As a local lad made good we can’t believe it took us a couple of issues before we got in touch with Dominic Stansfield. It’s not just the local angle that appeals though. His clothes are and always have been blessed with bags of character and individual without getting anywhere near the realms of looking daft. Quite the opposite in fact. It’s all ace. So we had a chat in the autumn of 2008.
So, for the uninitiated who are you and what do you do?
I am 31 and live in Hackney in London. Originally from Stockport but my family is from Manchester and Rochdale, moved to London 8 years ago to work for Duffer. Now I’m the sole employee of my own brand, Stansfield, although I have investors and people to help me with the business, press and marketing side but I basically do everything from sourcing fabrics to selling to packing boxes to chasing invoices and everything in between and beyond. Its a lot to get your head around and the designing and fun parts to the job are only a small proportion of what I do.
Was it always your ambition to work in clothing and/or design?
PLUS – (Being based in Stockport we were heartened to hear you’re a local lad too, having lived in our hometown and studied in nearby Manchester. What, if anything from your formative years contributed to where you are now?)
I think there is a certain personality trait that help in this job and that is if your good at researching and really geeking out on things, wanting to find out as much as you can about certain subjects that grab you and then putting your own spin on them to make it original again.
When I was a kid, for some bizarre reason if you know me now, I wanted to be in the Army or more specifically the Para’s. I think it was probably from watching British war films like the Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far, The Great Escape, Bridge Over the River Kwai. But from a really young age….maybe around 5….I really got into it and obviously all the kit involved. I obsessed over black and white A5 catalogues in list format from Silvermans in East London – pre-internet days of course! I never actually bought anything but planning what I wanted to buy is pretty much the same thing as planning to design a collection. My dad worked in Ancoats so I used to drag my mum around the Army Surplus stores on Tib street and Oldham street in Manchester.
After that I got into American sports when channel 4 started showing the NFL on channel 4. All that American sportswear was amazing for British kids raised on Umbro, Patrick and Gola. American sportswear can be pretty naff these days but it wasn’t in 1987 – it was pretty exotic! So the Manny’s catalogue from the states was my new dog eared companion.
In the late eighties I started to get into hip hop – again not as common then as it is now. It has since proved to be the start of the golden era for the music and its still the music I love the most to this day. Hip hop and house music went hand in hand in those days before everything got compartmentalised in the 90s. It was a special time all round but I was a little too young to really experience everything, but having an elder brother helped open my eyes and ears to what was happening. First discovering what mix tapes were, listening to Jeff Young, Stu Allen or Leaky Fresh. Fiending for new albums by BDP or Erik B & Rakim. Everything is too easy to find now! I could quite easily freely download their whole back catalogues in a few hours these days. But I think that hip hop method, very much in evidence in the late eigthites/early nineties, to strive to be original but working by taking influence from the past is directly transferrable to making vintage inspired clothing…well it is in my mind anyway!
By the time I was 18 or so I was hanging around the Sheep store which was originally in Afflecks and then moved to the shop where Oi Polloi is now, on Tib Street. I got more into the world of clothes and trying to find the things nobody else had. It was like a youth club for a very small group of people and was way ahead of its time but simply did not have enough customers to keep going.
By then I knew a fair bit about what I liked in clothes so it just seemed to make sense to try and start making my own, so I applied for Fashion college and had to put up with everyone taking the piss saying I was studying knitting and that I was basically a woman for wanting to make clothes!
You spent time with Duffer, PF Flyers and of course Rushmoor before setting up Stansfield. How much of what you experienced influenced what you’ve done with Stansfield?
There is so much to learn in this industry that all that experience is invaluable. It is very hard to start a label with a tiny bit of money when your in your mid 20s and have only worked in the industry only a few years. I have made lots of mistakes and I am still learning every day. I think in an ideal world I would have worked in the industry for longer and started with a bang and a bit of a cash behind me. As it is I have had to hustle for years to get to the position where I have my own brand with financial and business backing. I learnt very little at University but at Duffer I learnt how the industry actually works, with Rushmoor I threw myself in at the deep end and learnt the hard way and with PF Flyers I learnt that you have to compromise design when working for big companies! With Stansfield I now have a lot more confidence to walk into meetings and know what I’m talking about….most of the time anyway!
How would you describe the ethos behind Stansfield?
Menswear has strict conventions, more so than womenswear, you are working within the same basic silhouette so you have to focus on details. Most menswear pieces directly reference to a vintage garment so vintage is very important also. So the basic ethos is to take classic menswear and make it new. Its not a particularly original concept but its what you do with it that counts. Anyway I think any menswear that tries to be too new or ”on-trend” or is overly fashionable is mostly awful.
What sets you apart from the others?
I try to not directly reference vintage like a lot of labels do and I like to mess around with linings and colour and fabrications to modernise. I love a lot of these brands, especially the Japanese, who re-make vintage pieces beautifully with all the same craft of the original. Its just something that doesn’t interest me as much as wanting to change things.
Like many other designers some of your work is inspired by items of clothing steeped in tradition and/or functionality. How do you go about ‘editing’ a item and putting your own mark on it?
I think its about taking the essence of the original and re-imaging it. There are so many things you can do with even the simplest item its hard to explain the whole editing process but basically you must consider everything in absolute detail and make your own mark on the garment.
What is the item (or items) you’ve done (including for other brands) you’ve been most happy with?
I hope I am getting better every season so its always pieces from the newest collection I am happy with. This last season – SS09 – it would be the patchwork country jacket. Its an American shooting jacket with rounded pockets, shawl collar and then made out of different fabrics – either shades of the same colour or different stripes. It takes the age old tradition of making jackets from whatever fabric is lying around but this is re-done in exacting detail so each fabric is carefully considered – the jumbled becomes the studied.
There are a couple of things which are my wardrobe staples…not always the best selling pieces but the ones I like and that I have done in every collection. One is a 4 or 5 pocket shirt, based on an American work jacket but as a shirt and the other is what I call an engineers jacket or a train drivers jacket which is like a unstructured suit jacket with crazy linings and seam bindings.
But basically I am never that happy as I am striving for perfection, so the item I am most happy with is always the next one I am making!
One of the appealing things about your clothing is its distribution seems to be very well thought out. Only available from the finest outlets and very limited aswell. Is that with an eye on keeping your stuff exclusive and therefore more appealing to the man on the street?
I am careful about not cheapening the brand with stockists but its also the case that there are certain retailers who very much suit the brand and vise versa, you kind of find each other. I am not approaching certain stores on purpose and have had to turn down orders but my stuff is not suited to a lot of stores in the UK so its hardly a big problem. The good thing is its very easy to make yourself international these days so you can make sure you are selling to enough stores and the right ones too.
Tell us about your A/W08 collection. Lots of checks, wool and waxed cotton?
This collection is a mish mash of styles; the English gent and the American hunter with a little bit of hip hop style. I have never made a collection that doesn’t feature waxed cotton and its my favourite fabric by a mile. The new washable waxes also mean jackets don’t get filthy and start to smell. Checks are just a no-brainer. Checks and stripes always work for menswear, regardless of what is supposedly cool or not and all that tripe. There are lots of polka dots in this collection too which keeps it really fresh.
The wool is just a British thing, its such a shame that there are so few left but Britain still make the best wool fabrics in the world. There is some amazing Super 120 Wools or Cashmere fabrics that are so luxurious I would love to work with them but you are talking 100 plus per garment to buy just the fabric. That means #700-800+ jackets at retail.
We also have lined shirts for AW08 which i think is just the ultimate luxury, as I can’t wear itchy clothes!
Early next year the SS09 collection will hit the stores and its my most rounded collection yet. Its very much based on the Amwerican South and films such as the Assaniation of Jess James by the coward Robert Ford…which i am obsessed with…and also There Will Be Blood. Night of the Hunter was also a big influence. Its my first collection with a really strong theme as they are usually more linked through colour, fabric and details but those 2 new movies really inspired me to work within a theme.
AW09 will be all about Hunting and I am doing a mini collection of 2 outfits using entirely English manufacturers and fabrics. We are using some of the best shirtmakers, jacket makers, bag makers etc. in the world and I am very excited to see how it turns out but cant say too much for now.
This interview took place in October 2008