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Interview: Shaun Samson

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After spending a week in London with some of the coolest designers in the game for our FADER #84 feature on UK streetwear, we had so many good chats with so many good people that not everything could possibly make it into the magazine. Here, we're running extended interviews with some of our favorite designers, like Shaun Samson, whose collections of oversized jerseys, shirts made from Mexican blankets and saggy shorts have made him a hit with fashion kids and rappers alike.

What aesthetics were important to you when you were young? I grew up in the suburbs and tried to be like the bad kids. That was where I experienced adolescence and youth and subculture and street culture for the first time. I had an older sister who I thought was really cool because she had this boyfriend—they’re pretending to be Cholos but they’re from an upper class neighborhood. I looked up to her and all of her friends and what they wore. In the nineties, she was a Cholo, but also Boyz II Men and stuff was coming up, so there was a lot of urban style throughout society.

Where did you grow up? I grew up in San Diego. We had gangs but we also had the skaters, the surfers, that whole quintessential California subculture alongside the Asian gangs or the Latino gangs or the Cholos in LA. Southern California is good in that it’s this big melting pot of all these different cultures.

Is that where your Mexican blanket collection came from? Yea, Mexican blankets were all around me when I was growing up.

[caption id="attachment_242304" align="aligncenter" width="620" caption="Shaun Samson's Spring 2012 collection."][/caption]

Have you always done oversized stuff? Yes, because when I was little I used to borrow my sister’s clothes, and she’d wear boys’ clothes, like a Raider’s jersey.

How did you find London when you first moved there for fashion college? London has its own kinds of subcultures. When I first moved there, the whole new rave thing was getting really, really big, I moved there in 2004, so it was just before the whole new rave thing. New rave really started I guess in 2005. Plus, you’re going to art school, where everyone is kind of a freak in their own kind of way, so it was just trying to absorb all of that. Everything felt a whole lot brighter, like neon colors, and it was a time in my life where I was kind of exploring myself, so I was really open to that—all different experiences.

Electronic music is so formative to the London experience. I think electronic music is more part of that society than American. I feel like Europeans like electronic music and it’s more part of their popular culture, and even when you’re listening to the radio they’re playing like techno or something. In America, now it kind of exists with like Chris Brown and Rihanna, and I think it's a new thing for America to be able to accept techno as mainstream.

What's the difference between London and other fashion capitals, and what's so special about London? I feel like each city has its different kind of attitude as far as fashion goes. I feel like the Parisians have an amazing history, with all of the couture houses. They love pretty, pretty things, and I think they’re really good at doing amazing gowns, hand-beaded stuff. Italy I think is most known for its really traditional, quality things, like leather, fabrics, textiles. New York has its own kind of thing, where it’s a lot more industry I think, a lot more user-friendly. Whereas London, I think London is about tradition, but it’s also about anti-tradition, because the whole punk rock thing is so engrained in the culture. The punk rock look isn’t necessarily there, but the punk rock attitude is there. Like anti-establishment, anti-the-queen, we can do whatever we want. You have the very traditional stuff and then the anti-establishment stuff.

[caption id="attachment_242305" align="aligncenter" width="620" caption="Shaun Samson's Fall 2012 collecion."][/caption]

London places a premium on creativity over industry. Yeah. Does it have to be about the business? Can it just be purely creative? That's probably what the difference is—we're anti.

Tell me about your stylist, Matthew Josephs, who's so important to the scene. Yeah—he's like my billboard. I love Matthew. I feel like he embodies what we all want to be when we are in London. He's a very brave, confident dresser and he has really amazing taste and he also has, you know, a good group of people around him to help and support him—work-wise and friendship wise. I feel like we all want to have his swagger.

We actually work quite closely together. I bring him in at the beginning of the season. I share with him my initial ideas and we go back and forth on whether or not it's something that he can work with, or if it's something that's so crazy that no one will get it. So I feel like Matthew is really good at knowing what's going on in street culture. He knows what's cool, he knows what music to listen to. I'm kind of in my studio all day, like on the internet emailing—I'm not that in tune. So it's good that with Matthew, when we have these design meetings and consultations, he can give me input as far as what's happening, what's cool, what's already been done, what he wants to see out of fashion and out of the label. He's a really big part in constructing the whole collection.

Do you have any idea about why streetwear is having such a resurgence in London right now? We talked about how London is kind of an anti-establishment city—well, streetwear is the anti-tailored suit, the anti-couture dress. It’s a part of the nature of London. But I also think it also has to do with the internet and internet culture and how people perceive fashion nowadays, how its so easily accessible to people in the middle of nowhere or people that would never go to cities or never get to Paris. There’s this whole kind of resurgence of music, like ASAP Rocky and Kendrick Lamar and all those new kinds of music people who are into fashion as well. ASAP sings about Jeremy Scott and Rick Owens. So obviously, I don’t think anyone from hip-hop is going to wear a full Rick Owens look, but they mix it with their sagging jeans and then that's the new swagger.

Posted: February 21, 2013
Interview: Shaun Samson