- India Doyle
- Fashion Editor
Founded by James Waller and Nicholas Biela, Blood Brother is a London-based menswear label that has put the marriage of utility and creativity at the heart of its brand. The designers make clothes to be worn – channelling a love of fashion and football into a dreamy hybrid. With prior experience at River Island (Nick) and Diesel (James) the pair were suitably equipped to launch their own brand, although they are the first to admit that there’s nothing like the challenge of launching a business to put everything you thought you knew to the test. As they debut their AW17 collection at London Fashion Week Men’s, Culture Trip goes behind the scenes to chat Brexit, cartography and how to achieve the creative vision.
Culture Trip: How did you guys meet?
James Waller: We met at college, playing football. When you go to a fashion college it’s usually quite tightly strung but as we met playing football there was never any other goal other than to be mates. Then we started our careers, and after late beers and dinner talks we decided to do something together.
Nicholas Biela: I think early goal setting really helped us to form a good friendship and then form a good business.
JW: Hence the name.
NB: Hence the name. It was never going to be anything other than something that we could share. As gimmicky as it sounds, at the time it was a loose name that felt right. It was genuine – and it’s about the representation and what it means to be reliant on other people. It’s not about a group of guys, that’s why it’s not Blood Brothers. It’s about that person, because it’s impossible to do anything well on your own.
CT: When you graduated, did you know what the aesthetic of the brand was going to be?
NB: I think we want to make clothes that feel different, have an opinion and have a lot of originality without being too far wide of a mainstream audience. The key feature we both share is that we want guys to wear our clothes. I’m such a fan of so many creative designers who lead the way in their fields, but it’s important for us to see guys in our clothes.
JW: We want to make clothes for guys like us – who like football, who are into fashion – could wear. My commercial head was also thinking ‘make black, black sells’.
CT: What were the first pieces that you made?
NB: Just T-shirts, and that goes back to the element of the brand that’s about storytelling. T-shirts were the thing that were easiest for us to sell, and to create a very nimble story throughout. We built up a series of narratives that had a very punchy, graphic representation from the offset. People could very quickly see what we were going for, and buyers bought into that from the beginning. A graphic T-shirt is a very clear communication tool: men love it and it’s in every guy’s wardrobe. And the price point was perfect, James felt so enthused about selling it and we were really buzzing at the time, so [it was] a perfect starting point.
CT: Looking at this collection and in general, where do you look for inspiration and influences?
NB: We’ve always had a customer base in the UK, so it’s nice to have references form this country. It’s an expressionist way of talking about it, we’re patriotic designers. When I was inspired by the industrial revolution, it was being in Shropshire with the first iron bridge which was at the time, like Silicon Valley is today. It’s an interesting thing to look at – these people were only a few generations before us but it feels like ancient history. And it’s right on your doorstep. It would have been bizarre to talk about something that we didn’t really know anything about.
JW: That’s also why you buy a brand, for its morals, its roots.
NB: SS17 was inspired by British holidays. That romantic idea of rushing off when there’s passing sun, even though it’s been pissing it down with rain. So it’s joining the dots and topics of conversations that lead into other conversations and into the designs. And that’s why a T-shirt might be a bit more like £50 not £30, because there’s a story behind it.
CT: How long between the initial conception of an idea and production?
NB: I like to do it quite quickly. I like thinking of it, then lots of late nights and then build that thing into a very concise PDF document that we can use as a working brief. We don’t like to stray too far from that, because the worst thing is getting excited about too many different things and getting into too many different tangents. You have to be very concise to get the message through.
JW: It’s mental that from that, you then have to deliver it, make it etc. Communication is all it is.
CT: Let’s talk about your AW17 collection.
NB: It’s based on the River Thames. We looked at these old maps and have been quite interested in mapping as a whole. There was a famous cartographer who said he’d do a map of London for the King at the time. And he took a year and when he produced it they said, ‘oh that’s amazing, we’re going to pay you to do it for the whole of Greater London – make it more detailed and more accurate’. He supposedly worked every day for 10 years, and it’s a beautiful map. When he finished he gave this map over, and then he died. His life’s work – he finished it and then he popped it, apparently from stress. He made his place in history, which is pretty cool. So we were using maps as time warps. As a section of London, the river hasn’t changed a dramatic amount. It’s the reason London exists. There’s so much to draw on.
CT: Talking of change and continuity – there’s a lot of talk about the unsustainable pace of the industry, what do you think?
JW: We’re so slow, because we have to be. The market is quick but the way in which we want to evolve the brand is slow. How long it takes to manufacture clothes and get them out, with fast fashion on your heels. You only get four collections a year, and it’s kind of like, they’re running parallel but it’s two different things.
NB: The root of that question is that it’s sickly fast. It’s too fast. All the High Street retailers have an animalistic approach to clothing, it’s much too fast. I would prefer it at a slower pace, but it’s very hard when you have things going onto the High Street, being copied and jumping on the back of a look, as such. We wouldn’t do it, and we don’t aspire to. The clothing industry is just too much, it’s 100% too much. It’s just waste. We’re not blameless in it either, we’re not an artisan brand. But we definitely do have an understanding of the philosophical viewpoints of what’s good or bad. I think we’re too hungry for newness all the time.
CT: What are your plans for London Fashion Week Men’s ?
JW: Bring the energy: roll the dice, push a few boundaries.