Read a WhatsApp conversation between director Oliver Payne and Cav Empt co-founder Toby Feltwell
Cav Empt has always retained a sense of mystique about it. The Japanese streetwear brand formed in 2011, in the aftermath of the most powerful earthquake to ever hit Japan. “It was weirdly dark, (and) just a very strange time,” Cav Empt co-founder Toby Feltwell told Dazed in 2018. “The city normally has a ridiculous overuse of light all over the place. It clearly felt to us that this was like the end of something, it’s time to work out what happens next.” Over the course of the decade, Cav Empt has found and kept its place as a brand that draws from every facet of the zeitgeist, reflecting its creators’ connections to music and graphic design in the process.
When it came to its AW19 campaign film, the label enlisted a regular collaborator: British artist and filmmaker Oliver Payne, who previously took a philosophical look at the codes of Cav Empt when he directed 2018’s The Clothes Themselves.
This time, Payne looks to the world of gaming for inspiration. A voiceover introduces the film, explaining, in typical Cav Empt form, “the first thing to know is that none of the systems or the mechanics are explained so you have no real way of knowing what value something has, or what anything really does, or if someone or something is good or bad.” It follows a Cav Empt-clad lad walking across a deserted car park at sunset, almost as if he’s a character in a particularly realistic RPG. Throughout the film, different pieces from the collection appear onscreen, with different ratings for different attributes: “Desire, Covert, Presence, Connectivity”. It’s a part that seems to speak to the hype game that Cav Empt knows it’s in, but somehow manages to stay separate from.
Watch the film above, and read an unedited WhatsApp conversation between Payne and Feltwell below about record shopping, gaming, failing art degrees, and all the things that have influenced their work and friendship.
[04:12, 9/27/2019] Toby Feltwell: So, we’ve known each other for 25 years or more. Weird to think about it now. What were you doing immediately before Mo’Wax? College?
[04:43, 9/27/2019] oliver payne: Yes, I was failing my art degree at Kingston University. My time at Mo’Wax was really interesting. We were watching the entire record business collapsing around us. It was like having a front row seat to this weird shift in how culture is created, packaged, and sold. What did you do immediately after Mo’Wax?
[04:53, 9/27/2019] Toby Feltwell: I went to Tokyo. Nigo invited me to go and, more or less, hang out and go record shopping for six months. He was in a bit of a slump too – like something had ended or been completed. Together we indirectly looked for something new to do. That ended up being the shop in New York and starting to work with Pharrell. Going record shopping and waiting for that to turn into some new project has basically been my working method for 20 years. Somehow it’s worked. Whenever I’ve stopped buying records for a while it’s all gone wrong.It’s logical that it would work in the music biz... Surprisingly it works for fashion as well. When did you get into games? I don’t remember you being into games when we worked together, but perhaps I wasn’t paying attention.
[05:08, 9/27/2019] oliver payne: The record shopping method makes sense to me. Most of the meaningful connections I’ve made in my life have been of a result of just hanging around in shops in my 20’s. I’ve always been into games and was obsessed as a child. But yes you’re right, the beginning of my art career was perhaps the period of my life that I played games the least. I probably thought I should be doing something more worthwhile with my time. Of course I realize what absolute nonsense this is now And games are a crucial part of my artistic practice. Did you play video games much? I know that you are a fan of the brilliant game Cosmic Smash.
[05:22, 9/27/2019] Toby Feltwell: I liked arcade games. Always seemed a bit dangerous as a little kid being in a kind of adult space. Especially when there were a mix of arcade games and fruit machines. Cosmic Smash was one of those things that was so amazing and mysterious that I thought I’d invented the memory of it until I could eventually google it. We talked recently about wasting time after you introduced me to Dark Souls and I spent something like 18 hours watching videos of a complete play through. It felt like the most decadent time wasting and I was questioning myself about the usefulness of it for every second (whilst being totally addicted and compelled to watch more) and yet - voila!!
[05:27, 9/27/2019] oliver payne: I love that you watched entire Dark Souls play through. And this film we have made means that you have effectively, retroactively un-wasted that time! Most of the games I play feed back into my work in some manner so it’s quite a normal process for me. But what about the C.E process? You’re clearly not looking at the same stuff as most clothing brands.
[06:37, 9/27/2019] Toby Feltwell: It’s rare that we can work by thinking about clothes. It has to be almost anything else and we’re always searching. We’re searching for unusual connections between things we find out about and things we already know about. The 3 of us who make the brand are communicating with each other through our attraction to various culture products. It’s the same thing as conversations about records - where you cross over, where you don’t. Defining your own appreciation, but also a group sensibility - which is the makers’ side of the brand. Or, to be more specific there’s loads of dicking about doing extravagantly time wasting things: looking at films and reading, listening to music (of course). All of it with no goal in sight and always trying to convince ourselves that there will be a useful output. Although, the process is the purpose.
I did want to say that I think there’s quite a difference between an artistic process and what we do which lives more in commerce. I think that brands only exist in a partnership between makers and the audience in a sense that a brand’s meaning depends partly on desirability. Art is more about the message of the maker. Do you agree? You make a brand yourself, of course.
[07:28, 9/27/2019] Toby Feltwell: I would like to hear your answer to the question above about art production and commercial production, but I had another thought and I wanted to get it down so I don’t forget: We should talk about the way we work together and the collaborative process. I love working with you because I can get away with being totally vague and you’re able to produce something concrete that is much more of you than of me (us), but I recognize it as what I hoped to get to... It’s like having somebody fill in these annoying gaps. So satisfying. It’s also something to do with the idea the the brand isn’t totally up to the people who are nominally in charge of making it. It finds a way to squeeze out into the world through these gaps.
[06:18, 9/28/2019] oliver payne: Yes, I agree – brands require an audience to complete the circle and contribute to the definition of how the brand exists. How the brand is perceived is a collective process. So There is a direct link between desirability and visibility. C.E seems to take inspiration from this process itself. That’s why it’s exciting for me to make these films for you. Because they can function in this very self aware manner: by ignoring the purpose of a look book video as a perfunctory device to promote the collection and instead treat it as an opportunity to create something that explores the purpose of a look book video in general. It’s cool that you trust me to interpret your brand in this way.How much do you monitor how the brand is perceived? Do you pay any attention to what gets written about it?
[07:28, 9/28/2019] Toby Feltwell: Inevitably, yes... there’s information about what people think about what you’re doing everywhere. The reaction is clearly part of it - sales, of course, but even things like a Polish convenience store chain sending us a cease and desist letter about Shin ripping off their logo... It’s pretty amazing – how would I have known but for that? It’s odd and yet obvious that the makers of the brand are also passive observers of it at times. It’s such a strange phenomenon to be associated with. I really enjoy it!I like to think that we’ve made this thing that has the capacity to encompass anything we’re interested in, but that will ultimately tell us what it is.I could think about that as a metaphor for all kinds of things, but I should be careful. C.E is most interesting to me as something that’s finally unresolved. It should be something that couldn’t more easily be expressed in another way... Like a press release or the statement of one of its nominal makers. This kind of thing is not news to artists though, is it? I mean, it might be a bit novel to ask what a clothing brand means, but it’s boringly standard as a thought applied to art.I assume it’s not even a useful thought to have when you’re making something. Is that right?
[02:43, 9/29/2019] oliver payne: The one page press release at the gallery never does its job. It often serves to just complicate things in an attempt to make the people responsible seem clever. My goal as an artist is to effectively communicate ideas and feelings. More questions should arise from this, but ultimately I want to be effective in putting the viewer in a certain place where these questions can happen. The more people you can communicate with increases the number of causal reactions, thoughts and questions. In which case – the Art world is totally inefficient in propagating new ideas to a decent number of people. That’s why I have no issue with making ‘commercial’ work that can reach more people outside of a traditional art context. The dream would be to have my work shown as inflight entertainment on airplanes.