If you ever want to get to know Tom, Anthony and Dan, founders of the Connoisseur brand, all you have to do is visit their website. It’s a window into their own world filled with the English culture they have surrounded themselves with.
Helmstyle (HS): Could you sum up the nature of your label in five words?
Casual Connoisseur (CC): Alternative, authentic, quality, quirky, and affordable!
HS: You started out making Tees, what was the breaking point when you felt you wanted to turn what you had into something bigger?
CC: Well, we are still a very small operation, but from the beginning we always had some good ideas and long term plans – we’ve wanted to do lots, we still do and we’re getting there, progression is good. We always try and get limited quantities of everything we do and build them up. The cagoule we produced earlier this year were similar, we wanted to recreate a simple old favourite from the past. Also adding in the modern requirements such as taped seams and more advanced ‘technology’ in keeping with that old school look and feel. They sold out in an afternoon.
The success of the brand and the sales means we can progress into new areas and that is seen this summer with the premium shirtings we’ve just released. These are really good, really well constructed and on a par with some of the much more expensive brands out there- very happy with these.
After these we hope to continue in the same vein, a huge chunk of what we make goes straight back into the next thing.
HS: What is it about conoisseurship that attracted you to using it in the branding of your company?
CC: Connoisseur is a great name. It’s different and the ethos sums up what we’re about. Over the last year we’ve started to use the one word branding on the items we produce. We are officially The Casual Connoisseur Ltd. A casual connoisseur of many things, it’s all about a mix for us and always has been, popular culture – music is a big part, we’re a stones throw away from a huge music scene, big things happened here in the last thirty years, it put Manchester on the map. We’re also proper film geeks but make no apologies for that one. Then there’s the great outdoors, this is something of huge interest too. There’s a bit of everything in what we do and a bit of everyone who gets us, young and old, whether it’s someone from the terrace, someone from the street, someone who likes walking up a mountain, we have a broad appeal. The name actually originated from an old One True Saxon t-shirt from many moons ago when that was a pretty exciting new brand and at the time a real breath of fresh air, I spoke to the founder of that brand Ian Paley now the man behind the Garbstore of course and he said was still waiting for the cheque ha ha!
HS: Tell us about the ethos of The Connoisseur brand?
CC: Our ethos right from the beginning was to deliver a product that was different from what’s out there, alternative both quirky and interesting and perhaps most importantly affordable without compromising on quality, we know what people like and we also know who we are and who we cannot compete with. We feel we have a broad appeal for different people. A lot of the time people say we started as a ‘football casual’ brand, we didn’t but right from the beginning it’s always been about a lot more than that, proper popular culture in general we coveted. You only have to look at the stuff we have released, the people who sell to, and the best selling things we have released to see our scope and captive audience. The original tee designs right from the off incorporated films and music and of course the football culture aspect and clothing interests. We have always been interested in football for many years, but in the last few for me personally I feel it is a dead duck both on and off the pitch. Money has made it into some ridiculous sanitised entertainment even at a low level. It’s not for me anymore the soul has gone.
HS: your website is a very unique and interesting one; tell us about it…
CC: We have a forum of regular contributors which, where possible we try and include in the growth of the website and even the brand. Of course the social networks too have played a big part, we’ve got over two and a half thousand fans on Facebook and Twitter’s picking up a lot now having been a bit of a late comer to both of those outlets. We try to be the full package. We’d like people to visit the site and spend time looking through it and hopefully enjoy it. We feel we have a good knowledge of film, music and clothing and we’ve done something productive with it. I’d say you can grab a seat and end up spending an hour sat at the website, it’s not just a case of ‘buy this’ please. Thanks. We do all this ourselves and intend for it to grow with us as we grow older, there’s a lot more we want to add to it, it tells a story basically, our story.
HS: Also, the different links you have i.e. music, film etc is a great feature of the site, is your website designed for the same guy you imagine wearing your clothes?
CC: We don’t want to imagine a specific guy, why pigeon hole? an eighteen year old enjoys what we do as much as a forty year old, we’ve achieved what we set out to do. If people can learn things from it and find it informative, which they would – then it’s even better.
HS: What kind of guy do you imagine wearing your clothes?
CC: This is where we know we are different. I imagine there to be no specific person wearing them (in general) and that’s a good thing, as we say, the young, to the old. Someone going to a gig, someone going for a hike, someone going to the football, I’ve seen this myself and it’s cool to know.
HS: Has there been anything or anyone that has inspired you both professionally (in terms of the label) and also in your private life?
CC: Yes for sure, I think as stated above very early Saxon clothing when we were younger was one brand, they had a different and interesting way of doing things and their product was fresh. Also the likes of Stussy and Supreme, which though from a more street culture, we used to buy their stuff to try and be non conformist in our little world, which at the time was an array of designer labels. There’s a bit of everything though, between us we have amassed an archive of lots of clothing over the years, to us it’s just what we have bought or acquired to wear over many years, but I guess you could describe it as a collection or point of reference. There’s bags of inspiration in clothing, every little detail is considered. But there’s also lots of details from the popular culture we talk about gone into it, from the way we brand our product to the way we merchandise it. You could argue nothing is truly original these days, a considerable chunk of everything has already been done, as I say it should be considered but not too contrived, borrowed and re-interpreted.
HS: What would you say is your favourite tee you’ve designed so far?
CC: This is an interesting one as it often changes. I personally really liked the Nymph design from some time back based around the kitsch artwork from the artist J H Lynch, but with a difference, his work was incredibly familiar but never quite as famous, which was a shame. It also had a connection to A Clockwork Orange which I’ll bore anyone who’ll listen about how cool and important that movie is. More recently, the Assassination USA design. I really like that one. I found a really old magazine in my Grandmothers’ house after she passed away which was a really heartbreaking time. As I had the unenviable task of pretty much having to clear the whole house out, this was one discovery I’d never seen before there was this old magazine from about forty years ago with a really cool simple image in there tied to an article about corruption in America with the CIA etc by Jack Kirby who’s more famous for his comic book heroes in Marvel . I framed it and as soon as I saw it, that’s going on a t-shirt. The Northern Music t-shirt pays homage to the importance of musical culture and heritage around the North West, such a simple design which works so well, this is one of our best selling designs and has been in constant demand since it’s first print run. There’s loads more on the drawing board I’m looking forward to, collaborations with talented illustrators like Peter O’Toole and Ben Lamb and one or two of our own too.
HS: Your website is one of the most creative clothing websites I’ve seen, are all three of you involved in the brand’s artistic/creative vision?
CC: Yeah, we do it all ourselves, I’d argue it’s always going to be a learning curve and will always be in progress, look at it when we started to as it is now, it gets better as we get going and I suppose always will. I’m pretty happy in that respect, I think we do alright with that, we can take a good photograph between us too. We like to involve friends and forum members where possible too, we wanted a good looking ‘shoot’ for our shirt collection but didn’t think using a model agency was the right way to go about it, my idea was to ask three forum members who I knew would wear them well and can take a good picture. I’m really happy we did it that way and they all came up with the goods, it looks great and I’d have to thank them and those responsible for taking the pics at such short notice. There’s always going to be a kind of home grown ‘organic’ approach to things, I wouldn’t like to use the term amateur, but that’s part of the charm for me.
HS: If you had to pick one, who would you say was the ultimate connoisseur?
CC: It’s a great, but tough question first person to spring to mind is someone like Dennis Hopper, great actor, great film maker, artist, photographer, someone who really made his mark, he did a bit of everything and clearly wasn’t afraid to experiment with anything. He was a true pioneer, a rebel too. Although he sadly passed away too soon, he certainly lived life to the full and made his mark. I’d happily stick with that but my answer could change if you asked me again tomorrow.
A ‘connoisseur’ is referred to someone who is a great judge of taste. That is exactly what this brand is about. They draw inspiration from pop culture and pick out things that speak to them. For this reason, in my opinion, these guys really are the ultimate casual connoisseurs.
Please visit Casual Connoisseur’s website.
Text & interview by Talya Janette Robinson