As the ICC Cricket World Cup comes to a thrilling end and our competition to win the Bespoke Bat that we collaborated on with the top bat makers Millichamp & Hall closes (winner to be announced soon!), our Design & Brand Director Toby Lamb looks at our collaborations and how we go about them. Taken from the in-store and online now Richard James book.
Cars, a football, a bike, more cars and a yellow sponge whose home is a pineapple on the floor of the Pacific Ocean... We put something of ourselves into our collaborations. I have always been fascinated with car design, Sean is an Arsenal season ticket holder, we are both keen cyclists, and we all – Richard, famously - like a dash of colour. And what more dashing a colour than SpongeBob SquarePants yellow?
The opportunity to work with SpongeBob (yes, we worked with him; that, as stipulated by his people, was the official line…) came about in 2011 when we were approached by Nickelodeon to design and produce a SpongeBob Square Pants capsule collection.
We are often sounded out about collaborations, but we are careful about them. We look for more than simple cross-marketing. And we look beyond the obvious. The idea that we make some suits with linings that match the colour of a certain pink champagne didn’t appeal. But when SpongeBob came a calling our interest was immediately piqued. There was scope. There was wit. And there was yellow. After all, you don’t see many yellow suits on Savile Row… And what about producing a variant of our own Disruptive Pattern Material camouflage print using SpongeBob characters to make shirts, ties and pocket squares (below)?
Getting together with SpongeBob SquarePants presented a perfect opportunity to showcase our in-house print design and underline the element of humour in our work and our commitment to colour. And we could do all of that while reaching a new, predominantly younger market. It was a coming together of mass-market appeal and niche, design-led menswear. And for Nickelodeon, as I remember their marketing man enthusing at the time, it propelled SpongeBob into high-end fashion and cemented his style credentials. Yes, really.
As our getting together with SpongeBob demonstrated, a good collaboration is like going on a parallel journey where two paths ultimately converge to convey and complement the core identity of each brand. It will give you the valuable insight of looking at what you do through someone else’s eyes and it will introduce your core brand message, by way of an open back door, to a new, receptive and ready audience.
Innovation is something else that is central to what we do and our collaborations with Condor Cycles and BMW were designed to spotlight that. I’m an avid cyclist and I’d previously had a very light carbon fibre road bike built by Condor, which had demonstrated to me – inside leg measurements and all - how very similar building a bike is to making a bespoke suit. So when it came to doing something to celebrate the first anniversary of our Bespoke store in 2008 it only seemed natural to design and create a bike with Condor. What we wanted was the ultimate urban ride: a fixed-wheel single-speed bike made to the customer’s exact specifications and constructed entirely of carbon fibre, right down to the bottle holder. The bike took three months to develop and make (only a tad longer than it takes to make a bespoke suit) and mirrored both the work, attention to detail and innovation – we are known for using clinically cut featherweight cloth to produce very easy-wearing lightly structured pieces - that we apply to our bespoke tailoring. Naturally, we called it The Bespoke Bike (image below).
With BMW we again saw symmetry with our tailoring. When the E9 CLS (image below - perhaps one of my all time favourite cars) and the i8 were released in 1972 and 2014 respectively they were each immediately acclaimed as classics that truly embraced functionality and design. And they continue to be so. To us, this wasn’t unlike when we first opened store on Savile Row in 1992 and the style press immediately dubbed the cut of our suits – waisted and with deep side vents and a marginally higher armhole for a strikingly slim silhouette – the Modern Classic. The cut, which we now know as the Hyde, has very much stood the test of time and is as popular now as it was when it first appeared. We decked out the E9 in our Faze print design and displayed it outside our SS14 runway show at the BMW garage on Park Lane in London. And two years later, when we showed our SS16 collection, which was inspired by Edward James, the great British surrealist and friend and patron of Dahli and Magritte, we emblazoned an i8 with that collection’s jungle flower camouflage print.
So, what next? We’re thinking about gin. It’s English and it’s classic. And there are some new people around doing some interesting, innovative and somewhat disruptive things with it. They respect its history and the craft that goes into distilling it, but they’re introducing an element of design and making it relevant to now and highly desirable. We think we’ve got something in common. Cheers.
By Toby Lamb, Design and Brand Director, Richard James