When we decided to up our interview game there was a natural place to start. We’ve known the lads behind The Casual Connoisseur for over a decade now. From daft days out watching a declining football club to late night emails comparing goretex scores on US eBay, we’ve a lot in common.
That said, we’ve not seen each other enough lately, so to put that to bed and bag the first in our Talking Threads series, we led them to a Manchester rooftop and took pictures of them, before sitting down with a brew, all civilised.
Here’s how it played out.
Neil Summers: So when did you first meet?
Tom: Ha! We were quite young.
NS: Has anyone ever asked you that?
Dan: We always get asked “Are you twins?” now. He’s grown a beard and lost some weight so he’s the ‘attractive’ one! And he wears his hat like a beatnik.
Mark Smith: Where did it all start anyway, The Casual Connoisseur?
Tom: About 2006, we started off just ironing t-shirts with transfers in a bedroom. We’re a two man band, I play drums, Dan plays the willy banjo. We do everything from designs, getting commissions, sourcing manufacturing, photography, the web store to posting out orders. What you see is what you get, it’s not the usual 9-5 for us, we are totally immersed in this thing.
NS: What was the first thing you made?
Tom: It was probably that ‘Tinted Lens’ t-shirt which we still do now. Based on the old old countylads stuff from nearly 15 years ago. It’s still a popular one. You get certain stockists who just want multiples of that one. The Music Factory one is popular too and that’s another one we did from the start which always sells.
Dan: It’s always been a mixed bag – football, films, music, art. We get the odd bit of stick from people on facebook with certain stuff. They say “That’s not casual”, we’ve always had a varied collection, covering lots of genres and themes, always centred around what we like and what we are into. If we post something from, say, The Wolf of Wall Street (because we loved it) and some kid says ‘it’s not casual’, if they have to ask that question, then I don’t think they get it. But yeah, one or two people actually say that.
MS: Is that the reason the word ‘casual’ has disappeared from certain stuff you do?
Dan: I’d say so yeah. It has and it hasn’t. If we’re doing shirts it doesn’t make as much sense to use the word casual, so we’ll just brand it as Connoisseur. We should maybe push it as two lines really. The Connoisseur stuff is more premium, manufactured, cut and sewn. It’s the nice hats and shirts. The Casual Connoisseur is the printed tees, keyrings and pins and all the other stuff. We wouldn’t want to alienate anyone though, so it’s better to keep things simple really.
NS: It still makes sense to use the word casual though doesn’t it?
Dan: Yep. Using the word casual seems to be an easy route to selling t-shirts or anything for lots of folk, it’s a niche market for many brands who just come and go, so we don’t really want to be lumped in with that sort of thing, we’re established and have our followers, but at the same time it’s always been there and we are true to that.
Tom: There’s loads out there doing it now, which could spoil it. Some people think we don’t know what we are, doing more ‘grown up’ stuff alongside keyrings of little men and stuff but there aren’t any rules. We do what we like and we think that’s what makes us different.
MS: What about the hats?
Dan: We’re at a point where we don’t know whether to stop them soon, while they’ve peaked, and whilst there’s a cult about them. When we first did them, bobble hats weren’t trendy really. They are more popular these days. More fashion orientated. It was a gamble at first so we only made 50 but we’ve stuck to that figure while the demand has massively increased. It’s one thing I’m proud of.
The Overlook was being sold to football hooligans, Oscar winners and suicide girls in America. It went ridiculous. It found a huge market, especially in North America, that’s cool to me though.
NS: Tell us about the Oscar winners?
Tom: He’s called Lee Unkridge. He directed Toy Story 2 and 3. He factored a load of Shining references into the films. I think he works for Pixar. He just bought one, rather than asking for one for nothing. He does a blog about The Shining called the Overlook Hotel. Off the back of that we had Empire Magazine in touch. That Jon Ronson who made a Kubrick documentary also got in touch.
The Overlook went from us asking “Is this really a good idea?” to being huge. When Empire put it in their magazine it took us to a totally different audience.
Dan: We get asked about the Overlook every day. It’s the one thing where because of the huge demand from a wide range of people we’ve done more. They’re still really limited but we did more because the demand was massive. I’d say 50% went to North America alone. We’ve just confirmed another re-run.
NS: You could have sold ten times the amount you did probably?
Dan: That’s the thing. People get precious, we get precious too, but we could sell thousands to Urban Outfitters or somewhere. But that’d be us ‘selling out’.
NS: Does the Overlook success put pressure on you to make sure the next thing is just as popular?
Dan: Yeah, we’ve got a couple of ideas now but whether they’ll be as popular remains to be seen. We could do the popular stuff until people get sick of them but we don’t want to do that. We want to do new stuff all the time. I’ve got loads of ideas for hats, using the same method, ordinary, every day themes and objects. Some people won’t get it, that’s fine, but they always sell out fast.
Tom: When he came up with the Overlook I didn’t think anyone would buy it. I thought it was silly.
MS: What about the other hats?
Tom: We did the London Overground hat too.
Dan: Yeah we were down there one day and I remember seeing the pattern again and thinking “That’s quite cool” and Tom rolled his eyes and just went “Oh fucking hell”. I said it’d look good as a hat. We looked into it and there are about three other different seat styles I’d do. Just after the Overground came out and sold out, Nike had done a similar pattern. A total coincidence but it showed we were on the right lines in my opinion. It’s another one we did only 100 of and they just went in a minute.
The new ones are of British Rail’s logo which was on a carpet in the 1960s. I think its cool and a yes, totally geeky, but then I think trainspotters are cool and again, it’s something different.
NS: Trainspotters are unique to the UK, you don’t really get them anywhere else in the world.
Dan: Yep. They smell of BO/Tizer and totally bemuse me, but some wear nice coats and hats. It’s a great, simple, logo. There’s another brand that’s done repro uniforms from British Rail. It’s a similar thing, someone behind it has gone “They’re cool”. In the old days, in the 80s you’d get on the train and the staff would all be wearing hats. Now it’s like badly dressed teachers in garish blazers. They were like Team Zissou or something back then. They used to have branded cutlery and everything. It was like something out of a Wes Anderson film. It was totally corporate but cool.
NS: When I worked at Granada TV, they had cutlery in the penthouse suite with the old Granada logo stamped on it.
Dan: It’s a shame that’s gone now. The hats though, they divide people. Some love, some hate. I know when the new hats come out there will be some people who don’t like them but it motivates me to do them all the more. Mass appeal isn’t appealing. For those who jibe at them, many more get what we’re doing and love them.
We’ve done another hat which looks like a carpet with sick on it.
Tom: It’s like Auntie Hazel’s curtains from 1973.
Dan: But that’s a good thing… The last release of the Overlook we did a bigger run and they went within a minute again. For the quantity, that’s a record. We don’t keep records but you can’t not. For those numbers, that’s Dragon’s Den stuff.
Tom: We put it live, then try to make a purchase to see what happens, and it says sold out straight away. I can see why it makes people cross.
Dan: Some people have a problem with the fact people buy them to put straight on eBay. So do we, if we could stop that, we totally would, but it’s easier said than done. At the same time, dare I say it, it’s also good in a way. Someone is buying a hat for £27 then five days later getting over £100 for it, the demand is there. People won’t like me saying that, but you know what I mean. Again, it’s a learning curve and to just encounter ‘re-sellers’ with what we do is pretty unique, it’s part of the whole cult of them I guess, we created a monster.
MS: I think it’s a mixture of some people being a bit spoilt and also this internet culture. They’re pissed off because they think they’re entitled to something, but because the internet is impersonal, they can be nasty to you in a way they wouldn’t in person.
NS: You wouldn’t go in Oi Polloi and say “Hey you sold that jacket and someone put it on eBay”.
Dan: We’ve stuck to 50 every time with each colour of the regular Weirs. People keep seeing them now but the whole point was to make them limited and rare. Going back to that whole casual thing, I hate to use the word ethos, but that’s the thing with it. The whole point was buying something you wouldn’t see lots of others in. That influenced us and it remains a big part of the brand even if the word casual seems less relevant at times. It’s what casual is all about, creating a chase, something everyone can’t all wear.
MS: Have you seen people in them yourselves?
Dan: We just saw a lad in one at Hamburg station. The Berlin lads who we did it with said they only sent one to Hamburg, so that’s one in a million people and we stood behind him in a queue. That’s ace, that’s what we wanted with the Weirs, what we thrive on.
Tom: We’ve tried to cater for the demand by doing more colours, but keeping it to 50 per colour.
MS: You get recognised now too don’t you?
Dan: Last weekend we saw two people wearing them. They came up to us shaking our hands. It’s weird. We were in a random bar in Germany on Friday night and some random boy came up to us showing his ‘This Thing of Ours Tattoo’. Of all the times and all the places, we could have gone next door and missed that. Crazy days!
Then another time we were in Hip in Leeds and it happened. It looked almost like that scene in Alan Partridge, like we’d asked this guy to do it, but this lad came behind us and went “You the Casual Connoisseur lads? Pleased to meet you, big fan!”
We went to the Jacket Required tradeshow last year and this big German lad was there, almost staring us out, or so we thought. I thought “What’s his problem? What’s going on here”. But then he came over and said “Casual Connoisseur, can I have a photo?”. Everyone in there, all these brands were just looking at us as if to say ‘Who the fuck are they?’ There’s a picture of us two with this guy with like three people in the background looking confused, pulling their faces.
Tom: We put things on instagram without thinking, but it means people recognise us. It makes us paranoid at times. We were in a pub in Sheffield once and some lad came up asking to have a picture and his mate said “Is this them cunts what do them hats?”
NS: It’s interesting coming from Stockport and doing the hat thing. The town’s famous for hat making.
Tom: Yeah we never really make that connection but we should do. It’s become a signature piece for us.
Dan: People used to call us a t-shirt brand, now we’re more known as a hat brand. It’s quite good in a way.
NS: Have the Hat Museum in Stockport not been in touch then?
Dan: No… not yet!
NS: If they knew their arse from their elbow, they’d have a Weir in there.
Dan: That’s the problem with Stockport sometimes. It’s a mentality thing, typical of the town and other places too. We had that Tom Weir statue campaign get in touch. We donated some to their cause the other week. There’s two women trying to raise about £50k for a statue on their own. Fair play to them.
Tom: We offered to make a hat for them, but they didn’t seem keen. We explained that we could have called the hats anything but thought it was a good nod towards him. We’ve had a couple of people saying we’re cashing in on his name but most of people south of Scotland (and some up there too) didn’t know who he was until we did the hats. They are missing the point.
Dan: We try to give things a name and a bit of a background story. Just for our own records and to keep an easy archive. It’s nice to add something to it. We’re not dead into climbing and we’re not fat bearded ramblers, contrary to what some people might think. We just think that look works in the city as much as the outdoors. People always come back to that look, it’s a classic North West thing. Goretex coat, trainers or suede shoes.
MS: So what’s in store for the future? Are you changing anything?
Dan: We are a little. When we started working with Nelly from Veras we asked the question about doing more clothing as well as just the shoes with him. He’d already done all that when he owned the Drooghi shop and his previous label based in Cardiff. I just said I wanted to do some nice high end manufactured t-shirts and polos. He put us in touch with the people who made his Rather Not Say brand and I just said “Why not do that again, but together?”. At first he didn’t seem too keen, I guess he’d been there, but he’s into it now. I liked the logo and would have been keen to use that rather than something new. They’re going into production now.
We’ve done some reworked designs with the original colours and getting samples for summer. I insisted we do young Doughboy from Boyz n the Hood’s t-shirt too. Wait and see.
Tom: So we’re doing that, shirts, shorts. We’ll always keep the graphic tees and the hats but we want to keep growing, progressing.
Dan: We don’t want to work with everyone, but if we can do cool projects with more established labels and the right people out there, doing the right things, then why not? We’ve also got the ongoing thing with Curva Nord. The people behind it are good lads, creative and very talented but it never really reached its potential. Phil Thornton who one of those behind it says that himself. We suggested bringing it back. We did the first tee last year and there are two or three more to come. We had Phil Thornton dancing to Northern in it, that was ace. They did a t-shirt with Boca/CRVA on it originally and we’ve suggested ACAB. Bit controversial but it’s tongue in cheek as always. It’d do well across Europe but we’re thinking All Connoisseurs Are Brilliant if anyone gets their collar felt in it. Or Andy, Carl and Brian or something.
Tom: Or All Coppers Are Beautiful! Ha! We want to keep doing the tees like that. A little riff on something, always a favourite for us.
Dan: We work with really talented illustrators rather than just chucking something we think looks good or done ourselves on tees. Adidas have gone to two of the guys we use and employed them now and given the contracts. It’s a compliment I suppose. We’ve still got about ten designs with Peter O’Toole and a couple more to come with Minty. Adidas acknowledged they’d seen them through us. We like to see each release as a bit of modern artwork, a special commission if you like.
What’s nice is that whereas Adidas or AN/other could stop independent little brands from using their themes or garments in their designs, their attitude towards us seemed more positive.
Tom: We also did a Working Mens Club tee. We were in Newcastle one weekend and saw a certain ‘rich kid’ label and we don’t really get it, so we thought we’d do a very English parody of it on a limited run. I suppose we’re pushing it a bit but it’s not an insult or copying, we’re just having a bit of fun there, that’s what we’ve always done.
MS: Supreme spring to mind here…
Dan: Yeah we’ve had one or two people comparing us to them in terms of the limited runs and the way our things often sell out quickly. Maybe there’s a little inspiration there.
Tom: We definitely have been inspired by them, but we’re trying to do things in our way, with a British sense of humour.
Dan: There’s a lot of clothes bores out there. It’s boring. There are people on forums who are just regular lads who buy jackets but they want to know who the distributor is or how they can dry clean it. To me, clothes are for wearing. Get them dirty, lean on the bar, get beer on the sleeve. Get out and enjoy it.
Tom: He has loads of coats but he wears them.
Dan: If I rip something or get mud on it I do get grumpy, but I just clean it.
Tom: I don’t get how people can just go out and buy a new jacket for £800. I’ve never done that, even if I could. Where’s the disco code?
MS: Does that play a part in what you do, making things as affordable as possible?
Dan: Yeah, I think so. Some of the stuff we do does cost quite a bit and the mark up isn’t huge, but it’s not been like mega expensive yet.
Tom: We’re in talks with an outdoor brand and if we do anything will be a fairly high price for us. Both cost and retail.
Dan: It’s a local, small family company. We wanted to make a Goretex coat, but where do we start? We went to them, said we were interested. The idea was if you do a Goretex jacket, you have to be licensed. Not anyone can do it. They seem bang up for doing something.
Tom: The point about the pricing is it’ll be a bit higher.
Dan: We wanted to bring back that 80s goretex thing. They said they’d been to some decent shops with their current range and all the feedback from these shops was to bring back an archive model and they’d be interested. So that’s going to be the idea. I insisted on using the original branding too, keep it as it was. A nice two tone coat. I got hold of an old model recently and it was perfect. Great fit, in perfect condition, 20 years later. It’d be good if we can bring this together soon.
MS: You’re doing something with 6876 too?
Dan: We’re doing a Capandula as part of the Black Project thing. He’s doing it for us and our mates Our Culture from Sweden. Working with 6876 is something we’ve always wanted to do. It’s made in the factory with the Ministry of Defence stuff. It’s got a Ventile outer, taped seams, technical, weatherproof, looks spot on. Tom’s got about 10 of that model, so it’s something we’re very chuffed with. It’s pricey, it’s ‘high end’. But what a project for us to do.
MS: And further into the future?
Dan: We’ve been working with Newfangle in Portugal and we’re doing the second run of our Union shirt. It was the first cut and sewn thing we ever made and it was a great seller so we’re going to do more of them. I think we’ve done it better this time. It’s slightly more refined, less pockets on a really nice chambray. I believe it was made by the same people who make shirts for British labels such as Folk, Garbstore and they’ve done 6876 previously too, so that’s the standard. Good quality, proper schmutter.
Tom: If you’d said a year or two ago we’d have our own shoes and trainers made we’d have thought you were taking the piss. But it’s nice to keep progressing.
NS: Would you ever want to have a shop?
Dan: I’d say no.
Tom: People have suggested that. Anyone we know who has owned shops has said not to, but then when Ran in Manchester took a run of the Weir hats they had people queuing out of the door. There was loads of interest in that.
Dan: Obviously that’s not going to happen every day. The manager of Hip in Leeds was interested in taking something. It’s not lying if we said if we did a Weir just for his shop he’d have lots of people coming in.
Tom: We suggested once doing a shop-come-pub.
Dan: Get people pissed them take them upstairs to buy something, ha ha.
Tom: One idea was to do a pop up store.
Dan: We had an invite to that Boxpark in Shoreditch. We’re an online business. We’ve both worked in retail but I can’t image myself working on a till. I’m passionate about what I do but I’m not a salesman.
Tom: We’d have to employ some attractive girls and sit upstairs while they work in the shop.
NS: A beer and a Weir!
Tom: Yep, sums us up nicely that!
Thanks to Carl Burnham of The Original Store for letting us go on his roof.