Nostalgia is perhaps the fashion industry’s biggest tool; dominated by youth, underpinned with vintage references and sold to consumers via desirable memories. More and more frequently it comes down to how a label translates the past that determines its future amongst the current sartorial landscape.
“Youth,” advises Andrew Bunney of the collective draw to subcultures (predominantly prescribed by young people), “it's the most formative time in our lives, so people like to either reminisce or recognise and celebrate.”
Flaunting nostalgia in perhaps one the cleanest, modern and relevant ways today, Bunney’s label Roundel London was founded in 2013. Describing itself as ‘a contemporary youth brand inspired by London and designed for the world’, the city’s Underground system is at the core of proceedings.
“It came about in an unlikely scenario,” he tells Clash, “with a previous project that my friend and I did, British Remains, we played around with the London Underground motifs with some irreverence (thinking we were very clever and very funny) and sold these products to great shops. Within 24 hours we had a letter arrive from their lawyers – 16 pages. I went and had a chat with the director in charge of the intellectual property, David Ellis, and we talked for about two or three hours – he was a nice guy.”
“It turned out that he was very interested to see some of the companies that I have worked with over the years; his background was from Mountblanc and Dunhill,” Bunney continues, “London Underground has many different licenses and David asked if I would be interested to talk further about seeing if there was an opportunity (with London Underground).”
Now four collections deep (the fifth – SS16 – previewed above), Roundel London boasts one of the clearest visual statements around, something no doubt picked up from the creative director’s aforementioned stints (at Dr. Martens, and before that as a buyer – he was responsible for Bathing Ape’s initial UK arrival). While it doesn’t scream and shout like some of its contemporaries – preferring, subconsciously or otherwise, to follow a subtle path not dissimilar from Aries – the aesthetics are there.
“I thought it could be interesting,” he explains of his initial intentions for the brand, set up with Giovanni De Marchi of Slam Jam. “They wanted to do something that wasn’t just souvenirs; we needed to have something credible and real that spoke about London and spoke to young people. As funny as it sounds, we have taken a lot of the philosophy of the actual Underground system, so that is something that is very inclusive; obviously everyone can use it, it’s very democratic, so I suppose that is one of the key things – the democracy wherein a lot of people can access the product.”
The pieces then, primarily but not exclusively tees and jackets, are easy to read, displaying practical features with silhouettes borrowed from core subcultural groups; biker jackets nicked from punk and MA-1’s copped from Buffalo. Initial plans, we’re informed, were to reference past rail uniforms, an idea dashed in favour of something more relevant. “It made much more sense for us to take the spirit of that and be respectful of that, but actually try and marry it with the kind of energy of London today.”
Adding of the train network, Bunney continues: “I suppose the Underground and London are very much one and the same thing, it’s hard to separate the two. When people first arrive in the country, it’s the first contact they have, they get on the Underground and go into town. It’s very much a London story.”
So preoccupied is Roundel with the city, the brand’s tagline taps an original London Underground slogan: ‘Thanks to the Underground, we are all Londoners now’, picked up from a trip to the West London archive, a visit that the designer admits left him intimidated at the size of the task he’d undertaken.
Strong contacts quickly fought off such worries: amongst the brand’s early output was a successful collaboration with Nike, while similar partnerships with George Cox and the photographer Derek Ridgers have followed.
“I’m not wed to the idea of making endless collaborations,” explains Andrew, “but if the project is right it can be really exciting. For example, Nike were very keen to do some projects in London, and the release was at the end of the 150th anniversary of the London Underground where we were able to make a store in Piccadilly Circus – it opened at the same time as the station, five in the morning at one of the busiest stations in the world. Now there is a pair in a time capsule buried at Tottenham Court Road station.”
More recently Roundel London has used its position to champion new talent; before Christmas it supported the first REP show at the Ace hotel, a night of grime shot by the genre’s pictorial cheerleader Vicky Grout and boasting a line-up of Cadell, Aj Tracey, The Square’s Elf Kid, Blakie, Streema and Deecee. “It’s important to make something new and modern rather than always refer backwards,” remarks Bunney of this immersion in contemporary culture. On the official site Skinny Girl Diet’s ‘Prozac Nation’ plays overhead.
Embodying to some extent the contrasting notions that inform the label (the idea of past meets present), for SS16 Roundel London is looking back with the ‘End of the Pier’ collection.
“I feel that few things can symbolise British seaside holidays as much as piers,” the creative director says. “The introduction of the railways meant that for the first time many people travelled to seaside resorts, and the piers began to feature attractions… The other element that is famous to all is the mid-60’s seaside riots with the Rockers and Mods. Again these are framed somehow by the Piers, so it seemed a fitting tribute.”
Itself a salute to an age old transport system, the confidence of Roundel London is apparent in its campaigns and marketing; this is not a label selling retro to Carnaby Street or knockoff TFL to tourists, there’s nothing naff about it. Similarly, Andrew Bunney is keen not to create a niche product, as he explains: “We are really not trying to make something elitist, because I think that is really going against what the Underground stands for. So that’s our main aim – to keep creating something inclusive and hopefully make it wider, but to do it credibly and the right way all along.”
Words: Zoe Whitfield
Imagery: AW15 by Vicky Grout, SS16 c/o AI PR