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Photography by Jonnie Craig

Studio Visit: James Long

Hell's Angels, Tour De France and why the term 'commercial' isn't a dirty word in his book

If James Long’s reference wall serves as any indication, then tomorrow when he unveils his SS14 collection, we will be in for a real show. From a young Leonardo DiCaprio to Hell’s Angles, the designer gives us a taste of what’s to come. 

Dazed Digital: So, it would be good to start at the beginning and talk about some of the early references you were looking at and how they evolved this season.

James Long: I started off in Florence, looking at some of the original Italian cycle jerseys, and it reminded me of one I had when Britpop came out. I guess the references are always all over the place, really. I was going for Hell’s Angels, for that tattoo thing. “I’m so fucking hard” – it has that sort of undertone. With that and the cycling and the Britpop, a little story began. There was a lot of text, a lot of anger. I really got into all the geometric stripes. I just became fascinated with the cyclists – there outfits are mad aren’t they?

DD: I think also with sportswear, which has a practical element to it, to some extent you can get away with it a lot more since it’s functional

James Long: Yeah, totally.

DD: I remember seeing the Tour De France once when I was a kid, and all these colours go past you and they’re crazy…

James Long: Yeah, they’re mad. I suppose it’s about context, really. I started really looking at everything around me, and thinking: if you remove something out of its context, does it become fashion? Then I looked at how the sportswear interacts with the body. Because it’s spring / summer and because not everywhere is like London, to be an international designer you really have to have lightweight fabrics. There is that real practical element to this collection.

I mean the term ‘commercial’ isn’t a dirty word in my book. It’s actually harder now because designers have to produce something both creative and commercial. For me it’s a progression and it's just a moment in fashion, just like there was the Margiela moment.

DD: Do you feel that you’re doing that to some extent, bringing sportswear, specifically cycling wear, and putting it in a different context?

James Long: I think the referencing is more detailed than with sportswear, because sportswear has that functionality, but what I’m creating is fashion. I think it’s just an interesting place to look and find inspiration. Also it’s something that I don’t indulge in, you know. It’s like that real man hobby thing, which I don’t really have. As well as the actual garments and the colours, the Tour De France is something I grew up with on the TV on Sundays. You were always like, really, are they really doing that? The endurance and toughness of it is very specific to cycling, which I always find fascinating when the body is so relevant.

DD: I’m curious to hear your thoughts on London’s menswear in general. This season, with Burberry returning to London, it might have quite a big impact. How do you feel about the situation?

James Long: It would be really terrible if all the young designers got pushed off the spectrum by bigger brands. But for so long we were doing the men’s show on women’s wear day – it was a bit of a fight to get your corner and get noticed. There was a bit of snobbery about menswear. Whereas now, I was just in New York and it was the complete focus. You had every big editor and industry person there. For it to change in that way can only be a positive. Everyone’s having their voice heard and the young people are really interesting. I mean the term ‘commercial’ isn’t a dirty word in my book. It’s actually harder now because designers have to produce something both creative and commercial. For me it’s a progression and it's just a moment in fashion, just like there was the Margiela moment. It also depends what your goal is. For some, your goal is to be here in ten years time and still have a brand, which mine is, but when I started that wasn’t my goal. You know you never think you'll get this far.

DD: But sometimes you think how busy you guys are and sometimes you forget about the showroom, especially as press you kind of forget about the show…

James Long: Yeah, there’s a lot of sitting around and hanging out when you’re in these cities, especially when you’ve first started. You’re there on your own, so you kind of have to hang out together, whether you like it or not.

DD: What is your direction for the casting this season?

James Long: For the casting, it’s not too athletic. It’s more about the body being toned, but not so much that it’s like a beef cake. But I also feel like it’s good to have a bit of a mix in the show, because people are mixes, aren’t they? So there will be one or two key guys that really focus on the message, but then I don’t mind a mix to it as well.

DD: What’s the experience you want to create during the last week?

James Long: I guess it’s all about me and my team putting the clothes together, you know. There are just loads of questions. Is it realistic? Is it believable? Is this our person? This week for me is about talking and evaluating. Is that a tight vision? Is that telling the right story? The thing about the last week for me is that it’s really exciting, because everyone really cares and you’re all in it. Everyone’s here, and no one really wants to go home. And I love doing all the hair and makeup tests, because it’s something that I don’t do and don’t know how to do. Seeing these other people translate the board and the clothes – and seeing how their vision builds up the whole picture – is really quite fascinating for me. I love it when the contours of the face are explained to me. It’s quite fascinating how you can change everything.

DD: Yeah, and it’s not even to do with make-up, it’s how you examine a face and the structure of the face which is really fascinating. Physiognomy, which is this theory that started in the Victorian era, held that it is possible to tell if someone was a good person or a bad person by the way they looked and how their face was structured.

James Long: Oh god, imagine if you were reading up on it and had like a really evil face. Like, shit, I’m in the evil pile!

James Long will debut his SS14 collection at LC:M on Tuesday 18th June