The Backstory: T. Lipop in the studio, SS13
Since London Collections: Men, I’ve been out visiting some of my favourite menswear designers; taking a second look at the SS13 collections and finding out more about the people that created them. T.Lipop caught my eye last season, with a dramatic AW12 presentation at Somerset House, apparently inspired by Scott of the Antarctic, featuring models with frosty beards and brows, in rugged outerwear, sternly gazing out as if from the polar ice floes. As I’m fond of saying, I love a collection with a narrative, a proper story, and T.Lipop struck me as a brand able to spin a good yarn or two.
This time the story is about colour: the brilliant Mexican-Day-of-the-Dead-meets-LA-gang-aesthetic tableau vivant presentation at Fashion East was a definite highlight of my first day there (I went back on Sunday for the now legendary Meadham Kirchoff presentation).
After providing one of the most startling presentations of the whole menswear weekend, I was keen to see where Tom Lipop’s work comes from, and of course, to speak with one of London’s acknowledged proponents of printed trousers, a burgeoning trend for SS13.
So last week I met Tom, business partner Esser, and an assortment of pugs and interns at their studio in Hackney, E9. I was quickly reminded of how on first introduction at Fashion East, Tom had taken me be surprise with his jovial affability, instantly dispelling the image of a dour East European designer the name T.Lipop had first suggested to me. What follows is a transcript of our chat, interspersed with some shots from the studio, some detail shots of the key pieces and accessories, and a couple of reminders of their very dramatic presentations.
SL: I know you’ve just got back from presenting at the London Showrooms in Paris, how was that?
TL: The London Showrooms was obviously amazing, a really good vibe there. And the calibre of stores coming through the doors there, was second to none. We’ve secured some new stockists: one in Saudi Arabia, one in Dubai, two in Tokyo, one in Hong Kong, and we’re in talks with two in London. It’s just chasing them up now, it’s hard if you don’t get the order in Paris, as you feel they’ve lost interest. We’re being watched by a few stores in London for the next couple of seasons, we probably won’t know until next season, so we’ll see what happens. But definitely a very good Showrooms.
SL: Apart from the sales stuff that you’re doing, what are you working on right now?
TL: We’re currently in talks with River Island about doing a kind of designer collection with them. They’ve approached a few people and shortlisted it to three of us, I don’t know the other two guys, I just know I’m in the final three. So, we’ll see. That might be another collection. I’m going to start working on the new collection next week, and we’re also just taking on an interior job, doing an interior for a Korean karaoke bar in central London, which should be quite interesting and fun! So, it’s good, it’s good, I just want a lot of time for next season’s collection, to develop some really new and exciting stuff. Last season was such a short season, we didn’t really have a lot of time to play around with patterns, so hopefully this season it’s going to be something completely different, and we’re going to probably apply for MAN and see where that takes us and see if we can get on that platform.
SL: So you’ve obviously got a bit of team going here?
TL: So it’s me and Esser, Esser’s the business side, that side of the business, and then I’m doing all the creative. Which kind of works because it means that I don’t have to do all that stuff that I hate.. well, I don’t hate it, I’m learning as well. But it’s good to separate the two I think, and it means that Esser, if he thinks that something shouldn’t be done he’ll put a foot down, which is good.
[At this point our discussion digressed into how Tom and Esser met, the role that Tom’s girlfriend Emma, a stylist, plays with them, and interns Clara “who’s working on pattern cutting with me” and Christina “who’s working on all our internal PR currently.” We also went on to discuss their experience of working with different fashion PR companies]
SL: It seems like PR is quite tricky, every designer I meet has a different story…
TL: We’re not that avant garde, we want to sell. We were getting into good magazines, like WAD, POP and those kinds of magazines but we need some more commercial magazines as well, things like Men’s Health and GQ, they’re the magazines that are really selling stuff. The others are more about exposure and press I guess.
SL: I guess you need to prove that you’re wearable as well as you can look good in an editorial shoot
TL: Yeah, yeah… now we’re sitting with like-minded brands which is good.
SL: Everything I’ve seen you do, involves very dramatic staging, and I was interested to hear you’re doing an interior now. How did that come about?
TL: It’s basically one of our friends who owns a Korean karaoke bar, above a renowned sushi restaurant just off Holborn and they’ve roped us in and we have two rooms to prove ourselves, and if that goes well we’ll get to do the whole downstairs. And we’re making it really different to all the other karaoke bars – that kind of oriental, wipe-clean thing: we’re thinking we’ll do a London-driven one, so each room will be named after a different stop. So, we might do Whitechapel, which will obviously be an all white room and that kind of chapel-y memorabilia, and then maybe Shepherd’s Bush, which is kind of associated with bushes, and the green scene!
SL: So, you’re taking the place names quite literally!
TL: Yeah, yeah quite literally. They’re quite into it, because it’s Korean, they’re quite into English heritage anyway, it’s a different approach for a karaoke bar.
So, yeah, when you say we… I guess we have tried to push it a little bit, with our presentations. Purely because I don’t see us as a print-based company and I think a lot of the exposure that people are getting is down to print. Our way of doing it was to make the actual presentation slightly different and maybe dramatise the presentation. Having said that, next season we’re going to do a block section of print, and then a block section of monotone so it’s going to be kind of different to what we’ve done for the last two seasons.
SL: Does the current emphasis on print worry you?
TL: I guess sometimes, I feel like a lot of brands, in London especially, are print based, and you kind of get lost when, because London’s known for print you kind of sometimes get lost amongst those, so we feel it’s something we need to start to move away from within our garments. Our garments will always start off with the cut, and then print will be there to accentuate the cut or the garment, whereas I think some people start off with the print, and then work that into the garment, we’d be the other way round.
SL: So this time you had the Mexican, Day of the Dead theme, how did that come about?
TL: I think that was completely accidental to be honest! It was kind of, we wanted to do something that was fun, the season before was quite subdued and military based, so we wanted to do something that was kind of fun and that was kind of experimental with colour. So we went all out on the colour blocking.
I work backwards, I draw it all out on paper, and then I start referencing, so I don’t worry about doing all the research beforehand. I tend to design what I want to design and then reference backwards. And it just worked with all the colour, that it could reference to the Mexican culture. So we looked at the cuts of the traditional Mexican and the kind of attitude of the Mexican gangs and LA gangs. But we didn’t want it to be too associated with streetwear, we still want it to be that high end brand. Kind of like what Raf Simons did through Jil Sander a couple of seasons ago, with that whole bright, experimental colouring… it was that kind of direction.
SL: The presentation came across as being very refined, salon-like, as opposed to being very streety…
TL: Yeah, that was the main aim, and we tried to push through the colour within every aspect so we did block coloured caps, we did the full block-coloured looks and then we did the shoes as well. We did a collaboration with Del Toro… They’ve kind of been our best seller this season [SL: “I bet!”] which is good because they have so many stockists within the US.
SL: How did that come about? Is that just something you came across?
TL: Yeah, what I really wanted to do was a shoe that was a cross between the English heritage of a slipper but more wearable as a kind of Italian loafer and Del Toro produced, already, pretty much the same shaped shoe, so it was kind of a no-brainer to team up with them and work with them on a half-collaboration: it’s their shoe with our colourways and embroideries. It was really the last thing that came about, about three weeks before the presentation after we were let down by another factory, kind of very last minute, I came across them and we just approached them. But we’re actually going to work with them this season on a full collaboration, and I think we’re going to do three or four styles, across a range of, probably, sixteen pairs.
SL: So who wears their shoes in the States? What kind of person?
TL: They are very preppy based, I would say that even the guy, Matt, is very preppy himself, he went to Harvard. And when they were graduating from Uni, they were looking to get slippers done with their own initials for themselves, for them and their group of mates, and it was so expensive to do they ended up starting their own make. The guy, I think he’s half Italian, he spoke to an Italian factory and it just went from there and now they’ve just blown up into this kind of big, preppy, American, slipper company, but they’re doing collaborations with rappers, they’re in Barneys and Saks. So it’s that kind of guy, who you’d expect to be wearing Ralph Lauren and that preppy kind of look.
[At this point Esser, finds an example of the slippers and puts them on the table in front of me]
SL: Yes, I remember seeing them in the cases at the presentation but it’s great to see them up close again…
TL: This was their… they really wanted to expand into Europe.
[indicating the skull prints designs on paper on the wall behind] So I started off by drawing some sugar skulls, that’s where that came from, the embroidery. And we did hats as well, but they didn’t turn up for the show, which was great! This was another collaboration but it was with a company based in the U.S. called Flat Fitting and it was that whole block colouring, but it was a shame they didn’t make it back…it was great getting that email on the Monday morning before the show!
SL: I want to just go back a bit over your history. You might cringe at this question, but I read that you’d been involved in the Project Catwalk TV show, can you tell me about that?
TL: Oh yes, I thought you might come up with it! I did graduate fashion week and I was headhunted for it. It was probably one of the best but one of the hardest experiences of my life, it was so difficult because of the the time constraints that you had to create garments and patterns, the sewing, and it was the first thing I did since Uni. But on the other hand it opened up so many doors, I wouldn’t not do it if I had that chance again, I’d do it again. It was just a great opportunity to break into the industry. After that I was offered a job at House of Holland, and I was working just under Henry. It was a lot of responsibility for a first job.
SL: So, the next bit of your story I’m interested in is Fashion East, and how that’s influenced where you are
TL: I mean Fashion East is a really amazing platform, they’ve been really supportive but I think we owe a lot to Vauxhall Fashion Scout to be honest, because when we were given ‘Ones To Watch’ status it was kind of our breaking point and it meant that we could get the exposure. The only difference I think between Fashion East and Vauxhall is that Vauxhall really is two or three seasons for really emerging designers whereas I think at Fashion East I think a lot of people have already done Vauxhall, or they’ve finished an MA at one of the bigger universities, or they’re just an exceptional talent, there’s only a few ways in to Fashion East. Fashion East have been amazing, their mentoring, and their support while were in Paris and the freedom to do whatever you want, we’ve never had that kind of freedom, there’s always that restriction with the catwalk, but with Fashion East it’s up to you to decide how you want your brand to be seen.
SL: From the collections I’ve seen you’ve had that whole tableau vivant thing, like the boys in the cases this time, how do you see that being translated into the catwalk? Or do you?
TL: I don’t know really, with the catwalk… With the Antarctic thing, we’d probably have done the same kind of vision. Really with us, it all boils down to money, and it’s what we can do within our budget. If money was no object, the world is your oyster and you could obviously do something really different. I would pretty much, I think, with the exception of the Mexican themed one, which I think is difficult to translate to the catwalk, because all the boxes and the flowers made the catwalk, when you look at someone like Meadham Kirchoff’s presentation this season, that’s probably the direction the Mexican themed collection would have gone in, where it’s a larger space with kind of guys around, and people walking around, rather than it being a set catwalk. I think within catwalk there are some constraints and we’d have to think differently about it.
SL: Do you think it’s a bit liberating in some ways, not having to have a traditional catwalk for menswear?
TL:Yeah, this season, because we did catwalk with Vauxhall last season, this season not doing catwalk took off so much stress. There’s so much stress organising a catwalk. It was really fun, it was just nice to do something different this season and give it a push. I think we lucked out with the space we were given… it looked like a long, narrow room… but when we were told we could take the doors off, you see all of that beautiful haberdashery-type wardrobes, it lets your imagination go wild with what you can do there.
SL: I think you really made it work for you.
TL: Yeah, thanks! I think it really was the right space for us, and we’re really happy with how it turned out in the end. The room was always packed, which was a good thing for us. Because we’re all about cut, it was nice for me to be able to present the garments to press and buyers. Catwalk, I think you lose a lot of what a brand is about, just because they are so quick, especially if you’re not in the front row.
SL: So you’ve told me about the shoes, and the hats but in general how do you go about sourcing your materials, the fabrics you use, how do things get made?
TL: We’ve just been approached and started working with an Italian factory which is for all the garments with the exception of leather. They work with Margiela, Demeulemeester, Adam Kimmel, Valentino, Armani. Next season everything is going to be produced in Italy with the exception of our tailoring, that’s all done in Norwich and we work really closely with the factory cutting the patterns making sure it’s how we want it. They work with Mr Start and Gieves and Hawkes is their sister company. Then for shoes… if I can find a company on the internet I will approach them, I don’t worry too much about who they are, if they can help us achieve something we want to do. Hats last time [indicating the embroidered baseball cap] were in the US, two seasons ago, the hats were made in China, and China was probably the easiest place I’ve ever worked with! It was spec the hat out and it came back spot on. [SL: Well I guess they’re brilliant at duplication! TL: Yes! It’s what they’re known for, isn’t it?!]
Paper man in China-produced hat from two seasons ago…
[At this point the conversation digresses into the merits of different countries for production, including Turkey where Esser is from, and where I’m headed soon]
Before I left T.Lipop HQ, I prowled around the studio taking shots, and handling the garments. I was particularly keen on the floral pants, which come with an amusing story. Tom pointed out that a Mexican model had suggested that the print looks just like his grandmother’s table cloth… and duly got to model them at the presentation. Up close, the trousers, in addition to that wild print, have a beautiful texture, a hexagonal weave within the fabric and a really pleasant cotton weightiness which suggests they’d be a delight to wear.
As someone fascinated with the fashion design process, one thing I found particularly interesting was the idea of everything emanating from what Tom wants to design and (literally) draw before all the research and referencing is complete, a reversal of how many perceive the design process. The fact that T.Lipop’s presentations feel so accomplished and thoroughly researched, is a great sign of their determination as a designer brand.
If you’re less of a design geek than me, and just interested in finding great stuff to wear, then T.Lipop should still definitely be on your radar. Perhaps you’re not brave enough to wear tablecloth-inspired floral pants just yet, but if there’s even a hint of a repressed Snoop Dogg or ambitious uber-preppy inside of you, those high-end embroidered accessories should still impress.