An Interview with James and Judy
by Paula Bruce
James England is one of fashion’s most respected design talents, having directed, consulted, and worked with some of the best fashion luxury houses in London and Paris. After a successful career arc in Europe, he decided it was time for a change and traveled to China in search of a new adventure. Falling in love with Hong Kong he decided to launch his own eponymous label: James England based and made in Hong Kong. We spoke with James, about his motivations and inspirations, his experiences working with royalty, and what his new label will be all about.
You’ve worked with labels such Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, Elizabeth Emanuel and Dior. What has inspired you to take the leap to create your own label?
I wanted a new challenge, so a couple of years back I decided to move to China for a year. After a few months of exploring and working on a number of menswear projects I started thinking about setting up a company on this side of the world. Travelling to Hong Kong monthly I slowly fell in love with the place and started exploring the possibility of not just basing the label here but also manufacturing my designs.Obviously Hong Kong has a rich tradition of tailoring and manufacturing but due to decades worth of decline is very limited nowadays. It took some time scratching under the surface but I’ve found a group of incredibly talented tailors, craftsmen and seamstresses I can work with. So ten months ago I decided that this is the change I was looking for, bit the bullet and moved here.
"Great design spans the test of time."
Can you tell us a little bit about the concept of your brand and what makes it unique?
The shirt is really at the centre of any designer menswear company. What is the point of designing yet another designer shirt when really the only difference at the end of the day is the label inside? I wanted my new company to stand out completely out from the crowd and decided to start with the shirt. The initial inspiration behind the concept of my unique shirting sets came from both of my grandfathers. One served in the RAF and had an amazing collection of original Second World War issue shirts with detachable collars. The other bequeathed to me a number of items including an old length of folded heavy weight Melton wool unusually stitched together.Years later a great uncle told me that the fabric was part of an escape my grandfather was involved with during the war. The fabric was actually the underside of a prisoner of war blanket that he and fellow prisoners had used to make a rope to go over the wall. The way it was cut was the maximum dimensions they could cut from the under sides of their blankets without been caught by the Nazi’s: folded eight and a half times for maximum strength and with stitching done to allow a slight bounce to the rope to help them climb over the wall. This way of folding and stitching became the way my 8 and a half fold handmade ties are now made.This, along with in depth research into 1920’s tailoring and detachable collars and cuffs, all came together to make my unique shirting concepts.
Judging by the type of brands you’ve worked with and your proficiency in Couture, you obviously have a very clear sense on how to create elaborate garments? Why the sudden shift in aesthetics then to create very streamlined and sharp menswear?
I think for many people looking inward at the world of couture and high end fashion see a very creative and artistic world. All of this initially drew me in, but in reality at its foundation it is about employing the highest standards of workmanship. It takes years of devotion and passion to master these levels of craftsmanship across tailoring, cut, embellishment, under structure and drapery, from the overall look to the finest hidden detail. I think this is what foremost in the hearts of people that work at this end of the industry and for me, it’s not just design it’s about the story of creating that piece.So yes after 14 years working at designer and couture level creating any design whether elaborate or not comes second nature to me. With regards to a sudden shift in aesthetics I think it’s more about transposing the level of care and workmanship from one to other. So hopefully customers feel the passion behind my designs and the company.
Describe your aesthetic - is it particularly influenced by Eastern or Western tailoring traditions?
My aesthetic comes from influences from my teenage years and early twenties. A time when I think you develop your sense of identity/style which stays at the core of you for the rest of life. Being British the rich tradition of working class culture that develops into independent and regional underground street, music and fashion scenes mixed with a influx American HIP Hop and Basketball Culture were the main influences on me.
Everything from early underground dance – breakbeat hardcore, jungle, trip hop scenes, previous British sub culture movements – Teddy Boy, Mod, Skinhead, North Soul, and American TV ,movies literature, music and fashion of Fresh Prince, Spike Lee, Air Jordan, Iceberg Slim, Wu Tang inspired me. I apply the cultural mixture to the Second World War and 1920's – Tailoring Techniques. My preferred style of craftsmanship.
"Creativity is born out of a basic need for escapism."
Can you tell us about your work experience with royalty?
Yes over the years I have worked for Royalty and a large array of celebrity. Obviously with this comes a layer of confidentiality. At couture level every client is treated with the greatest service possible. With regards to Royalty I mainly worked with Middle Eastern families on large weddings. It was a great experience not just creating the dresses but also culturally.