a chat about commerciality, culture and click to buy with david sims and sofia prantera
To celebrate the legendary photographer David Sims and designer Sofia Prantera's collaboration on Aries brand book Click to Buy, accompanying the new collection, we sat the two good friends down for a conversation.
After twenty plus year in the business, photographer David Sims and designer Sofia Prantera have seen it all. The lifecycle of subcultures, brands veer from cult to commercial, fashion pre and post social media and its subsequent effect. The two discussed this in detail when we met up with them to talk Click to Buy - a 100-plus page coffee table book that takes David's images, all styled by Jane How, and sees them layered with graphics from Aries' long-time collaborator Fergus "Fergadelic" Purcell. The influences are rich and varied, everything from their glory days at late 80s Acid House ravers to their shared love of timeless style all come through in Click to Buy's pages and result in the book having an unpredictable zine-like quality. Girls peeking out from behind doors, lo-fi images of Arnold Schwarzenegger and a voyeuristic look at girls in their bedrooms with cut-and-paste collage and the Aries temple logo on top. You don't what you will see with the flip of each page and that's what makes it so great. We sat the two down in Sofia's Dalston HQ for a conversation on commerciality, culture and Click to Buy. Also take an exclusive look at the surreal film to accompany Click to Buy below.
How did you guys meet?
David: Well I was a stripper in a past life and Sofia used to come and watch and we just got to chatting. An overzealous fan! [laughs]
Sofia: Really there are two ways we know each other. Well, the first is that [to David] you watched me on stage when I was in my Acid House band at a gig in Brighton.
David: We finally met properly rather than Sof just being on stage and there was that instant recognition. She had the two little Dalek-like things on her head before Bjork did!
Sofia: I saw a girl with them for an old issue of i-D actually! My mum used to buy me i-D and The Face and bring them back to Italy where I grew up. There was this girl in there with that hair, must of being around 88-89.
How did the idea to collaborate on the book come about?
David: I think in a drunken stupor I said I would take some photos for you [laughs].
Sofia: And it took me about two years to actually pluck up the courage to bring it up again. We went on holiday on two consecutive years and he mentioned it each year. I think on the second year I just asked, 'were you being serious about taking photos for me?!'
David: I never say things like that without meaning them!
What was the starting point of Click to Buy?
Sofia: I think it all started with doing the outfits with Jane How. She really maximised the theme of branding. I wanted it to be about branding, not really about fashion. Fashion seems less relevant than branding to me. I grew up with Fiorucci and Versace in Italy so I have always aspired to create a brand. I didn't want to treat it like a lookbook. Fergus [Purcell] who I work with on the graphics and myself really thought that the language of the collection should be about the logos. So that is why we have the tape, the elastics, some of the tees are heavily branded. Then the sets incorporated trash and fruit, [laughs]. That was the beginning!
David: For me, there is kind of fascination with what Sof is doing. Particularly the denim, I think that's her signature. [To Sofia] It's not just because you have worked in fashion a long time, I think there are always those style codes you go back to. You just adhere to them because they are the basis of a British take on style. It's not necessarily a tailored, fancy, expensive piece of work. We are the same age and there is a complicity in what we both think about style.
Is that something you look for when you decide which brands to work with?
David: With Sofia, there is a genuine love and a fondness there but I am always concerned that my hand can be quite heavy on something. I even warned Sofia about that. I have to comply with whoever I work with, if not it could be quite disastrous. In this case the value of the collaboration comes because culturally, we have been written in the same code, from the same 80s sensibility.
Sofia: In the beginning of the 90s when I first started working in fashion, it was all about injecting menswear into womenswear and then it became super sexualised but now we are seeing it all turn again.
David: But I don't think at my age I can be the litmus for fashion. In my experience, what makes good 'fashion' is irrelevant. Fashion is about selling stuff, we should be talking about style. And good style only really ever comes from a sort of sociopolitical environment. There has to be an idea in the idea. A who, what, why....a movement towards who you think you are and why you choose to dress the way you do; it was super important to our generation. Whether that is still important, I'm not sure. I don't know if millennials are still thinking about the way they dress in the same way. I hope they are. We were very convinced as ravers to dress in a certain way. The choices that we made informed many things. It was our self expression and very much indicative of being young. You are all propelled by a rage, or a fantasy. I think that certainly bound us together.
Do you think it was easier to have the definition in subcultures back then than now? Perhaps there isn't the music to underpin it now…
David: I have a recent theory about it. I think there are so many radical changes that everyone is facing every hour, news feeds are coming into our phone. It fosters a feeling of uncertainty, so I then think it is natural that people look to the past. There is an attraction to the nostalgia and the cross-pollination of all that happens. Sure it can sometimes be a more bastardised version but I am quite enjoying that. I don't mind that you can look on Pinterest and find images of era's past.
Sofia: Me too. I find it quite liberating that it isn't like how it was anymore.
How did you get Jane How on board?
Sofia: Well Jane is a friend of both mine and David, we are all contemporaries. Though I have been looking at Jane and David's work together since I started as a designer. I love the way Jane mixes fashion and streetwear. They completely did their own thing and she has always been one of my idols.
The casting for the book is quite diverse. Does this represent all the different types of Aries girls?
Sofia: In a way. I am very un-elitist when I cast models. It is usually something I see in their personality rather than the way they look. That casting, we all did together and it became quite varied. I quite like that we cast a few different characters, it's about the girl and who wears it. Some girls walk in and they become that girl.
David: Casting can really reflect the mood. It is a huge signifier about how you may feel about a particular moment.
What's the story behind the name Click to Buy?
Sofia: It was actually David's idea. We were sitting having tea, me, David and Jane and David just said, 'I think the book should be about this really squalid office and a guy dressed like an Aries.' [To David], you came up with the concept of the shoot completely out of the blue. He then said it should be called Click to Buy, then Fergus loved the name and made the logo. It was about 8-9 months ago so it actually isn't as apt as it is right now. Now it's all about how you can click to buy on Instagram or whatever. There is always a conversation about how you can make a continuous stream of images pay.
David: I dare say if something isn't commercialised it doesn't tend to last. That's when things become cult. A Kenneth Anger film is cult because it was never commercialised, it couldn't possibly be commercialised. We talk about cult brands but in truth, they can only really be a brand on the success of what they are doing. It is an interesting dichotomy. A musician in the 90s once said to me, 'you are so lucky because your credibility isn't based on sales. Mine is.' My heart just snapped for her as she was a great musician but the model of the music industry is, you ain't nobody if you're not selling!
Sofia: It's really difficult as designer to mediate those two things. If you don't sell and you don't make money, you don't exist.
But Aries has been able to occupy quite a sweet spot, a successful brand for those in the position to be able to penetrate it…
Sofia: I wonder if there is a magical tipping point. Where you still have the coolness, when you are not so mainstream and then things change and you keep growing. I fight against commerciality. I actually think my tastes are quite commercial but there are times where I really go against it as a business owner to try and to propose new ideas.
David: I think commerciality may be the most subversive thing that there is right now. It is very difficult to do. It has become profoundly easy to present work as experimental and people can be fooled into thinking it has some intellectual value behind it. I don't take the photos like the ones we have done for Aries, because I want to come across as clever. I only arrive at those photos because I want to present a certain value. If I could write the most beautiful, symphonic melody but in the form of a photograph, I would do that.
Sofia: Like Andrew Lloyd Webber!
David: Well I was thinking more like Mantovani! Andrew Lloyd Webber, how did you get to him?!
Text Lynette Nylander