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Cav Empt AW16
Cav Empt AW16Photography Bafic

Cav Empt discuss streetwear, grime and anonymity

The cult streetwear brand presents a preview of its AW16 collection in an exclusive shoot

This feature is part of a series on menswear and men’s style that we are running to coincide with the men’s shows in London, Florence, Milan and Paris. Stay up to date with our latest posts here.

For a brand with stockists including some of the world’s best streetwear meccas and 50,000 people following its every move on Instagram, the three men behind cult label Cav Empt remain remarkably mysterious.

Tokyo-born Sk8thing is a graphic designer and co-creator of the brand identities for Goodenough, A Bathing Ape and Billionaire Boys Club (BBC), who has designed with or for Undercover, Supreme, Neighborhood and many others besides. He’s famously enigmatic – so much so that, in a 2014 SHOWstudio interview, he covered his face and disguised his voice. Hishi, who also hails from Tokyo, worked on BBC and Sarcastic, before temporarily leaving fashion to work in a bookshop. As for Toby Feltwell, he’s English, though he speaks fluent Japanese. He worked at UK-based label Mo’Wax records (where he signed a then-17 Dizzee Rascal) and with Japanese designer NIGO, before deciding to train as a lawyer and moving to Tokyo in 2005.

The three of them joined forces in 2011, starting C.E. where they design clothes “in the only way that makes sense to us.” It’s difficult to describe their brand – “I hope that’s never possible,” Feltwell says, when asked to do so. By and large, though, their clothes are characterised by a skate-led sensibility and artistic, sci-fi-inspired graphics. Here, C.E. presents a preview of its AW16 collection (due to hit stores in July), captured in an exclusive shoot and accompanying video by photographer and director Bafic, who modelled in the brand’s SS16 lookbook. The English-speaking Feltwell opens up on behalf of the brand, discussing the range, the 1940s sci-fi novel that helped inspire it and what they think of the word ‘streetwear’.

How did the three of you come together?

Toby Feltwell: I met Sk8thing sometime in the late 90s, neither of us remember exactly when. I first started hanging out with the A Bathing Ape crew around 1997. Sk8thing, Hishi and I all came together to work on Billionaire Boys Club (BBC) for Pharrell and NIGO. I hadn't known Hishi before that – he went to college with some friends of mine. BBC eventually became a US-run operation and we decided to carry on working together doing something else. The challenge was to work out what we wanted to do without following someone else’s direction: we’d all spent most of our careers in the shadows – which is where we are most comfortable!

What do each of you bring to the table?

Toby Feltwell: Sk8thing does graphics, Hishi does production, and I do ideas and direction. Other than that we bring three mostly compatible but varied sensibilities and a range of interests and experiences that overlap just enough to keep things coherent but not enough to become a fixed consensus.

“We’d all spent most of our careers in the shadows – which is where we are most comfortable” – Toby Feltwell

What’s the story behind the name?

Toby Feltwell: The character Pat Conley in Philip K Dick’s “Ubik” has psychic powers that allow her to change the past, and she has “caveat emptor” (buyer beware) tattooed on her shoulder. The first thing we did was a Ubik homage T and Sk8thing put “CAV EMPT” on the shoulders. In 2011 we were still at the start of mass participation in social networking... It was interesting to read PKD at that time – old science fiction seemed to provide a better analogy to help in understanding how society was changing than any other.

Can you tell me about this collection? What was going through your minds when you were designing it?

Toby Feltwell: Like everyone else in fashion we’re always just trying to make clothes for now. But we tend to work by trying to understand now and then then hopefully arriving at clothes by accident. So, this time we couldn’t help but be influenced by the feeling that the political and economic framework for organising society is open for discussion again, when until recently it was a closed book for the majority of society. With that in mind we look for clues in all of our usual areas of interest: films, magazines, book, records…

Any in particular?

Toby Feltwell: A book called The Invention of Morel has influenced us for a couple of seasons. It’s a little novel that was first published in 1940 and is about a guy who gets in a little boat and goes to a desert island. He’s been living there for a couple of months and all of a sudden people just appear in the night – they’re all wearing fancy dinner clothes. But it turns out that they're not actually there, they’re actually a recording of a party that happened ten years earlier on the island and the guy who threw the party in the circus discovered a way of recording their physical identities, just playing on a loop. It’s a shock because it's written in the 1940s but there’s loads of new parallels in the way that we live now; that makes quite an interesting juxtaposition. So that was one reference...

And what did you mean when you said you’re “trying to make clothes for now”?

Toby Feltwell: At its most basic, it’s trying to work out a context for these clothes. In some cases, designers aren’t really bothered about what happens beyond the workstation. The show is the end product. But we’re interested in how they fit into the world, the context, how they change, the way the city looks when they start appearing on the street.

What do you think of the term ‘streetwear’? Would you use it to describe C.E.?

Toby Feltwell: In some contexts, streetwear is just a negative description meaning not proper or real fashion. If we cared about being accepted by the fashion establishment and nominated for awards and so on, we should either be terribly offended at our brand being called streetwear and try to deny it by demonstrating our proper fashion credentials. Or, we should make a defense of what we do as streetwear in some way (“youth!”, “vitality!”, “authenticity!” etc etc) that would appeal to the fashion judges. A combination of the two approaches is also possible, it seems. 

“We’re interested in how they fit into the world, the context, how they change, the way the city looks when they start appearing on the street” – Toby Feltwell

We don’t care, though... It would be extremely masochistic to force our way into some snobbish club that would never want us to be members and which we wouldn’t care to be members of anyway, other than to prove that we’re “just as good as them”. So if streetwear means, in a positive way, clothing from or for the street: that sounds ideal. We’re not interested in making clothes as an exercise in what can be done with clothing or for purely aesthetic or avant-garde reasons. We all like designers who do that well, but it isn’t what we want to do...

What do you make of the resurgence of grime music, and how does it relate to C.E.?

Toby Feltwell: I met Dizzee and Wiley when Dizzee was, like, 17, when it was all starting. We’ve always been interested in being involved in that world. I feel like now, yeah, it’s fun for us now because the music that’s being made now is somewhat a revival of what was being made in 2004, 2003, 2004, at the beginning of grime. We don’t have much direct contact with the scene but it’s nice to see your stuff being worn in videos.

While you’re stuff is worn by known people, you three – particularly Sk8thing – are famously enigmatic. Why is that?

Toby Feltwell: Sk8thing says it’s because he’s shy. It‘s (the concept of celebrity designers) also a bit, like, dull, isn’t it? Sometimes, it can be like a block, like a barrier, to wearing it yourself. It’s like so much of an extension of somebody’s personality that there's no room for the person that is supposed to be wearing it.

Photography/film Bafic; model Marcus Jefferson; assistants Raphaelle Moore, Adnan Pessa Shot at Protein Studio