There are silver linings to every situation. Just ask Guy Berryman.
With the pandemic putting a stop to touring and performing for musicians, the bass player for Coldplay had a little extra time on his hands.
He spent much of it putting the finishing touches on his first apparel collection — Applied Art Forms — a project that is a physical manifestation of Berryman’s longtime passion for classic military and workwear pieces. The result is a tight collection of well-designed and versatile pieces of outerwear, pants, plain and hand-stenciled T-shirts, crewneck sweaters, hoodies and beanies in a military-inspired color palette. The hero piece is a Modular Parka: Full System, a coat based on the AM2-1A parka that can be configured as either a tailored officer-style coat or a more traditional parka, with interchangeable hood, collars, liner coat and liner vest.
In his first interview about A/A/F, the Scottish-born Berryman talks about why he wanted to take the plunge into fashion, the inspiration behind the collection and his hopes for the business.
WWD: Tell us why you wanted to start a fashion collection and how long you’ve been working on Applied Art Forms.
Guy Berryman: This has been an incredibly challenging process for me. It’s been a three-year process actually. I’ve ripped the whole thing up several times over because I just wasn’t happy because I knew it could be pushed further and technically things could be made better. I’ve really taught myself everything in the space of three years to get to where we are now. It’s such a surreal moment for me because I felt we were never going to get to the point where we wanted to tell the world about it. We need to start putting clothes on people and selling stuff because it’s been such a long and quite arduous process.
WWD: Obviously, you’re a successful musician, so why did you feel you wanted to go into fashion?
G.B.: I just have an insatiable need to create. I’ve always taken pictures, I’ve always made things, I restore classic cars — I find old Italian cars in barns and places and fix them up. My brain is wired as an engineer — I studied architecture and engineering at university — so my whole process, whether it’s music or cars or making clothes, is all about this process of analyzing and deconstructing something and then melding that with the creative part of my brain to reassemble something in a unique way. I’ve been that way since I was a child. I’ve always been somebody who was drawing or making something and that keeps me happy. I’m always searching and exploring and I try to push myself in different areas. And I just love good design, whether that’s a car or a jacket. I’m a jacket junkie, that’s really what I love the most because there’s a complexity and engineering point of view.
WWD: Why military?
G.B.: When things are designed in a purposeful way, I always find the net result very beautiful. Look at the legacy of the MA1 bomber jacket, it’s just so ubiquitous now and it’s crossed so many subcultures over the last 20 to 30 years. Why is this thing constantly a point of interest for people? It’s because it’s a beautiful garment designed to serve a very particular function: it was a flight jacket, short cut so pilots could sit in an airplane and not sit on the back of their jacket, it had this pocket detail on the sleeve which was for holding pens, which is a purely functional detail. And things that were designed for a purpose I always seem to gravitate toward. So military and workwear and utilitarian and denim, all of these originated from a functional point of view rather than anything purely stylistic.
WWD: Where did you come up with the name Applied Art Forms?
G.B.: It’s a combination of words I stumbled across by accident one day. Everything I love is an applied art, whether it’s graphic design, or industrial design, or automotive design or fashion design — they’re all forms of applied arts. So I liked the play of those three words which kind of suggests a sculptural quality. I felt it kind of summed up everything I’m passionate about, and it looks cool.
WWD: Tell us about your research process and how long you’ve been collecting military clothing?
G.B.: Since I’ve been a teenager, I’ve been finding pieces in thrift stores. I’m an eBay addict. I’m a treasure hunter and I travel a lot so I get to go to places and find things in very strange corners of the world. Some particular garment might spark an idea that I want to combine or twist into something new. Our coats are made from Ventile, which I took from the favorite garment I’ve ever owned: it’s a 1950s Royal Air Force parka and it’s made from Ventile. This thing is 70 years old and I’d be mortified if I ever lost it. Ventile was a fabric invented for the Royal Air Force in the 1940s to keep their pilots dry and you can still buy those fabrics now. So I chose Ventile for our outerwear because it’s a beautiful natural cotton and it has this great heritage story to it.
WWD: Do you have a big archive?
G.B.: I have several hundred pieces I would say. Of course, people have trodden this path before. Massimo Osti has probably amassed the biggest vintage archive in the world. Helmut Lang was drawing inspiration from a very utilitarian place and Margiela to a degree, too. And there are brands I love today, like Nigel Cabourn, who follow this path as well. I understand his passion to mix and match colors and details into different garments. And I’m just the same. But Nigel is Nigel and I’m a different person so whatever I’m doing is going to result in a slightly different creative output.
WWD: You just launched a web site and have started selling direct-to-consumer. Designing a collection is one challenge, but launching an e-commerce is a whole other thing.
G.B.: It started out as this idea that I’d just make a few jackets, build a little web site and sell a few things to friends. It should have been a walk into a lovely living room with a fireplace burning, but I now liken it to opening the door of a 747 at full height over the Atlantic and stepping out of it. That’s my experience. I had no idea what I was letting myself in for, but I’m not one to give up. We’d gotten to the point where we were working and creating garments and we felt so strongly that we were doing something really special and different. And we hung onto that feeling and that’s what got us through because this is a lot of work: creating a web site, managing a social media campaign, telling the world about it, wondering if people are going to like it and buy it. There’s going to be some heavy lifting from now on and I’m going into this completely with my eyes open.
WWD: The parka is your hero product, right?
G.B.: The most complex garment is what we call the Modular Parka System. It was inspired by U.S. military parkas that had detachable liners and collars. We’ve really made something that can be worn all year round in one configuration or the other. Even in the summer, without the liners, you’ve got a very nice jacket you can dress up to be quite sartorial or dress it down by wearing a graphic T-shirt underneath. It’s a very versatile coat. That was more of an engineering challenge than a fashion challenge. There were so many things we had to make work together — the different liners and the ways the zips work on the collar. That’s our hero product and our most expensive garment. The full system is 2,500 euros, but you can buy the pieces individually. But like my Royal Air Force parka, I hope people will wear one of the Applied Art Forms coat in 70 years time. The Ventile will fade like denim and wear down and it should look better and better the more you wear it.
WWD: The Japanese Cargo pant is really interesting, too. Tell us about those.
G.B.: That’s a style based on a basic Swedish military garment. It’s very billowy and when you put them on, you think: Oh my God, this is going to be huge on me, but we put these two pleats on the waist so when you fasten the pants around you, it pulls you in and feels quite fitted. Then it billows out at the waist so we put some pleats in the bottom as well which bring it in at the base of the leg. In the Nineties, the whole cargo pant came down over their shoes and I don’t like that, so we brought them in so you have space in the legs but you feel quite sartorial. They’re made in Japan, it’s a cotton Cordura, a beautiful fabric. I really am attracted to the Japanese culture of craftsmanship so that was made over there, as was our denim.
WWD: Is there any thought of wholesaling?
G.B.: We’re just going to see how it plays out. I’m big fan of direct-to-consumer for lots of reasons. There’s also something to be said from a marketing point of view in getting a brand off the ground that wholesale really provides you with as well. We make everything in such small batches that we can’t apply the standard multiples to get to our retail price because it would be crazy. We just have to moderate our prices based on where we are right now as a brand, which is the very beginning. We’ve only made 100 of the parkas and given the complexity of making them and the very low production numbers, we just had to pick a number we felt was a fair price based on what else was comparable in the marketplace. In this time when people are going through tough times, it’s not right to come out and charge people an exorbitant amount.
WWD: In terms of product extensions, where do you see this going?
G.B.: We’re going to start working on new items that will drop for spring. I’m sure there will be some nylon flight jackets in the mix, and different cotton products. We’ve got some different pant designs we’re working on. Accessories — I love designing bags as well and we’ll expand into a wider accessories range. We’re not really following this spring, fall cycle trend because I really don’t feel the desire to create new batches of garments twice a year. My feeling is the parka is a beautiful garment and there may be a few modifications made to it year to year, but it’s designed as a permanent style. So I will build and build and build and expand the range as time goes on. Maybe we’ll do some different colorways of the parka next year but we feel we’ve designed something great, we want people to fall in love with it and wear it. We don’t want to say in two years time: here’s our new style of parka, you need to go buy this.
WWD: What’s the promotional strategy for the launch?
G.B.: I guess I’ll be doing a lot of Zoom calls. I would love to do a pop-up store. I would love to bring people into a space in London. Our design studio is based in Amsterdam and I would love to do something over there, but we can’t book anything like that at the moment because we don’t know what the rules are going to be in two days or two weeks. It’s such a tricky time to navigate.
WWD: With the pandemic, what is the band doing? You’re not touring.
G.B.: No, and there’s a big question mark around when we might be able to do a big tour. Our big fear is how do you put 100,000 people in a stadium safely? It could be the biggest disaster in the way it relates to super-spreading. But we’re always working and creating and pushing ideas forward. Like everyone else, we’ll have to see how next year pans out in hopes that governments wake up a little bit and put in some strict measures to control the virus and we get some vaccinations working for us. It’s just a terrible, terrible time we’re living through. My life is pretty blessed, and I’m aware of that. We’re lucky that we can still work and manage to do OK.