We’ll just go ahead and admit it: James Long is one of our biggest fashion designer crushes of the moment. When we interviewed him, we were blown away by his knowledge and dedication to British fashion design. Check out this interview, in which the man himself talks to Notion about the Topman collaboration he’s taken part in, the trademark shorts in his latest hit collection, and his devotion to London – amongst many other things…
PlanetNotion: It’s been a month since LCM and the showrooms tour. Are you happy with the reception you got?
James Long: Yeah, it’s been great!
PN: What about the shorts? They were the standout pieces in your collection…
JL: I love the shorts. We always leave them last, but think I did them first this season so we worked quite hard on them. Because I’m known for knitwear and leather, this summer I wanted to change it, mix it up and make it something new to look at, which is why I worked on the shorts quite a lot. We just decided to edit everything else out in the end, to make the statement stronger.
Obviously the collection includes trousers and plain shorts; for the catwalk, however, it was really just about making a strong silhouette and not making millions of boring looks that aren’t right for it.
PN: The shorts are really memorable; they were such striking pieces because of the way they were tailored. What was the idea behind them as a garment?
JL: It was quite literal at first. We began by listening to Alan Vega’s track Kung Foo Cowboy, and from there we looked at kung fu and samurai garments. We then looked at couture pleating and tailoring. I wanted the shorts to be really different, not so strange that you couldn’t wear them yet strange enough that they could become my signature garment. I wanted the shorts to have detail, so I opened last season’s shorts and lengthened them. We also made the belts go through the pleats so that the shorts weren’t conventionally tailored and so that, I suppose, they could be looked at in a different way.
PN: Did you find, given the time limitations between February and June, that there was enough time for you to work on your womenswear collection after LCM?
JL: Because we do womenswear and menswear now and because I do lots of consultancies, I’ve become quite quick at making decisions. Sometimes it’s better when you have less time, because you need to make quick decisions. I think that with this collection, I relied on my instincts and said ‘yes, this fabric works; no, that fabric doesn’t work’. It was definitely a collection based on my instincts.
PN: This is your tenth season…
JL: Terrifying, isn’t it?
PN: Do you have a favourite piece, one which sums you up?
JL: I’m not gonna lie, there’s a favourite piece in each collection, and there’s also a piece in each collection that you hate! Each piece and collection adds something new to what I’ve done and what I do. I feel that this collection is really well-formed; it’s interesting and it pushes boundaries. It’s also really commercial and it’s a great sum-up of what I do, which it had to be because it was made for the first on-schedule LCM show.
There are lots of designs that don’t go into catwalk shows, but that are bought in stores. In some of my first MAN collections, some harnesses were really amazing and they inspired the leather pieces that are now garments that we create and we sell.
PN: Because you know how to find the balance between design and saleability, you’re one of the leading lights in the fashion industry…
JL: I guess it took me a long time – well, maybe not that long, but I don’t know how long other people take – but it was such a big, exciting moment when I got into London’s Harvey Nichols, Browns and LNCC. I had to change my process and create things that were interesting and sellable, and that makes you grow as a designer. In order to be sold in those three prestigious London stores, you need to design things that you want to wear but that look different; when you’re coming straight out of college, on the other hand, the designs for your first few shows are based on pure ideas – I think that’s amazing. It’s just a different process.
PN: What was your process for the Topman collaboration?
JL: My approach is always the same, really! The Topman collab is a British one, which is key. I’m a British designer, I show in Britain and a lot of my collaborations are produced in the UK, so I think it is really important that the Topman collaboration was made in Britain, designed in Britain, and created with British-sourced yarn. There’s twisted arrans, polka-dots, graded stripes, tux-stitch, fluffy yarns… all the things you’d associate with the knitwear from my past collections. But there was also a new inspiration for each of the designs, so that each one corresponded to a British man’s style that I love: Keith Richards inspired the arran, the Sex Pistols inspired the polka-dots…
PN: You’ve had a lot of freedom with this collaboration, then…
JL: Yes – I’ve known Gordan and Topman for six years and they’ve supported every single thing I’ve ever done, so now my relationship with Topman is great. Gordon just told me to do what I want, to be happy with the collection, and then he edited it with me. Gordon’s amazing, really, considering what he’s done for fashion. He’s also always supported my collections; he’s always talked about them and he also went to Fashion Forward, NewGen and the MAN.
PN: Your designs show that you have a strong British craftsmanship. Would you consider showing anywhere else?
JL: I’ve done shows in Russia and Milan, though not in Paris or Amsterdam. I won’t be showing my main collection somewhere else for a while. LCM is so new; it needs to establish itself, just like I need to establish myself with regards to it before I go anywhere else. I’ve waited so long for LCM to happen, so it would seem silly to go anywhere else. Besides, I love London! My team is in London, my inspiration is in London, so why would I go to Paris or Milan? I’m not crazy about those cities, but I love London. We sell in Paris and I sometimes work in Milan, but now that we’re getting buyers here – which was the whole point of LCM – it would seem crazy to show my collection anywhere else.
PN: What is it about London that draws you to it?
JL: I’m drawn to the people who support London menswear – you know, people like Charlie Porter and Luke Day, they’re special people who’ve always supported menswear and who are so passionate about it. I don’t know if there’s anyone like them in Milan or Paris, but I highly doubt it. I’m drawn to London because of the people, the magazines and the stores that nurture designers like I do; there’s just a real involvement and a real push to make things happen, which wasn’t necessarily the case when I started MAN. Before it was all just about the big advertisers but now, ten seasons on, designers are getting stocked in London stores and magazines like GQ Style are following young designers. People are interested in designers and they want to see this new scene happen. I know it isn’t happening in New York, in Paris or in Milan, so I think that if you’re a new designer and you’re trying to start out, then London is the place to be. I’m not saying this won’t ever change, but that’s how it is now.
PN: Who would you like to work with, or work with again?
JL: At the moment I’m working on prints with an artist called Ethan Cooke, and there are millions of people I want to work with. Every season, there’s an artist or a musician who’s pinpointed. I wouldn’t mind working with musicians like Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, David Bowie and Gabriel Bruce, as well as artists like Josef Albers (some of the artists I want to work with are dead!) There has to be a connection or a mutual respect between me and the people I work with, though – I don’t want to work with them if they’re not into what I do and vice versa.
PN: What were the last three things on your iPod?
Alan Vega, because we used him for the show music; Paul Simon, because we went to see Graceland last weekend; and Patti Smith’s new album, Banga. I saw them at Hop Farm, and I’ll be seeing Duran Duran at Cooper & Woolf’s opening ceremony on Chatsworth Road on Friday.
Have a look at the gallery we put together, for an exclusive look into James Long’s world!
-Intro: Abbie Cohen @Abbiewrites