Photo: David Pattinson

Art Comes First

Sartor, Alchemy & Progression

Text / Interview: Amber Grünhäuser

Founded in 2007, Art Comes First (ACF) is a revolving collective of friends and associates who champion the art of craft and craftmanship with co-founders Sam Lambert and Shaka Maidoh poised at the centre. Art Comes First is not an empty statement but a philosophy to live by that permeates Lambert and Maidoh’s work and play. Steeped in a rich history of diverse cultural movements and musical references, ACF instinctively builds upon, reimagines and reworks this into a modern context for the 21st century Rudeboy. Based in London, the ACF brand consultancy and styling bureau provides »Sartor, Alchemy and Progression« by way of a self-titled menswear brand along with complementary art, craft, design and photography projects.

Lambert and Maidoh, both sons of tailors, understand well the deft poetry of hands-on craftmanship. ACF reveals a reverence of the design and construction process usually reserved for the final piece. In the same vein as remixing music, ACF applies DJing techniques to create its menswear line. It starts with vintage research spent digging in the culture vaults or thrifting for style treasures at flea markets and second-hand stores locally and abroad. Before the cut and cloth research phase that emphasises sampling, cut and paste juxtaposition and fresh outcomes which translate into new designs for its collections. ACF garments embody these notions of »Ancient Culture Footstep« and »Artist Craftmanship Freedom« with notable punk accents, Rudeboy spirit and a nod to Billism (The Billism movement began in Congo in the 1950s when Congolese youth adopted the Buffalo Bill swagger and dress code of western movies and came together to defy the oppressive colonial rule of the times).

HHV spoke to Sam Lambert and Shaka Maidoh of Art Comes First in the lead up to the new Fred Perry x Art Comes First collection release.

HHV: Why should art come first? And how do you apply this philosophy to your work?

Art Comes First: Art should come first because it is the birth of craft; if you care about what you do, you will do it to your best ability. The way we apply this philosophy to our work is through respecting what comes first, as they say nothing is new under the sun. We are not trying to create the wheel again but instead add on it, which comes from deep research and appreciation from what was already laid out as in foundation, through vintage techniques and figuring out ways to innovate them while respecting the tradition to ensure it carries on to the next generation after us as well.

HHV: Your collections are deeply rooted in history, cultures, craft and music but have a distinctly modern and urban spin… What are the ACF concepts of »Ancient Culture Footstep« and »Artist Craftsmanship Freedom« and any other definitions you feel are necessary to understand your design and style ethos?

ACF: One of the definitions to understand our design style ethos is »Artist Can’t Fear« – this is one of my favourites because it was a reminder of what Nina Simone was trying to say, »It’s an artists duty to reflect the times«. Another one is »Always Cut First« which is our vintage approach when it comes to design. »Associate Creative Friends« is about collaborative works, joining efforts with other artists to push the boundaries. You already mentioned »Ancient Culture Footstep« which ties in with what was expressed in the previous question about tradition (past, present and future).

HHV: Besides Rudeboy and punk, there are homages to Billism in ACF collections: the hat, those western details and accents, the attitude, the politics and grace. What is it about billism that strikes a chord? And how does this resonate with the 21st century Rudeboy?

ACF: One aspect of the Rudeboy/punk was all about self-expression while standing up for the working class. Billism on the other hand was and is that stylistic youth culture merged with social awareness. Both of these movements are political approaches of our modern society; it’s about celebrating people, building a community of like-minded individuals who see things more on the unified end. A common thread that runs on most, if not all, subcultures is that youthful rebellion. The black yeehaw aesthetic is a way of reminding people that we were part of all this from the beginning but now it’s a time of just embrace it all as a lifestyle.

HHV: Your design process is akin to DJing. Can you talk about »DJ techniques applied to menswear«?

ACF: It’s a metaphorical expression of the similarities between a DJ and a designer. The DJ technique applied on menswear is a way of creating a hybrid piece by reviving a vintage piece, making it modern so it can be relevant in the future. The idea is to go through different flea markets, vintage showrooms/shops looking for those striking vintage pieces, it’s kind of like how a DJ would go to markets or record stores looking for old unheard or rare gems and sounds for inspiration, as far as sampling to produce or sampling to produce a beat or to scratch or just to introduce his audience to something new from the past. Once we find the item, we try to understand it before we open it and rebuild it with other parts of another vintage piece, recreating a totally new design piece. From there we select modern fabrication to make it into our new collection – making sure it fits the theme. For example, you mix the sleeves of a 60s leather jacket to the body of a 50s suit and create something totally new, we call this piece the Frankenstein piece and then use that prototype as a sample for the actual collection with new fabrics. Same way a DJ would go to their lab or studio and cut up these samples from different music and genres across different times to create something totally new and gives it to an MC or singer to add on to.

Photo: David Pattinson

HHV: What is the inspiration behind your »SURF AFRIKA« collection for spring/summer 2019?

Sam Lambert: The inspiration behind SURF AFRIKA was that during our trips in Africa we noticed this growing youth culture of every country in Africa with coast or ocean there was a big, growing surf culture for the last five years or more, well at least to our limited knowledge. So, on one of our last trips we were in Dakar, Senegal, one of my favourite countries in the world, and we started looking into learning how to surf. One of my old dreams was that when I retire, I will move to Madagascar with a surf board and my own swimwear design and start surfing; so now I think I will switch that for Senegal.

Shaka Maidoh: The idea around surf is also beyond the literal meaning or sports, SURF AFRIKA is not confined to surfing but can be seen also as surfing across Africa, as in travelling around, moving from land to land or site to site or even digitally as we live in a digital age now. Surf online and explore and research about other continents outside your own, not just Africa but surf based on your interests and you will find there is something else either very similar or very different from what you know.

SS19 “SURF AFRICA” – Photos: Feelix AAA

HHV: The details of the upcoming Fred Perry x Art Comes First collection can’t be revealed until the official release, but could you give us a quick teaser by encapsulating the ambience of the collection in a few keywords?

Lambert: Better get ready/Come do rocksteady/You’ve got to do this new dance/Hope you are ready/You’ve got to do it, just like Uncle Fred & Art Comes First.

Maidoh: These lyrics will make sense to you once the collection drops, I am curious to see who gets it

HHV: And lastly, do you have any notes on style wisdom to share with our readers?

Lambert: Style wisdom: keep it simple, tailored and true to yourself.

Maidoh: Know yourself (fit), balance proportions, accessories where needed.

Visual content: Art Comes First, photography by David Pattinson and Feelix AAA