Thursday, July 23, 2015

A New Era At AllSaints

AllSaints is a ubiquitous presence on international high streets but, as any fashion company will attest, you have to adapt to survive - something that creative director Wil Beedle is making sure happens this year as the brand celebrates its 21st birthday. Expansion in the Far East; the launch of a new handbag collection (that has already generated "Have you seen?" whispers among editors) and the opening of a new flagship in Dubai to house it are just a few of the ways that the brand is marking its coming of age, and is drawing on its formative years to inform it.

"Anyone approaching any kind of milestone in their life takes the opportunity to look back as well as forwards," Beedle told us at the towering AllSaints HQ in Shoreditch. "I was looking back at our archive - not just at different collections that I've done since I became creative director, but also the pieces that have accumulated - the vast military archive, the vast leather archive and look back at the surrounding area and the things that informed us to this point. In our 21styear I wanted to take this slightly fragmented sense of nostalgia and weave it into something more modern, more contemporary and more forward-looking so that we embraced the codes of our past and our present and sculpted them into something considerably more confident and aspirational and elevated."

The East End of the capital is, of course, a major part of the brand's DNA, providing a stimulating backdrop of creative energy since 2005 when the company set up shop there - coinciding with the increasing presence of artists, musicians, designers and fashion students in the surrounding areas of Brick Lane, Hoxton and Hackney, not to mention developers snapping up real estate in the newly-desirable neighbourhood. Beedle is a product of what he preaches. A London boy himself, his pursuit of the "coolest things" that are happening at any one time places him in the perfect position to lead the charge forward.

"London fundamentally influences, informs and inspires me," he said. "I've always tried to be and do whatever I thought was the coolest thing to do at that time. It's an instinctive draw for me and it's what I've felt compelled to do at any one time. That took me from being a 13-year-old tearing up the magazines that you'd find around Camden and making them into fanzines that you'd distribute down by the bridge; to going to Cambridge to read literature because I thought that was how you started making movies; to going to Paris.

When Hedi Slimane had just become creative director of Dior and the Paris art scene was exploding; to East London, 13 years ago, when this felt like the coolest place to be. I've always felt like the most inspiring place to ever be is a city where, frankly, shit's happening. That's the greatest inspiration. It's not always a studied process but by exposing myself to the different elements and the experiences that are happening around us, it's somewhat inevitable that I accumulate and assimilate that information and express it in a collage, a fanzine, a painting, a movie, or tight now in a new bag collection."

Beedle and his team are confident that their new 50-piece bag collection is the key to pushing the brand into its next phase (a more developed and expansive footwear offering is also mooted to be next up on the agenda) and we can confirm that they have done their homework.

"I've learnt that women have an emotive response to bags and an appetite to express their thoughts on it, but there's one thing that every woman that I've spoken to has said and that's, 'Don't make them too heavy!'" he laughed. "We wanted to strip things right back and focus on the materials and the leather. We felt it was befitting of a bag collection to provide the elements that allow people to express their own personality, so no big logo, no hard metal work, just very versatile and very cool."

Collaborating with the renowned Simone handbag manufacturer in Seoul - which helped brands including Michael Kors, Coach and Marc by Marc Jacobs experience success in the accessories category - has also allowed them to up their game considerably, combining the fashion house's expertise in leather with the factory's bag-making skills, and lowering price points so that nothing comes in over £300.

"We have our expertise in skin and we've partnered with them to share what we need," Beedle explained of the union. "We work as we have done for decades with the world's best tanneries and we want to explore price points that are super democratic considering the quality that we're offering. We're working with very traditional manufacturing in an innovative way, and that's what a good partnership looks like."

It's a partnership that Beedle is certain couldn't have happened before. Despite being head designer for 11 years, it was just three years ago that he was appointed as chief creative director and, in his words, "We had a lot of work to do."

"We really had to establish some of the fundamental codes of the house, our identity and how we expressed it. Having done that we then developed the momentum we needed and now we're in the situation where we can have the right conversations with the right partners and know ourselves well enough to be able to express that as effectively as possible. I don't know if before it would have been the right time to partner."

Streamlining its vision and honing its edit has pointed the brand in a more confident and accomplished direction, not only where new categories are concerned, but with existing ready-to-wear too (allowing it to shake off its ripped-T-shirt reputation once and for all). The plan is to "add juxtaposing layers" each season that sit not only well together but also with seasons before.

"There are certain codes in this house that we are known for and the easiest thing in the world would have been to take those and express them in a bag but that was something completely different to what I wanted to do," Beedle said. "Like a collage they need to layer onto everything that exists already. If someone has the best biker jacket in the world, why would they want to carry it on their arm? Hopefully we're assembling a look for someone that isn't matchy matchy but where the bag becomes another layer - an unspoken cool. That was another fundamental concern in the development of the collection."

The renewed vigour at the top is palpable right the way down through the collections, placing the brand in a positive position to fully embrace what its hoping will come its way in the next year.

"We're going into new markets now with a fully formed ready-to-wear collection and a fully-formed bag collection and we're going to see a different response," Beedle said. "What's clear is that bags articulate brands as much as the collection does, as much as the creative content does, so it's going to be very interesting to see how they respond."

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