What motivated you to start The Casual Connoisseur as a brand? Was it an evolution from Countylads?
Yeah, I guess so. I was pretty much started after people kept saying we should put some of our graphics on t-shirts, like the ‘Subbuteo Casuals’, so it started from there as a bit of a sideline really.
Sí, supongo que sí. Básicamente empezamos porque la gente nos decía que deberíamos de hacer camisetas con nuestros diseños, como el de “Subbuteo Casuals”, así que todo empezó más bien como un proyecto personal.
If I’m not mistaken you started by printing T-shirts at home basically, right? How did you move from that to produce quality outwear, winter hats, shirts or shoes among other stuff? I’m very interested in everything behind the creative process – ideas, designs, patterns, who’s in charge of each part. Can you tell us about it?
It all sort of came naturally, the manufacturing industry has got a lot better in the UK but it was all very small and all pretty much word of mouth, as expected, not many people you would speak to will give the game away so to speak. I think to do proper cut and sewn gear now it’s still quite harder than you would think and pretty timely and expensive, crazy when you think how big an industry that was once upon a time. Many brands sold off their stock, machinery and outsource abroad, I guess this makes sense if you are a big label doing big, big numbers. That’s pretty far from where we are though. We get an idea and then try and realise it, be it a t-shirt, hat, pair of socks or a piece of outerwear. The excitement of seeing things like that come off is what it’s all about, if people then like it and buy it, then perfect! It remains a team of just two and there’s no financial support, we are still a tiny, independent brand operating week to week really, most of the time that’s how we’d like it. We aren’t going to change the world or be minted, but if we can pay the bills, see a bit more of the world and get pissed at the weekend then it’s all good.
I remember good chats with you two in the pub about films and TV. People like Mike Leigh – who I discovered thanks to your recommendations – Alan Clarke, Gary Oldman, Stanley Kubrick or Jack Nicholson who I believe is one of your main influences for the brand. You’ve made some unique things based on films of TV shows over the years. Do you take this as your particular one-upmanship nowadays?
In a way maybe, there is a fair bit of Jack Nicholson in there over the years. I’m a big fan of going to the cinema, it’s obviously come to an abrupt halt in the last year due to the pandemic. One thing I loved is trying to catch old films that get a one off showing on the big screen. I’ve been lucky to catch most of my favourite films like this over the years, it really is the best way to watch a film, darkness, total concentration, usually only a few people in there. I’ve seen Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, The Deerhunter, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, The Passenger, Scarecrow, Kes, A Clockwork Orange, The Long Good Friday and The Shining at the Cornerhouse and then later HOME in Manchester off the top of my head.
But going back to your original question, the gritty British films are always a favourite, I saw The Firm Director’s Cut at the Southbank in London and also caught a screening of Nuts in May and then Rita Sue and Bob Too, there as well, met the cast afterwards, great experiences. I love older Mike Leigh films, Meantime is a favourite and of course Nuts In May, but I think Alan Clarke is the unsung hero there, can only imagine what sort of a career he might have gone on to. We’ve also met Shane Meadows a few times some years back, I was having a piss at a screening of Dead Man’s Shoes with a live score in Sheffield, he was next to me and had one of our shirts on. I’ve met Stephen Graham a couple of times too in the past, crazy what he’s gone on to do. I also saw Thomas Turgoose fall asleep in a sink, but we won’t go into that right now.
What are you most proud of with your CC adventures after all these years?
Aside from product and the ones which have done really well, plus the famous Overlook hat which in hindsight I wish we’d have gone a bit more overboard with, we were a bit too ‘Tony Wilson’ with things, never wanting to mass produce or sell out, but you never know what is around the corner. Being in a position to make outerwear and see it go from a sketch to an actual piece of clothing is a brilliant feeling. The Weirs are probably in their tenth year now and most of them still sell out after a minute or two, that’s our own little success story.
I’d add the meets we have too, when there’s fifty lads walking down a busy high street on the piss together it’s a crazy feeling, when someone says “you must be proud to see this, you’ve created this”, it is something to behold I guess. Be it London, Stockholm, Manchester, Barcelona, Berlin or Sicily, it’s been a great journey. We’ve made great friends with this, people come, people go, but there’s been great memories made. Hopefully more of the same when things get back to normal. It’s not a clique, or a secret club… Just mates we’ve made from all over going on the piss.
As an independent business, the whole current situation is most probably not ideal for you. Despite everything, it seems like you are doing OK. New releases pretty much every week, Weirs still selling out in minutes… Do you keep yourselves optimistic? Is Brexit affecting you in much way?
Thankfully, being based solely online it’s one thing we’ve been lucky with in that we’ve not been affected too much and people are still making purchases even if they can’t get out much. I just read that Royal Mail had one of its busiest ever years trading this last year, as people are bored just sitting at home buying stuff. We’re very grateful for that. We’ve got considerably more time to concentrate and plan ahead too, which is one bonus, we’ve been a lot more productive (less midweek hangovers) and have new outerwear in the works too, which has been a long time coming. Brexit has affected post to Europe/RoW a little, mainly extra hassles, costs and worst people having to wait longer for orders.
Also, I’m a bit gutted that we’ve just missed Autumn, winter and spring due to this lockdown. It’s my favourite time for going out and dressing up, loads of big coats, hats and scarves are just sitting in boxes!
- What can you tell us about upcoming releases you have for spring and summertime?
There’s a fair bit going on, we’ve got our usual bunch of new t-shirts with Peter O’Toole doing his thing, with an array of new stuff, a new version of ‘Bowie’ from the Low album, Eastbound & Down, Ric Flair, Nuts in May, Clarence Boddicker from Robocop and a Made In Britain design which carries on our appreciation for filmmaker Alan Clarke – as always, an eclectic mix. There’s a Travis Bickle design and the return of the ever popular Paninaro tee.
We have some ‘lockdown’ theme stuff with the ‘Lazyitis’ branding, joggers, a tee and a sweatshirt all centered around comfort and a little collection with the ‘Acid Ramblers’ theme, a full zip mid layer, a printed tee, a tech cap and a beanie made from recycled plastics and a ‘multi purpose’ mug for putting Guinness and Magnum in. This is basically just a tongue in cheek way of going for big walks, pockets stuffed with cans etc, we never take things too seriously. It’s very popular now, (it’s the one thing we’ve all been allowed to do during this last crazy year) especially on social media, telling everyone how many kilometers you might have run or cycled. I understand it, setting targets, gains and all that, but it can be a bit boring. You can still enjoy nature at your own pace, maybe that’s a sign of getting old, I like a nice canal walk and noticing old architecture, little historic details, local history, spotting lesser seen breeds of bird, things that would just pass you by normally. It really is good for you to get out in the open, fresh air, the sound of a flowing river clears the head.
We did a ‘Real Ale Ramblers’ t-shirt in the early days, some people laughed at that, but it always comes full circle, we were just onto it early. We were disillusioned with the football for a while so were trying to make our own ‘fun’ on a Saturday early afternoon, we’d go for a breakfast then have a hike across Cheshire or over the hills into Yorkshire and beyond, have a decent walk but then find nice pubs and end up very well oiled before finding a late train home, sometimes missing them. I remember having a really nice day out in Hebden Bridge one time, then getting blottoed taking some daft shortcut to the train station, trudging through an absolute mud bath in the pitch dark trying to find our way home, or the time we just went right through and walked home from Macclesfield as the sun was coming up, taking inn footpaths, golf courses, back gardens and dual carriageways, that’s ‘acid rambling’ to us. Just having a laugh. That’s one bonus about the North of England, the outdoors, there’s mountains just a quick drive or train ride away, The Lakes, Peak District, Colne Valley, North Wales, Staffordshire we have some amazing scenery.
We’ve finally got some nice l/s polo shirts with these old bootleg ‘Lacoste’ mating gators on, this is quite a unique product, the badges are about 44 years old, I found them browsing the Internet and ended up chatting to the guy who originally made them. ‘T-Shirt Dude’ as he was affectionately known, low and behold he had a bag left in a drawer, he was from Missouri and worked in that game for years. I forgot all about them and then rediscovered them in a box last summer.
Then we have new outerwear, we recently visited the factory with sketches in hand, so now these are awaiting the sample stage. There will be two new coats, one will be loosely based or better still, ‘inspired’ by, on an old Belstaff coat I own: the ‘Karakoram’. I have a couple, I’ve never really seen them before or since, so pretty hard to find. Chris Bonington endorsed labels. It’s like a midweight coat, a more substantial cagoule. We found a fabric which looks spot on for it which, funnily enough, is produced in a mill just down the road in Stockport. So this could work well, hopefully we’ll do a few colours in those; nice shades like rust, brown and powder blue. It’s from the 70’s but still looks great, my old coats are in a Kelly Green and Brown, I want to try and keep them similar, old school even down to the patch branding, zippers and drawstring toggles. We’re calling this the ‘Longton’ as that’s where the original coats were made in Stoke.
We also have a new coat I’ve been working on, working title – the ‘Deansgate’ parka, a bit more contemporary, more modern, a town jacket to compliment the country jacket if you like. I’ve designed a two way pocket with a bit of a triangular theme, I can’t reinvent the wheel, I’m far from an expert, but I’m very obsessed with coats, so it’ll be interesting to see how this one turns out. Clean lines and quite subtle, fixed hood, minimal branding, Aquaguard waterproof zippers – we’re going to do this in Halley Stevenson’s fabric, dry wax, something like that. It’s a popular one to use at the moment with many brands using it. They sent through loads of swatches last week and some of it looks amazing, lots of choice.
There’s a third Tony Soprano shirt due with us soon too, made with Far Afield, this is another great project, pretty unique and a cool thing to do. The first two were bang on and sold out straight away. We’re also working on the ‘Overlook’ parka with them, that’s a work in progress we hope to see more of soon.
- Third lockdown already, pubs shut again… I can’t even remember when we last met for a pint. How are you coping? How do you occupy your time?
Well, we certainly like a drink! But a lot of that is the socialising, the getting out to cool and interesting pubs and bars, be it locals or travelling elsewhere. Meeting mates and having a good time. The lockdowns have been exceptionally cruel to the hospitality trade and will damage a lot of businesses. On a personal note, we haven’t had much to drink since the last enforced lockdown at all. Lot’s more watching TV and films until it’s over really. That and local walks is what we’re limited to pretty much. We like to go out and drink, I’ve never got big into drinking at home, I think that’s a good thing though. I dare say things have been productive without going out a lot, but I miss it a lot, it’s going to be great to finally get out again, I can’t wait.
- Not sure about yourselves but, with nowhere to go and nothing to do, I currently live pretty much in my Depor tracksuit and Reeboks. Despite the situation and the lack of social life, what are you enjoying wearing the most now? Any recent purchases?
The multiple lockdowns here have really put paid to the usual clothing. Being stuck indoors most of the time, comfort wins really. That said, I’m still buying clothes that I can’t even wear. Old habits! We both recently bought the EG x Kafka smock, it’s a nice coat, we had a big thing for EG for a good while (about 70 coats between us) so it was defo a favourite, I guess this is like a return to form. I really like the brand Sassafras too, great gear and pretty difficult to find at the moment, I’ve done my fair share of gardening jobs too, so it’s a nice fit. Adsum is another one too, Clarks for shoes, Nike’s more ‘vintage’ looking models like Pegasus, Internationalist and Vortex, nice colourful trainers that haven’t needed to change for 30 odd years, old Gore-Tex, Berghaus, Mountain Equipment, then the classics, 6876 as long been a personal fave, Cabourn, older Stone Island and CP Company, I do own a good chunk of that still.
I’m 41 in a couple of weeks and own more caps than I did as a teenager, I’ll go through a very 90’s early 00’s phase one week, than that 80’s Paninaro thing still just works well, Best Company, Armani and the Henri Lloyd stuff, I get nostalgic with things and I’m guilty of buying stuff I was fond of twenty odd years ago. Still obsessed with it all.
A few quick ones to finish:
– A music album:
The The – Soul Mining, Happy Mondays – Bummed.
I love the Highwaymen too, not even taking the piss.
– One pub in the UK and one from abroad:
Tough, as there are many especially up here, our worst kept secrets really [laughs].
Wenlock Arms (N1) Grogan’s Castle Lounge (Dublin) or Die Tagung (Friedrichshain, Berlin).
– A beer:
A good, hoppy golden ale. There’s never been a better choice of beer, so many breweries doing good things, but I still love a simple, clean pint I can see through like a Citra, Oracle or a hazy 4% beer, not a big fan of these new cloudy, murky/milky beers unless they’re still in the can and I can’t see them. I don’t really understand pints that are available at like upwards of 10%, that never used to be allowed, a few of them and you’d fall asleep and shit yourself, I’ve seen it!
And Guinness, a proper pint of Guinness. Can’t just have one.
– A book:
A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines, just greatness.
– A place:
Right now, anywhere LOL! Very into parts of North London as you know, we spend an awful lot of time in Manchester too. Stockport aint that bad too, you know, it’s home.
- Thank you very much for your time and feel free to say anything else you want.
Many thanks for the questions. We’re finally getting back to normal, I’m going to go out next week and wear a tie to celebrate. See you on the other side. *Edit, I did actually do this.