UK Streetwear Brand Magic Castles is Channeling the Aesthetics of Sound
Words: Chris Danforth
Magic Castles is the latest to join HHV’s brand roster. Co-founder Chris Stoker notes that the brand is first and foremost an expression of musical aesthetics sourced from promotional materials like ‘zines and more. The resulting graphics define Magic Castles’ trippy design language that resembles elevated concert T-shirts, plus cut-and-sew items like caps and kimonos, reflecting Stoker’s love for Japanese fashion. Below, we chat with Chris about the inspiration behind the brand, and how he goes about designing his collections.
Hey Chris, can you tell me a bit about your background? What were you doing before you started Magic Castles?
I was doing design at uni’ but it didn’t last that long, my heart wasn’t really in it. It coincided with me getting into the cities Club scene. I needed a job, so I started working in a sneaker store in Newcastle called Aspecto. From there I ended up being a buyer for a store called Strand. I worked for Nike in Amsterdam for a bit as well. After that, I moved to London to work for a brand called Folk. That’s where I met Cathal McAteer, he’s my partner in Magic Castles and the founder of Folk.
Eventually, I left Folk. I was leaving a leading a bit of a double life because I had a record label and I was DJing so wanted to work freelance so I could be more in charge of my time. This is when Cathal proposed that we start a brand together with the focus being on music because that’s what we bonded over when I worked at Folk.
Can you break down some of the design references behind Magic Castles?
Someone recently described us as having a modernist hippy aesthetic which i think is quite fitting. For the most part, it’s a bit of a melting pot of influences from all the moss that we’ve gathered over the years as a backdrop with music references applied. We want it to be accessible and have a bit of a carefree approach so have been careful not to pigeonhole ourselves too much as that would constrict our capacity to move in different directions as we carve our own niche. We’ve never put down in writing what we are about. I feel like people are just generally tuning into the frequency without us spoon-feeding any messages.
So with that in mind, how do you go about designing your collections? Where do you start?
A lot of our visuals come from ‘zines, like these original zines from a party that my friend used to run. We did a collection for Magic Castles called “Sensory Overload,” and I think that’s when it really started taking shape because we had a body of work to actually tap into. Since then there’s just been a common thread and one collection led on from the next.
We’ve got a WhatsApp group. Everybody’s firing ideas into that little pool. One group is specifically for T-shirts and we have another group that is more for design and production so we’re constantly sharing imagery. It might be artwork or vintage T-shirt graphics or layout references. We’ll sit together and we’ll go over what we like the best and try and filter that down. Then we’ll usually focus on one piece of original artwork and build out from there.
What’s the best thing about running your own brand?
I love working with people I know. We wanted to start with more of a community focus and let it build from there. We are of course in some really nice stores but they’ve all found us organically through our output. We are working with our friends, and there are not really any rules for how we collaborate. One collaboration might be with a local bar that everybody I know hangs out with. Projects like that feed into our immediate community base. There is an ongoing collaboration with a party called Dresden run by Ivan Smaggeh and Mabnfredas which has been really nice to work on. Each piece sells out within a couple of hours. We also have a nice collaboration coming up with the Love International festival.
Do you have any personal favorite items from your upcoming season?
I think my favorite piece is an ink print shirt which is taken from one of Kate Gibbs’ artworks. She’s been a collaborator of ours since the first season. She’s a screen printing artist. She’s quite well known for creating the artwork for ‘The Chemical Brothers’ early albums. So every season she gives us a new piece of art and then we extract elements from it and see where it fits.
Don’t forget to check out Magic Castles’ monthly radio show on Soho Radio and their playlist series on Spotify.
Shop Magic Castles’ Spring/Summer 2023 collection at HHV.