers that I’ve used in previous shoots have always usually worked in film so, someone shooting on film, that shooting a lookbook or a campaign isn’t that unheard of for me. A lot of my friends that are photographers shoot on film. That’s the media that they like to shoot in and they get the best results and the look that they want to achieve through that, and I like their work so I’m up for that. I’m up for getting them and getting their look because I appreciate their look and I admire it. If that’s done through film, then it’s through film. If that’s done through black and white Victorian slides then I’ve gone and done it in a black and white Victorian slide. The reason… I didn’t actually retouch any of the photographs. I just cut them up and animated them for a parallax scrolling expose on those photographs to tell a story. The looks themselves of the photographs are on the product pages of the website, which are completely untouched. The only format people seem to be able to receive anything in these days, unless you print in a printed publication, is online through our media phones and through the internet, so if it’s not scanned and it’s not in some way on a digital format, then I didn’t really see how anyone was going to be able to see them. In terms of the digital work it was more of an animation as opposed to a touched up, retouched, digital photograph. I have toyed with the idea of maybe printing them all up very large and putting them in a gallery that my friend runs, a friend of both of ours actually, Tom and myself, but I think that might be something that’s done in the pipeline slightly later.
How did your relationship with Tom Beard come about? Were you aware of, or a fan of his work before he shot the lookbook?
I’ve known Tom for about seven or eight years. He went out with a mutual friend of mine. That’s how I met him, through a friend of mine. They went out for a couple of years. He’s just always been a really lovely guy. We were at a party one day and he said that he liked some of the stuff that he’d seen some of our friends wear and that he was a photographer, and if I ever wanted to do a shoot to let him know. Which I thought was a really sweet, lovely, generous offer. I checked his work out, and it was fucking amazing. I was waiting for something that I thought would compliment his style the best. I absolutely could not have been happier with those photographs. Honestly, I think they’re amazing. That night shoot, he turned up with this Olympus, which I think was kind of held together with gaffer tape. We had no idea what any of the photos were going to come out like. It was quite dark that night, and it was a bit overcast. The light was quite bad and some of those shops are… He absolutely nailed them. So that was quite a big, massive bonus. There’s also quite a funny story. I made this corduroy jacket which I sampled with a massive embroidery motif on the back with a huge elaborate crest, and it was done in jumbo cord, and I’d lined it in blue silk. And his girlfriend at the time, a mutual friend, she was living with this woman who was a stylist, and she asked to borrow some stuff for a shoot. So I put a package together and I brought it around to her, and the bag was left in her house for quite some time, and she kept calling me and being like, “Go and pick up your samples.” But I can be a really disorganized, dyslexic mess, and I just kept forgetting and putting it off, because I didn’t need the samples at the time. So I just thought they were there and I kept forgetting. Anyway, as people do, maybe a couple of samples in that bag went for a little bit of a holiday, and I was out one day and I saw him in the jacket, and he looked a little bit awkward. And I said, “Hey, it’s cool.” He’s like, “Man, it was just such a great jacket, I had to wear it.” I was like, “Totally, I don’t understand the problem at all.” And then I saw Miguel a couple of weeks later, and he looked pretty dejected. And I was like, “Hey, how you doing, Tom? What’s up?” And he was like,”Mate, there’s no really easy way to say this. I was at a party wearing your jacket and I leaned against the lamp, and I burned the whole left-hand side of the jacket. There’s just like a massive hole in it.” So I was like, “Shit, okay. Cool. Well, you know, these things happen.” You know, c’est la vie, so to speak. It’s not an official, but I might have maybe laid on a bit of a guilt-trip when I came calling for a photo shoot, we could say.
Would you say A.IN.T has strong roots in Soho? What’s your earliest memory of this area?
I wouldn’t say that A.IN.T has strong roots in Soho, no. I would say that Soho was a place that I went to in the sort of very early stages of conceptualized, and I liked to go to Hideout, and I liked to go to the Bathing Ape store, and I liked to go to the Maharishi store, I genuinely used to like pretty much going to Soho at the time. This guy up at A-side was working at night, so I’d go and chip in with him, and he’d lay you on a pair of trainers, and when there weren’t a million Itsu’s on every single corner, you’d go to Itsu’s and grab a box of Sushi. It just had a buzz to it and it was nice. I felt like it was an area that people would go to to get these clothes from these brands from different countries. Sit there hanging tough, looking cool, flexing off their new shit, and it was exciting. At the time, I felt good on those streets. I felt good walking around those roads. If you look at the culture that proceeds around some brands like Stussy, Supreme, Bathing Ape, and Maharishi, they were born out of places like all the culture and the fans, and the people that were into those brands. So it’s like I said, it’s like a territory that was really nice. It was like no-man’s land and everyone’s land. And I’ve always thought it was a pretty happening, bubbling little cultural hub-bub full of exciting stuff, Sex shops, coffee shops, amazing Korean restaurants, amazing Tai restaurants. You’ve got China town around the corner, you’ve got boutique shops, you’ve got amazing comic stores, you’ve got brothels, you’ve got drug dealers, you’ve got night clubs, you’ve got bars. And the streets kind of have a little bit of energy. They almost kind of make a noise within themselves. There’s like a heat from the floor that comes up. You can feel it from all the people, and the traffic, and the pipes in the sewer, all of it. And it’s nice to be around that. It’s exciting. You kind of feel like there’s endless possibilities in Soho. There’s nothing that couldn’t go down. There’s nothing that wouldn’t work. There’s nothing that you couldn’t get your hands on. And it’s slap-bang in the middle of London, and everyone can get there. It’s very well located public transport-wise, it’s easy to get to, and there’s definitely a very strong part of London culture. I mean, there’s so much stuff that comes out of that place. You have Berwick Street for fabrics, so many production companies that are working out of there, photography studios, model agencies, I mean what isn’t there? It’s got absolutely everything. Strip clubs, you name it, it’s got it. Gangsters, it’s all in there, and it’s all like crammed into not even a mile radius.
What do you think of Paul Raymond’s granddaughters?
I think that they have been vetted through a particular type of educational system and they have gone on to, in some way or shape or form, one of them I think has done some form of business degree, maybe sits on the NES, maybe not, and that French capitalists are not making the most of their assets. I don’t really think they think very highly of the dynamic culture of businesses and subcultures and scenes that are attached. It’s a bit like a kind of organic organism, isn’t it? And you got this balance in there of all these different things that all rely on each other, just like our natural ecosystems. And they’re going to frack it because there’s gas under there and that gas is going to make them a lot of money. And, okay, a few fish have to die. So what? They don’t really think about it. It can have a negative effect and kill everything. And they’re going to make a tonne of money, and they’ve got a tonne of money, and they’re going to double it or triple it or whatever. And I also feel like it’s a way of them trying to cleanse their past, trying to cleanse their reputation, it’s trying to cleanse how that money was made, what that money was made from. I think if you were at Millfield, and your grandfather was known as the King of Porn, and you’re sat there, and your best friend’s daddy is the managing director of the Bank of England. You might get teased by those girls. And maybe, you know, that’s had a negative effect on how they feel about their money. And maybe if they do this it’s going to set a different story, and they’ll feel like their money isn’t so dirty, and their money wasn’t achieved. And that they’re rubbing shoulders with the people they’ve gone to school with and their friends, and they will level the playing field out, and they’ll be respected, and their money will be respected. And it won’t be dirty porn stripper whore brass money. But, you know, it’s definitely going to cut the head off the beast, isn’t it, when the peep show themed things creep in, and all the sex workers, and the brothels, and the sex shops go and Fendi, and Chanel, and all open these pedestrianized paved shopping complexes with expensive hotels with nobles upstairs happens. But it’s their stuff, and I don’t think anyone’s going to stop them. And there’s nothing in play to protect areas and to keep them as what they are, like we have in other countries, like in France. So it is what it is.
What would you say are the most important cultural movements born out of Soho?
Well, there’s been so many cultural movements that have always conglomerated in Soho. The British pornography industry was pretty much born out of Soho. Part of every family that are going to pretty much kill it. When all the Italians came over to London, they all sat within Soho. You had teddy boys in Soho, we’ve all sorts of things going on in Soho. Soho is a very unique, dynamic place for that reason, but at some point, if there are subcultural or countercultural movements that happen, those guys are going to end up meeting up in Soho at some point. Remember, that’s the gassing in London or the pornographic scene in London, or I guess at the time, in the 50s, I’m sure English food around London was pretty diabolical. And you’ve always had Italian restaurants and Italian cafes, and Indian restaurants, and Chinese restaurants. It’s where people go to export and import their different cultural ideologies and their different cultural customs, and since day dot it’s been the spot. But I couldn’t put an importance level on any of those. They’re all important. Most of the stuff that’s come out of Soho’s all important.
Walk me through the process of creating the pieces.
The process behind this was basically to… the process behind this.
Like Moses said to some pharaoh, a long time ago, Rameses, “Let my people go.” And when I’d found out about what was happening in Soho when my girlfriend was doing a project on London at LCC last year, and she had to do a case study of Soho. So she had to do a hell of a lot of research. And she went out and she talked to a lot of people in the shops. And she found out from the horse’s mouth what was happening. And I felt sort of smothered by it. I felt it was quite suffocating. It was quite a suffocating impression for money. And I think I felt that because that was the feedback that she got from these people. I mean, she literally walked door-to-door talking to everybody. I mean, from prostitutes in brothels to guys in sex shops, to people out in coffee shops, she really went in and she’s one of the main contributors to this whole project. Immediately I kind of felt about oppressive forces in Anna. I guess it just kind of was an instant connection. And I thought, let my peephole go, was quite on the money because these people in Soho are being crippled, and are being slowly– they’re not getting their rents renewed, so when their lease comes up they have to move out. And there’re a few people that are staying as strong and as long as possible, because they have long leases, but it’s going. And I thought a little play on words from people to peephole was quite good and quite fitting in this particular case.
I kind of wanted to make a print story about what was happening in less so much as a brand, more of an awareness factor. More out of paying respect and homage to an area that is important for everybody in London, which is more than likely going to change quite drastically very soon. The whole Save the Soho campaign was a year old when she had taken to the project. It might have even been a bit older than that. So it wasn’t like I approached this with the power or ability to help it along. It was more about a hat nod, you know, a tip of the hat to an area that is very important to me in general. So knowing and being armed with the person who had made Soho and had significantly changed the face of Soho, Paul Raymond to then– ironically, his granddaughters being the people who were going to once again change its nature quite drastically, I kind of felt like almost using what it was built off as my medium for the graphics, for the print story on this. So the print is made up of 70s pinup and prostitute cards, brass cards, tart cards. We have actual text from the cards at the time as the hook line that was written on the cards. And there’s a guy I know called Angel – I’m not going to say his second name because he’s quite a known person – but he actually collects tart cards and has done since he was a child, so he had tart cards from the mid-70s all the way through till now. And I went around to his house and I looked at some. He wouldn’t let me take any photographs, but I snuck a couple in there anyway. And I just kind of had a look at them, and I thought that would be a good stepping point for this. One of the things that I really like about him is that not all of the girls in the photographs on the tart cards that he possessed were sexy or even particularly attractive. They were just kind of naked, and I liked that. I liked that a bit fat and a bit ugly, and it was interesting to really get an insight of where things lay in that era. And a lot of them were done very, very badly with cheap photocopying. A lot of them were actually drawings, not necessarily. I don’t know how sophisticated printing was in those days or how accessible being able to cheaply do things such as photography or photocopying, photographs. I don’t know how. I’m not that aware of it. But I went with the ones from pictures I thought worked really well. There were all done in single colour on different coloured cardboard, which I also thought looked quite good, and I wanted to stay away from the graphic end of these. I could have done the whole thing as illustrations, but I don’t think it would have conveyed the same feeling that you would see if they were actual photographs. And I to replicate that vintage halftone photocopy look that they had, which I did. I did the let my people go; I wrote it in a kind of mock Hebrew style font that I made and customised bits from other letters, and that was to, again, reissue the tagline and it’s kind of play on words.
Talk to us about the Save the Soho campaign and your involvement in it.
I felt like I had covered my Save the Soho campaign and my involvement in it in the previous question. But I think this wasn’t so much a campaign to save Soho. This was more of an homage itself to Soho. I haven’t written Save Soho anywhere on any of the garments. It was more of… I guess, the brand’s called A.IN.T London, so I’m in transit in London a lot, I take inspiration from things that are around me and things that are relevant to me and things that are relevant, I guess, to my city, and I felt like this is one of them. And it would make an interesting print story, and that’s what I’ve gone with.