Craig Ford of A Number of Names*
Craig Ford’s influence on the British clothing and retail scene is practically unparalleled. From managing London’s Bathing Ape store to running his own PR and distribution agency, A Number of Names*; Craig has amassed a wealth of knowledge and expertise throughout his career. Recently, the man himself was kind enough to sit down with us to discuss a plethora of topics, from music to streetwear, via British Sub-cultures. In my view, it made for a fascinating exploration of the scenes and industries we inhabit. Enjoy.
TRC: You’ve said in the past that Adam and the Ants first sparked your interest in clothing. Music seems to have been the real driving influence throughout British youth culture of the 70s, 80s and 90s. How much did it influence you?
CF: Adam & the Ants was the first record I bought, and also through Adam Ant’s interviews I learned about a lot of culture, eg at aged 8 Clockwork Orange & Taxi Driver immediately became my favourite films (I eventually saw them aged 14) because they were his . Music was a massive influence on me as a kid, mainly through mates’ big brothers. I had one mate whose big brother was a punk, and had a massive Anarchy sign on his wall, another mate’s big brother who was a socialist Mod who had a picture of The Who and Trotsky on his wall. These were, and still are, massive influences for me. Through them, I was into; Dexys, The Who, The Specials, The Jam, Sex Pistols, The Clash & Dead Kennedys. I also got into the relevant clothing associated with both factions.
TRC: Later in your career you went on to do some styling for some pretty big bands of the time. Tell us a little about that.
CF: While I was working at Duffer, I had access to all the hype product of the time, whether it was Evisu jeans, SSUR, Nike rifts, mocs 95’s and footscapes. I was friends with Bobby Gillespie and his then girlfriend Emily. I teamed up to work with Photographer Tierney Gearon to do some fashion shoots out in the US. She wanted to do typical Vogue style shoots outside barns in upstate NY, we wanted to do early era Blondie shoots on rooftops on the lower Eastside. We did some commercial work styling bands on Creation records, including Hurricane No1, Primal Scream & Jesus & Mary Chain for videos, albums and promo shots. We also hooked Oasis up with some clothes from Duffer for Top of the Pops. For the band shots we worked with Terry Richardson for Primal Scream, and Corrine Day for Hurricane No1.
TRC: You got your first real job in fashion in Glasgow’s Ichi Ni San. Would it be fair to say that it was what started your affinity for quality product?
CF: I think I got the job as I had an affinity for quality product. I used to go into the store as I was into Duffer, but I couldn’t afford it. I was basically a tyre kicker. One day somebody phoned in sick for work, so Cathal (who now owns Folk) called me to see if I could come in and work. I was 20 and looking to study fashion at university. It was my first job in the clothing business, it was a real eye opener, when I saw how much stores actually bought clothes for, then discovering the world of rent, rates, wages, and VAT.
TRC: While we’re on the subject of nice clothes, what is the one item of clothing you could never let go?
CF: I had some old Chipie & Chevignon pieces for a long time, but eventualy parted with them. Theres a few items ive kept for a vey long time:
- A Duffer Logo sweat I bought from Darbly St in 1989, I met Barry the Mod who I knew from the Sub Club in the store.
- An original Stussy Double S Logo tee I bought from Sign of the Times in 1989 (MZone were sold out)
- A Very Ape UK tee, that Fatz from Gimme5 sent to my friend in Glasgow who gave it to me.
- A pair of New Order World in Motion Shorts, with original Factory Records label. Bought from the Factory shop in Afflecks Palace summer 1990. I got a bit of stick wearing them round Glasgow that summer.
TRC: After spells at Duffer of St George and 6876 you became manager of the Bathing Ape Store in London. That role seems to transcend of requirements of a normal shop manager to more of an ambassadorial role. Give us an idea about your work while you managed the shop. I suppose, the role of store manager at A Bathing Ape also opened a lot of doors to you and allowed you to start A Number of Names. Tell us a little about how that came about.
CF: When the store opened 10 years ago, I was doing freelance design for a few companies. I had never been ‘freelance’ before. It felt a bit like being back on the dole and picking up bits of work here and there. Coming from the west coast of Scotland I think I have a certain work ethic, so I was on the lookout for something permanent. I was thinking about doing my own distribution company and was going to work with Russ from SSUR, amongst others. I was also helping my friends from Drooghi sell their brand Rather Not Say and introducing them to people like Chris from Union. I then got a job offer designing sneakers for a big sportswear brand. I accepted the offer, but it took them ages to send the final contract. In the meantime, I was approached to work opening the first store for A Bathing Ape store outside of Asia. I told the sportswear brand I had to decline the offer and I was going to look after a store. I couldn’t say who, but they thought I was mad. To me it was one of the most interesting brands in the world, so I jumped at the opportunity to be involved. It wasn’t just running the store day to day, it was overseeing everything from buying to marketing.
TRC: As we discussed, British subcultures were so varied and distinct at one point. Now, largely due to the internet, that seems to have been lost. Streetwear appears to have taken a similar route; one of a homogenised and over-saturated market. Do you ever see a return to the days of when Bape in London first opened? Or, perhaps, a similar culture already exists, it’s just harder to identify?
CF: I am old enough to remember an age pre-internet. When I was a kid at school we got our info from big brothers, the playground, youth clubs, football terraces and fanzines. Then as a teenager we got info from The Face & i-D. I used to love the letters page because of the time delay. If something was written that wasn’t accurate it took two months for the letter to be printed pointing out the error. Now People comment on blog posts in seconds. I personally prefer a world of rumours, half truths, legends and mystique. As opposed to so called facts. I also love it when myths are propagated time and time again online, so that for many people they become truth. Streetwear for me has its roots in 80’s casualwear brands; Best Company, Benetton, Ciao, Pop 84, Chevignon & Chipie, which were specifically designed for teenagers, and then with Stussy and Duffer. Streetwear also means re-appropriation of brands and looks, like guys on the football terraces wearing Burberry & Aquascutum. Nowadays luxury brands want to be re-appropriated by the youth, and market themselves directly at youth cultures. I prefer it when things happen from the grass roots without marketing, and when clothes are worn out of context. Nowadays things don’t have time to develop underground, they are immediately global. I like the story of the original skinheads not wanting to talk to the press about their style & culture as they didn’t want to sell out. As soon as the first skins talked is when suedehead began.
TRC: You said a year ago that you wanted to “bring streetwear back.” Aside from those at A Number of Names*, what brands do you feel are really driving that movement just now?
CF: I’d say Mark McNairy is with his pastiche graphics, as are Palace with theirs. APC just did an amazing teeshirt; gold embroidery-APC Paris which looks like an 80’s bootleg tee. C.E are doing something really new and pushing boundaries, it’s totally different from everything else that’s around, rather than generic, homogenised stuff that’s coming out from so many so called ‘grown up’ streetwear brands. I think so many brands are doing the same things now, and many consumers are lazy, it’s hard to be relevant and interesting. What I think is still interesting is the way individuals put things together, for example our intern Hugo with his bench made shoes & pin tucks.
TRC: Anon* has several brands on its roster which range quite dramatically in terms of style and price-point. What should we be looking out for from these brands in the coming season?
CF: Human Made are doing a collab with Coca Cola. The last time I was at NIGO’s office he had a collection of original 50’s Coke delivery driver uniforms, all made by Lee. He is a big Lee collector and has got Warehouse to remake them for Human Made along with classic Human Made tees & sweats with Coke graphics on. Mark McNairy has just done a BBC BeeLine colab with Timberland. An original B-Boy/Hood banger. (This boot was very popular at the Tunnel nightclub in the late 80’s in Glasgow, teamed with a pair of Armani Jeans.) It’s Bape’s 20th Anniversary this year from April so expect some big things from them. Gourmet are continuing their success with their out there patterns on the 35 silhouette. Ebbets Field Flannels & Bedwin & the Heartbreakers are just doing what they always do; good quality classics.
TRC: Dealing with so many brands must keep your working life pretty varied and interesting. Talk us through a regular day at Anon* HQ.
CF: It varies so much from day to day. A regular day would be at the showroom. Arrive around 10.00 pick up a coffee from Prufrock at Present, probably bump into Eddie in there. First thing could be a skype or call with Japan; Bape, BBC, Human Made, C.E or Bedwin. Catch up with Big Stu my general (manager) on all aspects of the business: sales, press, distribution, websites, accounts (i.e. who hasn’t paid their bills) Sit down and check my emails. Delete all the ones I’m cc’d on but don’t have to reply to. Get back to any I have to urgently. Go for lunch, my favourite local spot is Leilas café on Calvert Avenue. I’ll drop in to say hi to Simon Spiterri at Anthem on the way. We might have a customer, or a press person drop by in the afternoon, so I might interrupt their appointment with the sales or PR department to catch up on what’s happening. Maybe a meeting with Mark Batista and Alice from Jacket Required in the afternoon about the tradeshow. Then, a call to the Bape store to see what’s happening, and talks about any orders that need doing. Potentially a call or skype with one of our US brands, Gourmet or Ebbets. Then catch up with my people in the office on anything that needs my attention, which could be anything across PR, Sales, Web, Warehousing, Accounts. I’m pretty particular so I have to personally sign off a lot of stuff. If I’m lucky Ill have a quick pint next door at the Dragon bar on the way home.
TRC: You’ve also just wrapped up the most recent instalment of the Jacket Required tradeshow which you help organise. What does JR have planned for the future?
CF: We had a great response to the latest show, from buyers, exhibitors and press. We are conscious of not getting too big for our boots, so no major changes there for the near future. Although we have been approached by a lot of new interesting brands, so we might have to look for a bigger venue, or an additional venue. But we are conscious that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. We also have grown organically up to this point so we want to keep it that way. Quality over quantity.