Welsh wonders Neil Morris and Fraser Moss have been setting the agenda style-wise for many years. Neil has been creating premium footwear under both his Veras and Wild Bunch imprints for nigh-on a decade now whilst Fraser has been the head honcho of YMC (You Must Create) for 25 years.
Having known each other for a few decades, they’ve finally got around to collaborating on a project and delivered with the YMC X Wild Bunch Soller moccasin. I sat down with them for a natter about all things footwear, South Wales and inevitably, lockdown.
We’re at the beginning of another lockdown. How are things going for you both personally and professionally?
Neil Morris – All good thanks. My normal day to day is not that much different to lockdown, apart from not playing football and not being able to have a few drinks on a Saturday. The rest of it is the same. Workwise is the same too, only difference being that now I am sometimes on a Zoom call with a client and my kids are asking me to butter their toast or cut the crusts off their sandwiches. I wouldn’t mind but they’re 15 and 18. Then my missus gets the Hoover out. I’m sure she’s only started hoovering since the lockdown.
Fraser Moss – Barring no pubs being open and no travelling to be done, lockdown doesn’t change much for me. I have an office in the garden so my work/home life are one & the same really.
How has lockdown affected the way that you both work?
NM – Less travel to London and Spain maybe the only difference for me.
FM – I’ve worked remotely for the last 15 years because no one wants to work with me. I’m too much of a distraction in an office environment, I’ve never grown out of being the class clown.
How did this latest collaboration on the new YMC X Wild Bunch Soller shoes come about?
NM – The last time we met, a couple of years ago, was in the pub and I think we spoke about it then. It may have been a YMC Christmas party thinking about it. I do remember it being a free bar hence me being a bit vague with the details.
FM – I can’t remember TBH, it was probably a drunken conversation that one of us regretted saying yes to.
Obviously, you two have known each other for a long time now. Can you remember when/how you first met? Is there a South Wales connection?
NM – We started selling YMC in (my old shop) Drooghi around 1997 in a tiny shop in Port Talbot so met Fraser when we used to go up to London buying, always ended up in the pub. He’s posher than me, he’s from Newport.
FM – – It must have been over 20 years now since we first met, I think. Neil had his shop Drooghi, firstly in Port Talbot & then in Cardiff, he used to come up to buy the YMC collections for the store & we just hit it off. I just think most people born & bred in Industrial South Wales like myself & Neil share a similar sense of self-deprecating humour & don’t take ourselves too seriously.
Was doing this collaboration different from others you have done because you have known each other personally for a while?
NM – Yes, I suppose so. Fraser is easy to work with and we get on well. He sent over some designs, we made a sample, tweaked it, made another sample and we got what we wanted.
FM – Yes it was pretty straightforward, once I had convinced Neil knee high platform boots weren’t a good idea.
Have you worked together before?
NM – Back in the late 90s when I (Drooghi) was a YMC stockist but not since.
FM – No. Only through the YMC / Drooghi connection.
Aside from any personal connection, what draws you to each other’s brands?
NM – I was a big fan of YMC back in the day because it was unlike any other brand out there. I think you can still say that about YMC, always pushing boundaries. The only problem is that I have to pay for the clothes now, I used to have them free when we had the shop. No wonder we went bankrupt.
FM – Neil has a good aesthetic and understands what us men want from our footwear. Like YMC, Wild Bunch are attempting to achieve style over trend which is admirable and I believe this is integral to creating a strong brand.
It’s really interesting when two creatives get together to work in partnership. What do you like about working this way?
NM – It’s good to produce something that someone else has designed, someone who has different ideas to yourself.
FM – 25 years on from when we started YMC I’m still suffering with imposter syndrome so being called a creative seems surreal to me. I try to enjoy any opportunity to work with a like mind because I’m convinced that I’m going to get found out sooner or later.
I’ve never made a pair of shoes. How do you go about designing and making a pair, particularly in collaboration with someone else?
NM – Fraser knew what Wild Bunch was about etc and sent over drawings with details with regards to materials used, sole unit, the last, lining, laces, etc. I take all the info to Spain with me and speak to the guys at the factory and get busy making the samples. That’s the one thing I really miss actually, due to the whole pandemic and lockdown, not being able to go to the factories and make the samples. That’s the best part of the job.
FM – I have designed shoes since YMC started but I would never call myself an expert so it’s good to work with Neil who’s more technically experienced than myself. I start with a sketch & maybe a few details from vintage shoes I like, then create a technical sheet that hopefully Neil can follow. From there we see a couple of footwear protos & hopefully all being well we make a salesman sample.
Where did you/do you look for inspiration?
NM – Everywhere. I like to make shoes for people that they can wear day to day, nothing weird. I’m never going to make steel toe-cap cowboy boots or snakeskin shoes covered with diamond studs, that’s not what I’m about. Not this season anyway, maybe AW 2022.
FM – I take inspiration from many places; film, music etc…but I tend to look back and don’t take influence from the contemporary world. I don’t live in the past and YMC is certainly not a heritage label, I just feel that nothing is new so my aim is to put traditional ideas through the YMC blender & hopefully create interesting designs this way.
Fraser…when I think of YMC I think of timeless, traditional clothes that are given the ‘YMC twist’. What’s your starting point for something like the Wild Bunch shoes?
FM – I’ve never asked Neil but have always assumed the name Wild Bunch came from Sam Peckinpah’s cult Western movie and not the influential Bristol hip hop collective of the 80s. With that in mind my starting point was the classic Moccasin and in particular the leather braiding details you could find on antique versions of these boots.
Obviously, it’s been (and continues to be) a really weird year. How have you found the whole lockdown experience?
NM – Personally we’ve been ok and haven’t been troubled by it but it’s more difficult for the kids and the elderly, I worry about the mental health side of it. I think banning outside sports such as 5-a-side, golf, tennis, etc is madness…Also, gyms should be open, etc… How can you ban grassroots football (which is outside) and still have schools open, it doesn’t make sense to me. People need to work-out, exercise is medicine for the mind.
FM – Good and bad. I have loved the extra time I’ve had to bond with my family but miss the freedom of just being able to walk into an enclosed space without having to worry about track and trace, masks and sanitisation and everything. As sad as it sounds, I yearn to be able to sit at a bar & verbally order a pint or two.
With travel being one of the things that the pandemic has affected the most, have you found it difficult to be ‘confined’ and where have you been based throughout the lockdown?
NM – That is the biggest pain, not being able to travel. I missed my 50th birthday in Ibiza in April and normally go to the Greek Islands in the Summer. Fingers crossed we can go somewhere hot for Christmas but It looks like it’s more likely going to be Aberavon Beach in South Wales, in the cold and rain.
FM – I feel lucky that I’ve been in Brighton during lockdown, most of my free time is spent walking so don’t feel confined as we have the sea and the downs.
What do you two get up to when you’re not designing clothes and shoes (both pre and post lockdown)?
NM – Playing football and walking my dog. I won’t lie to you, it’s more walking football than anything else. Think Michel Platini without the hair, French accent and fondness for corruption.
FM – I’ve collected vinyl since I was 11 or 12 so that obsession keeps me very busy, but when I’m not fretting over my inability to find a particular rare 80s French Post Punk 45, you’ll find me watching sport.
You’ve put the YMC X Wild Bunch Soller shoes on this morning. What are you wearing with them?
NM – For this answer I want to say, a bit of North Face Purple Label, some Itten and YMC but in truth I have just come back from walking the dog and it’s a Uniqlo tee and bottoms.
FM – A pair of Corgi for YMC socks. Another Welsh delight.
You can grab yourself a pair of these beauties here.