We here at Peggs & son are big fans of YMC. We have been stocking the London based label’s collections every season for the past 16 years. That’s a long time in the world of menswear. YMC are now approaching their 20th anniversary so we thought it a great time to have a sit down with our good friend Fraser Moss, co-founder and head designer at YMC, to discuss the past, present and future of the label. It’s a bit of a long one, so grab a cup of tea, get comfy and read on…
I’m guessing you’ve known Ian (owner of Peggs & son) for quite a while now?
Well, he was one of the first guys to stick with us at the beginning when he had Minky. I’ve probably known him nearly 20 years.
So, you have an anniversary coming up, when does YMC celebrate its 20th birthday?
I think we started with a winter collection, so it will have 20 years of wholesale this July. But Jimmy Collins (YMC co-founder) and I actually created the idea of YMC the year before.
What was the original idea for YMC?
At the time I was very disillusioned with fashion. We had just come out of the whole Seattle thing and I’d gone a bit anti-fashion in the late 80s to early 90s. It was run by big Italian labels, all about heavily branded clothing. On the other side it was all about skatewear, again, very heavily branded but a bit too street. I wanted to bring in some sophistication to wearable clothing and take a European edge, to move away from an American look that had come through skate and hip-hop and brands like Ralph Lauren. We wanted to create something more pared back, minimalist and utilitarian.
It’s a big step from thinking about creating clothes to actually doing it, how did you go about doing so?
All I had were the ideas and Jimmy Collins, my business partner, managed to get friends of his to finance it for a small share of the business. In those days you didn’t need as much as you need today. We had the concept, and with the small investment we managed to scrape together enough to create the collection. I had worked for Vivienne Westwood for five years previously and a lot of my friends at the time were setting up magazines like Dazed & Confused or working for i:D and The Face. Through these guys I pulled in a lot of favours for them to sort of back our brand. And they did and it was amazing because they helped introduce us to new markets.
The initial collections, were the fully-fledged?
The concept, the idea was fully fledged, but the execution wasn’t. If I look back at our very first collection, I’m still proud of it and would still stand by it from a conceptual point of view, the idea we were trying to purvey. But from a functional point of view, not so much. We were naive and learning as we went.
Our very first season we were doing lettered jumpers, you see that a lot of that now, but we started that on vintage sweatshirts with flock lettering. A lot of what we did then is still relevant to what we do now. I wouldn’t say we’ve changed that much, we still stick to our core values. The whole name came from Raymond Loewy, he was doing a speech to Russian students and his catchphrase was ‘you must create’. That really summed up my ideas. I came from a generation where we were a bit more DIY and we kind of found our own looks. That what the message I was trying to put across: it’s up to you to find your own look. We can give you basic staples but we want you to wear and embellish them how you want.
Was there always a passion for designing clothes?
When I was younger, I was really into music and through that I discovered fashion. My love for Vivienne Westwood, from a design a point of view, was when Bow Wow Wow wore her pirate collection and they looked amazing. That was the moment I realised that you can really use clothes to express yourself. I’d never really thought of it that way before and that came from Vivienne Westwood. She was so relevant in the 70s and 80s, highly conceptual and pushing boundaries. I wouldn’t of started YMC without that attitude.
20 years a long time, what do you think has helped the longevity?
I think having integrity, I hope, trying to be honest and never knowingly taking from anywhere else. I’m not hugely interested in what other people are doing. I also think that there’s still a hunger, there is still a job to be finished.
And you think people relate to this honesty?
Well, hopefully we never come across as being elitist, because it’s easy to get carried away in this business. It is easy to get caught up in the bullshit of fashion shows and press, so it’s important that you don’t. I just treat fashion shows like a dream day, it happens and then the next day it’s all back to normal. I’m not really part of that world apart from that one day.
For a lot of guys, the concept of a catwalk show is so utterly alien to them, do you begrudgingly accept that aspect of it?
I accept that it is something that I have to do. When we first started I was against it and managed to resist doing any for 16 years. Now it is expected of you as a brand, something you have to do in order to reach a global audience. But all the same, it goes against my principles, it doesn’t sit comfortably with me.
When you’re designing a collection, do you have a particular guy in mind?
I design for myself, which is quite selfish. It started as more of a need for clothing that I couldn’t find myself. Which I guess is even more selfish! As I’ve become older, there are other people who inspire me. Friends that I tend to look at for inspiration, people who are like-minded.
Is it just you designing the collections?
In menswear I’m the sole designer, designing 120 pieces a season, including footwear and accessories, but I’m aware of trying not to be a jack of all trades. If you spread yourself too thinly you cannot give an item love. I try not to look back, although maybe I should, it would make life easier! I carry a sketchpad with me at all times and when I get an idea I scribble it down. It’s a bit of a mess, but somehow it all pieces together. I started the womenswear, but now the talented Julie Eilenberger heads that up, she’s much better at it than I am!
One thing that has always stood out about YMC for us is the use of fabric. How much importance do you place on sourcing the right materials?
They are very important to us. Sometimes the way to make a garment more interesting is through the fabric and the detailing, because at the end of the day, menswear tends to be about the classics. I know that’s an obvious thing to say. But we take our time with it, visit lots of manufacturers, collect a lot of vintage fabrics, and research their origins thoroughly. Often I focus on historical prints but twist them for modern times. I source them from everywhere, using everything from interior fabrics to feed sacks from the American depression.
Where do you see YMC in the next 20 years? Any grand plans?
Well ill just be happy to be alive! It’s a bit of a miracle to make it this far. We’ve been very lucky and I feel privileged to have survived this long. We would like to expand retail past our two London stores and outside of the UK as well.
Menswear has obviously changed a lot in the last two decades, how hard do you think it would be to start something like YMC now?
I think that without serious backing, and without a real individual angle to what you are trying to create, it would be really difficult. When we started it was to do with great timing. It was just at the point where the whole world was looking at Britain. This was the time of New Labour, Britpop, Young British Artists and ultimately people were looking for British clothing such as us, 6876 and Maharishi. It was a bit of luck and I don’t want to put people off starting anything, but the world is a lot more corporate. If you don’t know your onions, I wouldn’t bother. The customer is much more educated. You need an edge to set you apart, you’ve got to be saying something different.
LC:M, you were there this year, how was that?
Well, erm. What can I say, it was a dream-like day! This year we thought we would change things up a little and created a kind of prog/space/rock/middle eastern psych show called the Parallelogram, featuring the members of the Brighton based band, Toy. They created this 10-minute piece of music that built up to a mad Moog crescendo. It worked really well. The collections I design tend to take influence from music, it plays a huge part in my life, so to blend the two made sense.
So do you prefer something different to the typical catwalk show?
Well I think it adds something, it shows more about what you stand for and what you’re about. It helps the person who doesn’t really know YMC, it’s like a window into our world really. At the end of the day, we are a clothing brand, but behind that there’s more to us than just clothes, my loves aren’t solely clothing, in fact music is much more important to me. We would like to showcase the things that inform us and make us who we are as a label.
Does that mean that this season at LC:M the show is going to be more like live band experience?
We’re not actually going to do a traditional catwalk, we are going to do more of an event where we take a space. It’s going to be over an hour rather than 10 minutes on a catwalk that way people can be a bit closer to the clothing, touch it and see it in a better light. Although I may contradict myself and go back to it at a later time! To me catwalks can seem a little elitist, so anything to break the status quo is a good thing. After all we rely on people to buy our clothes, so why try and exclude them?
Huge thanks to Fraser for taking the time to do this interview. You can see the latest YMC collection by clicking here…