Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The Meeting of Two American Dreamers

"We both like to inject a bit of attitude and our personality into classics," George Esquivel excitedly exclaims whilst standing at the centre of his hive of craftsmanship, a lively leather scented, three and half thousand square foot workshop in Orange County. His voice races as he whizzes us around on a whistle stop tour of his world. Between three and four thousand shoes a year are clicked, closed, welted, finished and furnished by his close knit family of craftsmen but there is a discernible delight echoing around the space today. Why? The reality of two American dreamers' shared fantasy is taking shape before their ever eager eyes. After creating exclusive shoes for Tommy Hilfiger's autumn/winter 13 menswear show, the pair have taken their collaboration to the next level. Forming a dynamic duo draped in red, white and blue, the result is a limited edition capsule collection of footwear hand made in California.

"It all comes out of here," Esquivel proudly proclaims, arms and smile stretched wide. From the quiet, unassuming, commercial enclave that his workshop resides to the temples to high society in the centre of Los Angeles, this is very much George Esquivel's world. Having been warned that is was something of a Marmite metropolis, that I'd either love it or loathe it, Esquivel and team Tommy combined to be the skeleton key to a once in a lifetime exploration of the ever sprawling an wildly eclectic city. They combined to make it the perfect summer getaway and I left in love. Esquivel's first excited words of many as he welcomed this fortunate group of bloggers and journalists were a declaring that he'd be taking us bowling. "It's at the Rosevelt Hotel, it's a two-lane, it's a gaming parlour with a vintage bowling alley called the Spare Room, I actually made the shoes. Everyone is there. I received a text the other night that Brad Pitt and Angelina were bowling in my shoes, it was amazing. It's so much fun. It's what I call cool LA not crazy LA." Like any good guide, Esquivel combined local knowledge with a constant flow of captivating narrative. His path into shoemaking alone could easily translate to the silver screen and be a box office smash.

"My childhood was pretty crazy. We grew up mostly in and out of motels, on welfare and food stamps. I’m the oldest of five so there were seven of us in the motel room and then my dad went to jail." From running drugs in his youth to watching his father go to jail for murder and homelessness to a life backstage at punk gigs, Esquivel is not your typical shoemaker but it is fuelled by a familiar passion. He fell into shoemaking in the mid 1990s after a failed attempt to find the perfect vintage-inspired shoe. A muso, the designer was immersed in California's rich punk and rockabilly scenes and needed shoes to match his unique aesthetic. "I used to buy vintage clothes and shoes but I could never find anything I liked in terms of new footwear," he reminisces. He spent years scouring the state for an able shoemaker to realise his whims and fancies but to no avail. After arguing with one cobbler over a pair that didn't meet his insatiably high standards, he was about to throw in the polishing rag but his shoe salvation arrived in the form of a bystander who, intrigued by Esquivel's impassioned pleas, followed him out of the shop. "He introduced himself as a shoemaker and said, 'I don't know why but I like you and I want to make you some shoes.'" The man was Emigdio Canales, a retired master cobbler who operated a cottage industry shoe factory out of his garage. He quickly became Esquivel's collaborator and mentor.
"In the beginning, it was just a hobby, selling shoes to friends," he modestly explains. These friends soon morphed into musical heroes. From admiring glances towards his own feet at gigs to requests from musical friends and ultimately to touring buddies, the good word of Esquivel spread. "The small local bands that I used to hang out would go on tour with the big bands, and they would often ask about their shoes and they'd hand them my card and say 'Call George, he'll sort you out.'" A business began to thrive. Esquivel has never stopped learning. From scurrying around shoe repair shacks to crafting shoes for the elite of Los Angeles and beyond, the collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger marks another confident step forward. As Esquivel's tale bounces around your brain, take our hand and let us lead you, as he did to us, on a quick tour of his world as the fruits of his latest creative coming together began to take shape.

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Much like Tommy Hilfiger,  George Esquivel is a great American dreamer. Stars and stripes pulsate through this authentic product of California. Artefacts of this technicolour world are scattered throughout his studio. Like two well crafted canoes, a pair of size fifteen dress shoes destined for the feet of a New Knick's baller float on the wood floor are joined by a battered and well weathered trunk belonging to Sylvester Stallone that the actor had hoped would be transformed into footwear fabulousness, whilst a mood board of leathers provoke daydreams for the sole of Janelle Monae grace the wall.

"Tommy used to have my whole wall. but as it went in to production it shrank. It started with ten styles, twelve colours and all manner of different leather options. There wasn't a brief. the styles just evolved out of our conversations. We looked at what Tommy does, he does preppy Americana and we explored what we liked and it reduced down to a brogue and a loafer. It was then about making preppy but adding the soul of rock and roll, a little bit rebellious. For example, the perforation on the toe is a really cool design process that mimics the signature plaid pattern of Tommy Hilfiger," adds Esquivel as an interested, ever analytical eye is focussed in on one his experts applying the described touch to the toe of a brogue. His love of the craft is both obvious and infectious.

Having first roamed onto Hilfiger's radar as a Vogue/CFDA Fashion Fund finalist in 2009, Equivel was one of ten designers included in an "Americans in Paris" showcase sponsored by Vogue and Tommy Hilfiger 2011 and a friendship blossomed. They are two kindred spirits, each dedicated to their own craft within Americana. Whilst Tommy Hilfiger is a sartorial star bangled banner gently blowing outside the college of preppy, Esquivel's carefully crafted shoes are inherently Californian, rebellious and a little rock 'n roll. It makes for a happy marriage. "He adds a fresh take to timeless pieces. His designs use unique details that give classics an updated look," Hilfiger declares of Esquivel. "Tommy calls it the twist. We've both been transforming the familiar into the exciting in our way for years but it's been fun putting our heads together," adds Esquivel. Every pair is hand-crafted by skilled workers, adding unique and distinctive elements to the styles whilst each is assigned a one-of-a-kind shoe number that’s hand-written on the shoe and its hangtag to make these objects of desire even more desirable. Ten weeks after our visit to the workshop and as their collaboration hits stores global wide, Tommy Hilfiger and George Esquivel sent through my own limited edition brogue.

Delighting in the duality of new and old, expected and unexpected, traditional and modern, the two complimentary world's collide beautifully in a collaboration that sees two prepster staples re-imagined. With antiqued washed leathers, hand punched perforations and contrasting hues, both the humble brogue and loafer are elevated to new heights. The Tommy Hilfiger + Esquivel logo has been burned into the leather using a hot branding iron. Soles and heels are polished individually using layers of polishes and creams. The results are unique but elegant, whimsical yet sophisticated.

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Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Treasured items... Kit Neale

From the moment I first stepped inside Kit Neale's dazzlingly printed world, a cultural kaleidoscope that reimagines suburban and multicultural Britain, I have felt right at home. His studio, an enclave of effervescent energy on a quiet street located just off Columbia Road, is a busy universe filled with rails of reverie dancing around haphazardly placed trinkets, paintings and well thumbed magazines. Amongst the noise, the confident face of Felix quietly watches on. Shot by Jamie Morgan for The Face in 1984, the cocky twelve year old guards the memory of Buffalo as Ray's revolution rumbles on. The book has pride of place in Neale's space. "It is our bible," he proudly proclaims whilst stroking the good book, ripples of reverence course through his slight frame. Here, he tells us the story behind it.

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Kit Neale and the buffalo stance

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"When my family moved from Peckham to Gosport, a small town on the south coast, I missed London style. I had to order in The Face, i-D and Arena because it was my connection back to the capital, my escape. Ultimately, it's what excited me. When I discovered Ray Petri and the Buffalo movement my eyes were opened. I was and continually am, drawn to this moment. I remember stumbling across this book in a strange little bookshop inside Old Street station. At that time I had no idea that such a volume of his work existed but squealed 'Oh My God!' when I realised what it was.


It sounds really cheesy but If I'm ever feeling uninspired I return to it. I think every Kit Neale collection will take something from atleast one image. I look at it, not for garment design reference but to channel the attitude. I've lost count of the number of times I've mentioned his work in interviews. I'm obsessed. It is extremely well edited and his body of work is so impressive. It's so far reaching. There can't be many London menswear designers who haven't referenced by Buffalo. I think London menswear would be quite different without Ray Petri. Kit Neale would undoubtedly be different without Ray Petri." Kit Neale
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Monday, 9 September 2013

Nicomede Talavera SS14

"As this is my first full season I wanted to move on from the Masters, to push myself and demonstrate just what I can do,” Nicomede Talavera excitedly explains as we’re both enveloped by the sculptural shake-up of the senses that is his spring/summer 14 collection. Confidently striding out from the Central Saint Martins classroom, beyond the realms of Louise Wilson’s omnipotence and the far-reaching ripples of applause that his graduate collection received, we meet a young designer ready to step onto a larger stage. Having watched him develop over the last four years, documenting his progression from eager second year design student to a fully realised label, he feels both familiar and forcibly fresh.

I'm proud of my MA collection but I do feel as though I could have injected more personality into it,” he confesses. Moving on from a measured masterpiece of monochrome modernity that teased with its textural treats and proportion play we now see the blossoming talent delighting in the juxtaposition of the everyday, tailoring, abstract graphics and minimalist colour blocking. Free to produce precisely what he wants, on his own terms, Talavera has a grin from ear to ear because this collection is him. He has grown into his talent.

"As soon as I finished my MA at Central Saint Martins, I was exhausted and felt that I needed a break but a few weeks later I realised that I had worked so hard to build something, really enjoy designing and wanted to see what could happen with the label," he confesses as we sip instant coffee in his Bermondsey base. As he turned the page on one enthralling chapter, spring/summer 14 marks the beginning of the next. There's an undeniable promise that blank pages will be filled with all manner of exciting narrative in the coming seasons and beyond. However, like everything step he's taken previously, Talavera approached the latest leap correctly. When it is all too easy to be swept away in an ocean of excitement, this young talent paused and took stock of everything before diving into the inviting waters of possibility. “One of the first things I did was write a business plan, it was so beneficial to place my label in the market place and work out just where I wanted it to be.” Having visualised the future of his eponymous label, Talavera is now carefully crafting it by taking elements from his accomplished BA and MA collections, pushing them further and taking them in entirely different directions.

I developed my previous research of Ellsworth Kelly whilst extracting fresh elements and at the same time I became fascinated by the business men of Canary Wharf, seeing them on the tube in their pinstripe suits, trainers and a backpack. I wanted to take the tailoring and sportswear influences of the modern man and it all worked back to Kelly and his own fascination with everyday landscape. I too began to see these squares,” he explains. The result sees him transform a canvas of sheer nylon oversized t-shirts and sleeveless tops with appliqu├ęd leather graphic elements alongside re-imagined superfine suiting fabrics. Thankfully the sartorial awkwardness of crisp tailoring mixed with gym kits is waved away by the expert hands of Talavera. Flimsy synthetic gym bags morph into luxurious objects of desire as the designer continues his fruitful collaboration with Eastpak and dull, tired, bedraggled commuter chic comes to life and reverberates with youthful energy. This is the designer applying his filter over everyday sights, just like Kelly did.

"I like to work from things that I see, whether they’re man-made or natural or a combination of the two… The things that I’m interested in have always been there. The idea of a shadow and a natural object has existed, like the shadow of the pyramids, or a rock and its shadow; I’m not interested in the texture of the rock, or that it is a rock, but in the mass of it, and its shadows," Ellsworth Kelly confided to Henry Geldzahler in 1964 in a piece for Art International 1. Surrounded by walls of Talavera product, the influence of the painter, sculptor and printmaker is plain to see. His rails mirror the artist’s masterly interplay of form, colour, and space. Moved by shapes he found in reality, Kelly’s perception is inspired by an object's external characteristics, taking interest in shadows and the texture of surfaces isolated from their contexts. Talavera’s eyes were similarly searching. "For me, inspiration will always come from what I see around me. It has to be grounded in reality. I'm drawn to subcultures, youth movements and ultimately street wear." Nicomede Talavera had explained in our last meeting. Having previously looked to the sartorial sights and cultural diversity of his childhood home of Hounslow he now looks to the commuting rat racers. A true mixologist of menswear, Talevera balances tailoring with sportswear and artistic form with function. Take a gulp.

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Detail photography alongside Nicomede Talavera's Andy Malone shot spring/summer 14 look book

From coated nappa leather cracking delicately to textural pinstriped suiting reinterpreted as long sleeved tailored tops and unexpected silk cargo pockets, the collection is rich in tactile treasure. Each piece has a sculptural quality. Everything has been masterfully realised by the creator's hand. Even the zips, so often uniform and ubiquitous are anything but here. "I contacted Lampo, a luxury zip maker, because they sponsored my BA collection and they expressed an interest in working together on an exclusive zip which was amazing. I looked to the work of Robert Morris because I've always been drawn to his square work, it was layering and de-layering, simplifying yet bold,” he animatedly explains whilst thumbing a puller. They provide the perfect functional finish to the outerwear and collaborative Eastpak accessories. Each and every detail has been carefully considered.

Looking through the Andy Malone shot look book alongside my own detail shots once again and having inspected the quality of the garments first hand, it is remarkable that this is Nicomede Talavera's first full collection. There's no limit to how far this talent can go. As ever, his own Van clad feet are fixed firmly to the ground.  "I’m looking to grow the label naturally, not to force it in the market before we’re ready. For this season, we're hoping to secure two exclusive clothing stockists, one London based and one in Asia," he declares. I'm in no doubt that he'll do that and more.

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