FASHION DESIGNER, STUART TREVOR - STARTING UP ALL SAINTS
I'd like to tell you about the early days of All Saints. How the brand and designs came about, and how I picked the name.
THE TV SERIES, THE CAR - THE INSPIRATION!
When I was a kid I was obsessed with James Bond and 007, and I was totally in love with the Aston Martin DB7 - the car driven by Sean Connery in Casino Royale. Well, who wasn't? Back in those days (the late 1970s) there were loads of people that loved James Bond but it was not quite the same as it is now, especially when you're talking about the average 10-year-old kid in a council estate in Scotland. Nowadays, it's an international obsession. It seems like pretty much everyone these days loves new releases of movies like James Bond and The Star Wars - and these movies get an insane amount of marketing and editorial coverage.
For me, however, I loved everything about the movies aside from the hype - like the style of the clothing and the artwork of the original book covers that I had collected. I actually knew already back then, as a kid obsessed with art, that I wanted to become a designer who designs a whole collection inspired by classic James Bond books and movies.
One of the main things I really loved about James Bond was the car - the Aston Martin DB7. Everybody loved that car, and back in those days, a classic would probably cost around £50,000. So, it was unfeasible really to think about owning a car like that back then - today it's worth £1.5 million!
There was another television series from the late 60s that was very similar to James Bond. It also starred the actor Roger Moore who played James Bond later on, in the 80s (after Sean Connery). This television series was called the Saint, where the main character was a spy. This spy, Simon Templar, was a really cool, stylish, and a good looking fella who drove a really beautiful classic car - the Volvo P1800. This type of car was at that point worth about £5,000 - £10,000 and I set my heart on finding one of them as soon as I could.
The first year after graduating from Nottingham Trent Poly/University with a degree in Fashion Design, I went over to visit my parents in Arizona for Christmas. At that point, I had started working as head of design at Reiss and was earning proper money for the very first time in my life. I ended up spending a week in Arizona at my mum's in bed with the most awful flu, it was not the holiday I had imagined. But when I left for the airport on New Year's Eve, we drove past the Arizona fire station where I saw that there was a Volvo V1800 parked behind the station. I shouted to my dad to stop the car and I jumped out, ran over and it had a For Sale sign on it. I went inside to ask about the car and the fire chief told me that it was his and he wanted $1,500 for it. Now, I wasn't sure if he meant $15,000 or $1,500, because that seemed incredible (really cheap!).
He wrote it down for me and I got a calculator out, as I couldn't believe it that he only wanted the equivalent of about £1000 for this car. Naturally, I asked him if I could take it for a test drive. I took it out on the freeway, up to 120 miles an hour and then I drove straight to the bank and took out the $1500 which I gave it to the fire chief immediately. I then drove from Arizona to Los Angeles and made it just-in-time to meet up with my best mate at midnight for a New Year's Eve party. A week later I flew back to London and a month later the car arrived in a shipping container. After collecting it from the shipping dock, I ended up driving it every single day for the next 25 years.
So I was about 20 years old living on the Kings Road in London, designing for Reiss. In my spare time, I was hanging out in all the coolest bars and clubs in Chelsea and Notting Hill where I started running clubs with some mates at Subterania in Ladbroke Grove, hanging out with John Galliano, Boy George, Michael Hutchence, Kylie Minogue and Jamiroquoi.
Everywhere I went in my Volvo V1800 people used to say "Oh it's The Saint" and often they would whistle the theme tune of the TV series - not everyone knew it back then as there was no internet and no repeats on Sky TV or anything like that. It was just a few cooler people that remembered seeing one or two episodes of the original TV series.
So fast forward 6/7 years where I've been designing collections for Reiss, I've taken the business from a multi-brand retailer in serious financial trouble and set the business up as it's own label designer collection.
Single-handedly, I'd taken it to shows all around the world and sold it to the best department stores and designer retailers in Japan, USA, France, Germany, and Italy, including Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Barneys New York and Beams and Ships in Japan.
I was travelling backwards and forwards to all these countries, spending a fair amount of time in Italy working with the best fabric mills in the world. I also spent a lot of time in Hong Kong, where we used to produce knitwear, T-shirts, polo shirts etc. In Hong Kong, we also produced a really cool collection of outerwear, with factories that were producing for brands like Calvin Klein, Stone Island, Armani and Paul Smith.
FINDING THE PERFECT NAME
One of the factory owners in Hong Kong approached me and asked me if I would become his agent - they had sales in excess of £10 million and he offered me 10% commission on those orders which were over £1 million per year!! In hindsight I should have just taken him up on that offer, however, I was a designer and completely determined to have my own label. I told him that if they had that much money to spend, why didn't he back me to set up my own designer collection and I would sell it to all the people that I had sold Reiss to. By now I was selling for about £4 million a season for Reiss - that's £8 million a year. I ended up showing the factory owner a business plan that I had already produced and showed to the bank (they weren't interested!). I had worked out that if half of the customers ordered half of what they ordered from Reiss, from a brand-new collection of mine, then I'd have a pretty healthy business.
I made a list of brand names that I was thinking about, including a reference to the TV show, the Saint; The Saint, ST (my initials), Simon Templar, Knights Templar (all inspired by the TV series and of course the car) and after a pretty mental day partying at the Notting Hill carnival on All Saints Road, I added the name All Saints to that list.
I had shown that list to all the buyers I was selling Reiss to - buyers from Selfridges, Barneys New York, Psyche in Middlesbrough - really cool buyers and independent retailers. I also showed my 'name list' to loads of friends and all of them said All Saints.
That was decided - I called the brand All Saints, and the Chinese factory agreed to fund it and produce the collection for 50% of the business.
I kind of knew that this was the right name from the beginning because as a young kid I had been brought up as a Mormon and that was the official name of the church - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Even though I wasn't religious at all, I had this name ingrained in me from my mum who was obsessed with the church, and it reminded me of my childhood - happy times.
STARTING ON MY OWN
The day that I handed my notice in at Reiss I had sold the collection to the House of Fraser group of department stores and the buyer placed an order with me for Reiss, the last collection that I designed for them, worth around £500,000. Immediately after they had placed the order I told David Reiss about it, and naturally, he was ecstatic. I thought that maybe this was a good time to tell him that I wanted to leave and set up my own label. To this, he went absolutely mental! I ended up walking out that day.
I'd already agreed to set up an office in a friend's studio on Worship Street in Shoreditch, so I jumped in the old Volvo P1800 and set off there the same day as I walked away from Reiss. This friend of mine, Stephanie Cooper, used to be one of my external tutors when I was doing my degree in Nottingham. She used to dress like a nun - head to toe in full on black Comme Des Garcons every day.
In the studio, there were crosses, statues of nuns, Saints, Jesus, rosary beads and candles everywhere - all that sort of stuff. I decided to decorate the office with stained-glass windows, and sat down after doing so and designed the very first All Saints collection.
Here I am in an interview I did in the late 90s for Men & Motors in my studio space in Shoreditch.
We took our first collection to Paris to an exhibition called SEHM - Nouvelle Espace - and set up opposite another new label call D2 - (D squared).The following day we wrote orders for £250,000 and were the only people that were busy at the exhibition - All Saints and D2. The second day we wrote orders for another half a million, including a £250,000 order with the same buyer from House of Fraser that I had previously worked with through Reiss.
That first season I wrote over £1.2 million worth of orders and over the next few months, I set about setting up a company that could produce and deliver it, with a couple of employees and a warehouse.
We managed to produce all the orders and ended up being sold out in every store we were in. The following season the stores wrote orders for over £2 million!
Looking back on it, it was kind of easy for me at the time, yet I am still pretty amazed myself that we made this happen!
I was only 28 years old, but I'd had all that experience of setting up a new label for David Reiss, working with the best factories and fabric mills in the world. David also used to let me do whatever I wanted for them from the age of 20 - a bit mental really, however it worked out well for Reiss and now it worked for me too.
Reiss was originally mainly a very classic suit collection and I came along and designed and produced all these vintage inspired collections for them. David Reiss hated it at first and as soon as I delivered it into his stores it sold out in days. Then we showed it to all the best designer stores in the world and they loved it too and bought it. David however really never understood it and used to argue with me every day and called it "cheap disco rubbish!".
With my own label, I dropped the classic suits collection and just did whatever I wanted. The first six months were like a honeymoon period where I had nothing to do except design a collection, with no worries about production or delivery. That was all to come at the following season!
All I thought about was all the cool things that I used to wear when I was a kid. Back in the late 70s and early 80s, when there weren't any fashion stores to buy from - no Topshop, no H&M, no Zara, and Selfridges, there wasn't like it is nowadays. There were also very few designers, Westwood had a single store on the Kings Road called SEX and they used to produce one-off pieces in local factories out of stock furnishing fabrics. There were also no sportswear shops like Sports Direct or Niketown and people didn't mix sportswear and designer clothing like they do now - that was only just starting to appear in magazines like The Face and iD.
There was also no internet, so you couldn't just go online and learn about designers. In fact, when I left school I was obsessed with art and design but I didn't even know there were any fashion designers- nobody told you about that at school. Not that there even were many fashion designers out there - nobody knew about them really.
I left school at 15 and started at a technical college doing Art Foundation and A levels in Art, Maths and Physics, as I thought I wanted to be an architect. As I said, there were no shops like Zara or designers and from 14 years old, I used to spend all my time in flea markets and vintage shops looking for vintage leather biker jackets, vintage suits, dinner jackets and side stripe pants, wing collar shirts, frill fronted shirts and band T-shirts - you know Rolling Stones, The Who, Bauhaus, The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy division, Adam & The Ants, New Order, Kraftwerk, Japan, Hanoi Rocks, The B-52s, The Clash, The Sex Pistols, New York Dolls and David Bowie.
I'd find old mohair jumpers and wear them with old chain necklaces with a padlock on like Sid Vicious, military band jackets like Adam Ant, leather wristbands, beaten up biker boots, combat pants, waffle knit thermal T-shirts, waistcoats worn with a T-shirt, studded punk belts, distressed and beaten and patched up jeans and denim jackets. At the back of the jackets, we'd spray paint GOD SAVE THE QUEEN or SEX PISTOLS.
So when I had free rein to design the first All Saints collection I just replicated all those influences and showed it to all the buyers who fuckin' loved it, as no one else was doing anything like it.
Photoshop hadn't been invented yet and I used to photocopy Union Jack flags, vintage motorbike T-shirts and photographs I found of Bowie, The Sex Pistols and Adam Ant etc. and scribble silly things over them like The Last Testament, The Last Chopper and Jesus Loves You etc.
I also did a whole collection in nylon of the sort of styles which was a completely new look at that time. Like a modern version of this late 70s punk, early age New Romantic, post-punk Gothic style with a modern twist
I did rucksacks, bum-bags, military pants and flak jackets. Nobody had ever seen anything like it and everybody went mental.
I had the best stores in the world fighting over who could stock All Saints. We sold it to them and they sold it next to brands like Prada, Helmet Lang, Westwood, Dolce & Gabbana. It was fantastic!
Later on, we opened our own All Saints stores and if you want to know more about that process, then make sure to read my next blog post which will be about opening our very first stores! This post is going live here in about a weeks time, so watch this space!