Jason Jules is something of a polymath. Keystone to the London fashion scene, in particular the Ivy trend, exemplified by brands like Drake's, he has written books, promoted club nights, modelled and made a film (amongst many other things). Here we sit down with the man himself.
Where would you say your interest in fashion and menswear stems from? Could you pinpoint a particular event or influence?
Both my parents were involved in the clothing trade. In fact when they first met in St Lucia as teenagers it was while my dad was studying tailoring and my mum was training to be a seamstress. By the time I was born, they’d moved to the UK and my mum had a job working for a local garment manufacturer doing piece-work at home. That meant she’d receive a bundle of pre-cut fabric to sew. Often it was the sleeves and collars to a shirt or a coat. She’d sew these pieces together and then the factory would send someone to pick them up and drop off some more for her to sew. I was just a baby, but my earliest memories are of crawling around on the floor, at her feet while she sewed. I’d be surrounded by fabric and strands of fabric. When we were old enough, she had me and my sister help her ‘turn’ the pieces so they were ready to be picked up and taken back to the factory. We’d be given dozens of inside-out shirt collars and have to use long knitting needles to poke out the corners. I remember even then that she’d get stuff from Burberry’s and also a sports brand called Slazenger. You might say it was my first job in the fashion industry. My dad worked in the foundry at a Ford’s Motor plant. It was the toughest job in the factory – hot and dangerous and relentless. Like so many people who came to the ‘mother country’ in the 60’s from the West India’s at that time, his formal training wasn’t considered valid in the UK. The country didn’t want more trained tailors, they wanted unskilled labourers. So that’s how my dad ended up at Fords. When he wasn’t working nightshirts, he’d come home around 5 in the afternoon and we’d all sit there turning sleeves and collars and he’d discuss the quality of the fabric and the designs with my mum. My dad truly loved clothes. He loved watching old Hollywood movies – with people like James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and Audie Murphy. He’d often comment on their style when we watched them on TV. I guess, when I think about it, it would be hard for me not to have developed an appreciation of clothes really.
Any biography available of yourself usually begins with a list of roles that you have had a hand in working on, from PR to producing and writing. It seems like you've been lucky enough to bring many of your interests into your work, is that something you've actively done or have you had to grab opportunities when they arise?
I realised long ago that I was pretty much unemployable. I figured rather than continually getting sacked from jobs I really didn't enjoy anyway. So although over the years I’ve worked with brands like Levi’s, Nike, Dickies, Caterpillar, Sony Records, Columbia and EMI – it’s always been on projects I was personally interested in and had an affinity towards. Working with friends and people I liked just seemed like the natural thing to do. I’ve been lucky too that over the years people like Jerry Dammers from the Specials, Kevin Rowland from Dexys Midnight Runners, Jazzie B from Soul 2 Soul and Paul Weller (The Jam, The Style Council), have all become friends and I got to work with them too. Being an independent creative means that if it’s never a problem if ever I feel like initiating a project of my own. Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally open to new projects and new people but I’ve found that most good working relationships either evolve out of or into friendships.
You've produced a documentary film A Modernist about John Simons, whose Ivy influenced British style has clearly influenced your own, what is about this fashion, that we see in slightly different forms around the world, that is so timeless and appealing to contemporary men?
I think it’s a strange mix of being both traditional and yet modern. Mid-century modernism still provides much of the cultural and aesthetic framework within which we think and operate and that style of clothing is an inherent part of that era. Built on very conservative lines but with a keen sense of forward-facing functionality it’s a look that is always going to be associated – at its core - with the sense of optimism and positivity that was sold along with stuff like consumerism individuality as part of the post war American Dream from the fifties onwards. Everything about these pieces is imbued with that feeling and sensibility – they’re classic but contemporary and buying into the look allows us to be both those things at once. Those who helped established our general understating of these clothes, the Manhattan advertising men, the modernist artists, the film stars and TV presenters still occupy our collective memory and influence our almost instinctive response to these pieces – whether we know it or not. As Winston Churchill once said, ‘We shape the things we build, thereafter they shape us.’
Here at Coalo, we're working on showcasing sustainable menswear labels as we feel they're generally underrepresented or just not necessarily talking about it enough. What do you think about the synchronism between sustainable living and how men typically use fashion?
I think menswear has been for about the past 10years heading in three distinct directions. On one level it’s followed women’s wear down the high-street – literally and metaphorically. It’s become disposable and fast. On the other hand it’s become sartorial, premium priced product that is well made and looks like it’s built to last. But it’s not cheap. And it’s not historically presented as being particularly diverse or culturally inclusive. And so, unlike it’s fast fashion contemporary, it comes with a kind of elitist barrier which a lot of men find off-putting or intimidating or both. The other strand is sportwear / streetwear. It has its own high street and premium eco-systems which often overlap and feed into each other, of course. It’s presented as culturally and racially inclusive. Personally, I feel that there’s space beyond these three areas and it’s wide open for brands with values and strong communication skills to connect with men who are really not served by either one of these market categories. The problem sustainable brands have is, much in the same way that we almost subconsciously associate an Oxford broadcloth button down shirt with modernist and classic style, we associate sustainability with worthiness and unfashionability. And with suffering. The standard language and the ‘history’ of sustainability is working against itself and that has to change before we really see it become a strong influence in the menswear market. More than anything else we have to make it aspirational.
Following from the above are there any brands you can think of that are doing a good job on sustainability, taking into account not just environmental factors but also labour practices and design?
There are a number of brands that don’t emphasis their efforts towards sustainability, brands like Paul Smith and Norse Projects for example. Both produce a lot of pieces that are inherently ethical. I think they’re trying to make it part of their business model which is why it’s hardly ever mentioned.
To answer your question though, two newer brands come to mind. Firstly a brand called Adret. They operate in the UK and Indonesia and the quality of their product and design is off the chart. It looks timeless and is made to last and there’s nothing else in the menswear market like it right now. They’re a small team of two with a number of handpicked craftsmen working in their own atelier. They do relatively small runs of things – meeting supply with demand - and are really considered in everything they do. I doubt that they’ve applied for a single certificate for ethical manufacturing or sustainability though and probably never will.
The other brand I love is by Maurizio Donadi. It’s a brand called Transnomadica. Like Adret, the product is beautiful but aesthetically they’re almost polar opposites. Donadi used to work for Ralph Lauren – was instrumental in the development of Lauren’s flagship line RRL. After that he then went on to Levi’s and did some amazing work there – including pioneering some major substantiality initiatives. I think Transnomadica is kind of informed by his work with both those brands in a way, and he’s creating something really special, both sustainable and, yes, aspirational too. https://transnomadica.com
Finally, what three pieces from the Coalo catalog do you like the most? (Include a link and a couple of lines on why)
Canvas High Top - It’s a great reinterpretation of a menswear classic. I love the detail on the ankle, it’s playful but also grown up. I love the boot shape too – obviously based on a basketball sneaker, it’s not trying to be something that it’s not. It’s well made, it’s designed along classic principles. It’s minimalist, there are no unnecessary thrills. That in itself is special. What makes it super special is that its ethically made. Everything about this shoe just works.
Corduroy Military Jacket in Black - Chore coats and military style jackets are really on trend right now and have been for a couple of years. This piece, with its four patch pockets and cord make up is a great example of what a great chore coat can look like. The idea of pieces like this is that they do transcend seasons and also fads – worn with layers in colder weather and just with a t shirt in the summer it should be something that lasts you for years, possibly getting softer, worn in with creases and fading in places and developing more character and personality as it ages.
Sea Island Cotton Pique Polo - I love the simplicity of this brand – it’s bold. I say bold because there’s nowhere to hide here – there no crazy colour ways and no distractive branding. You judge it on its own merits, and in an age where branding can be used to conceal all sorts of compromises, the lack of branding in such a crowded and competitive market is a strong statement. This blue Sea Island cotton polo is a case in point. It’s beautifully crafted. It’s considered. You can almost imagine the thoughtful editing that had to go into making something so pure and simple. Along with seersucker, Oxford broadcloth and madras, I’d include Sea Island cotton as an Ivy Style summer essential. This polo is the sort of thing many brands that claim Ivy style roots only wish they could master.
Thanks Jason for your time. If you're interested in keeping up to date with Jason's latest projects make sure to follow him on Instagram: @garmsville