Premiering Thames London’s Summer 2017 lookbook, McCoy discusses his inspirations and why he’s donating all profits from a Katharine Hamnett ‘CHOOSE LIFE’ inspired t-shirt
Although inherently a Soho boy, for Thames London’s Summer 2017 collection, Blondey McCoy puts one foot outside of his square mile to pay homage to the recently deceased George Michael, who was born slightly more north west in East Finchley. His homage comes both from within Thames’ design DNA but also by channelling the philanthropic spirit of the late, great singer. Specifically, McCoy, an artist, skateboarder and designer, has recreated Thames’ version of the iconic Katharine Hamnett t-shirt that Michael sported in the music video for "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”, which bore the words “CHOOSE LIFE”. Changing the design to read “CHOOSE THAMES”, McCoy will donate all profits from the t-shirt to a charity and a cause important to him, KAYANY – which helps Syrians at the heart of conflict.
The rest of the collection continues McCoy’s everlasting love-letter to London, with the Statue of Eros popping up as an embroidered incarnation on shorts and artwork from his 2015 art exhibition, HOME IS THE HERO, reemerging in hoodie form. With the first release dropping this Friday 24 March at 11am on the Thames website and instore at Palace, we premiere the brand’s Summer 2017 lookbook and catch up with McCoy to talk George Michael, activism and why Piccadilly Circus might be the centre of the universe.
Your collections always tie in with London and your surroundings, what were you thinking about this time?
Blondey McCoy: I can’t help but be inspired by what’s around me. One of my favourite graphics in the line was inspired by the Raymond Revue Bar sign on the corner of Walkers Court and Brewer Street. Whenever I go on long trips I come back and see that and feel okay again. That’s my “Green Green grass of Home” (the Elvis version, not Tom Jones). I don't need to be away from home to appreciate it.
I’ve referenced Thames Television, an old franchise holder for a region of ITV, its end credits seem to haunt anyone that can remember it… Also pages of ‘smut’ from 70s Men Only Mags, that Paul Raymond published. They’re from a time when British porn shoots had to be big doolally productions to disguise their obvious purpose in more prudish times. But yes, as I've said before, it's almost all an homage to the square mile I spend my day wandering around in.
The embroidery returns for this collection, it looks as if it’s a cherub or a statue...
Blondey McCoy: It is indeed. There’s a brilliant old Pathé film about London in the 80s, where they refer to Piccadilly Circus as the centre of the universe. What’s crazy is I believe it sometimes. The Eros statue on top of the fountain at Piccadilly is the centre of the Circus itself, so in some mildly egotistical manner I picked that to be a reoccurring “Thames” symbol for both the current and the last collection. How can you not worship at the temple of Eros, he’s literally a legend.
Tell us about the “Choose Thames” t-shirt and why you’re donating all profits to KAYANY?
Blondey McCoy: George Michael and Wham! was and still is a constant source of inspiration for me. The t-shirt was originally set to be released with the Autumn line, but after he passed at Christmas it seemed obvious to bring it forward, so the ts were screen printed last minute while I was in Los Angeles. The “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’” video, which he wears the Katharine Hamnett “CHOOSE LIFE” tee in is so brilliant. It’s after he gained a lot of confidence as a performer, but before he realised that fame and fortune weren’t the key to happiness and became a bit of a recluse and not really featuring in his solo videos like “Freedom ‘90’” and “Too Funky”. The way he is in “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” is so genuine – he had totally realised his talent as a singer by that point. He always looked back on it and said that the director never asked him to roll his eyes, or suggested any of his mannerisms or aesthetic, so he found it baffling that, despite him not holding back on being himself, people didn’t realise he was gay, even then.
I get down when I think about how he is the most recent of my heroes to have died at such an early age, and after all the charities and individuals whom he anonymously donated to came forward, I woke up the other morning thinking it’s only right to donate the profits of this homage to a current and urgent cause. I don’t want to be making my living off his death, Thames is my passion project, not my money machine. I keep my money machine elsewhere.
This isn’t the first time you’ve used your art, clothes or position as a skateboarder for activism – what’s important to you right now?
Blondey McCoy: I did two charity sales and an art show last year for the charity Together for Mental Wellbeing which raised about 20k all-in-all. Unfortunately, there's just so much to do and I've already wasted so much time... I really think you have to be shaking the tree from the word go.
I see it as the duty of any influential person, be they an artist or musician or designer – whatever. You’re there to change people's outlook on life, and in this case, I want to draw attention towards the very urgent matter of Syria. These children are eternally literally shaking from seeing their hometowns and families getting bombed. It's an absolute tragedy, and it forces me to put my ten-times-a-year breakdowns into perspective. KAYANY have built schools in refugee camps, offering over three and a half thousand of these kids not just meals but psychosocial support, which they need now, not just whenever someone can get round to it. But there are so many of them. There’s too much to say here but please look at their site before you look at the Thames website.
“It perpetually annoys me that you can interact with such a mass of people on the topic of a printed t-shirt but anything much deeper than that simply isn’t given the airtime until it’s validated by one of a handful of brands” – Blondey McCoy
Do you feel like more people in your position – whether in art, fashion or skateboarding – can do more for charities and be more of an activist through their work?
Blondey McCoy: I think with the rise of social media – wow have you ever heard someone start a sentence with that before? I know it's boring but I have to say it – we’re in the age of self-promotion, self-publishing, self-esteem and (I would know) generally a lack of self-awareness. Although I did just admit that last bit so it can’t be that true. Ha.
People like to see pretty things, and a kid in middle America or Timbuktu or wherever doesn't necessarily need to go through magazines to show those things off all of a sudden – someone can make themselves a star now without leaving the house or even talking to anyone. Because of that, you get young guys and girls who have a great deal of influence over their generation. It's all put into numbers for you. I can't help but look at those huge audiences and think, “God wouldn't it be a start if the ‘influencer’ in question had absolutely anything at all to say”. It perpetually annoys me that you can interact with such a mass of people on the topic of a printed t-shirt but anything much deeper than that simply isn’t given the airtime until it’s validated by one of a handful of brands.
You’ve incorporated a lot of the signatures of your artwork into the lookbook through collaging etc – even the “How to Pick Up More Girls” hoodie is riffs off a piece of art from your 2015 show, HOME IS THE HERO. Will we be seeing even more of a merge between Thames and your art?
Blondey McCoy: Making art and clothes are two things I’ve always felt the need to do since as long as I can remember, and I see them as very much the same thing. They are two co-dependent hobbies of mine, in that I design clothes with existing artwork, and I make new artwork with clothing in mind. Thames will always be my art merchandise in a way. Does that make sense? Buy the t-shirt.
You once told us, “I want to do cheesy London landmarks, black cabs and all that kind of stuff because it’s fun and young and it’s not to be taken too seriously”. However, several sell-out collections and worldwide distribution for Thames, it seems unavoidable to not take it more seriously each time. What’s next?
Blondey McCoy: Well, I think while fashion may not affect someone’s view on life to the same extent that music, film or art might, it is an essential vehicle for self-expression. Just like skateboarding, it's not what you do it's how you do it. I draw a parallel to the act of wearing clothes. Someone can take very conservative clothes and still look like a force to be reckoned with – it’s all about how you wear it. I just want to see my designs appreciated by those who genuinely get it, and see them worn in countless combinations.
Self-expression is all that Thames is. It is for and about good people and the way that they present themselves and people who align themselves with and immerse themselves in a culture with which they have a genuine affinity. It’s about self discovery through losing the fear of being uncool, and ridding yourself of your second nature to suppress the attributes that make you the person that you are for the validation of strangers, but most importantly flourishing in a way that is completely unique to you. It’s the only way, and you have to give in at some point.
Lastly, what George Michael tracks were playing on repeat when you were creating this collection?
Blondey McCoy: There is no such thing as a bad George track, but of course I have favourites. I just woke up, I’m listening to “Praying for Time” right now and I intend to go to bed tonight to “I Want Your Sex”.
Thames London’s Summer 2017 first release drops this Friday 24 March at 11am on the Thames website and instore at London’s Palace store