A-COLD-WALL*’s Samuel Ross: “Reconstructing the identity of Britishness is happening in real time”
Britain’s reigning king of functional luxury fashion has collaborated with Converse. Here, he unpacks the importance of geography, heritage and homage in his new work.
Photography Adam Titchener
Samuel Ross is constantly looking outwards. He is a master of assessing situations; protective but never precious over his legacy. It’s a pivotal reason as to why the designer’s brand A-COLD-WALL* has spent the past half-decade shaping the silhouettes of the streets, worn by millionaires and teenagers alike — diversifying as the demand for straightforward technical streetwear waned.
His latest project comes at an interesting time: the brand’s AW20 collection was a formalising of the codes that have always existed at the heart of A-COLD-WALL*, famed for its innovative take on class, geography and the definition of British culture at its core.
Gone were several SKUs of hoodies and sweatpants. In their place lay structured formalwear. Undeniably ACW* colour schemes and materials were transformed into a uniform for the modern man as his customer grew up: shirting, trousers and office-ready shoes. But over the past several months, he has dreamt up a project that can speak to both ends of his core consumer market: a collaboration with Converse All Stars on footwear and clothing.
But it’s not a regression to the old ideals of A-COLD-WALL* as one might be quick to assume. Rather, it’s a shared concept: the democratisation of luxury in action. A Samuel Ross-designed piece that can be purchased (for those who are quick enough) by all.
The first of these drops arrives on September 14: a technical, asymmetrical spin on the classic Chuck Taylor and ERX, and two tracksuits — all in Samuel’s familiar earthy colourways. And it’s the beginning of a longstanding link-up. Samuel’s vision of Converse All Stars is global and rooted in the excellence of Black creatives; those involved in forming the campaign for this first drop were selected for their inspiring creativity in that regard. Photographer and director Bafic headed up the project, with Leah Abbott styling the collaboration and Marqee Miller acting as its casting director. Images from the process of creating the campaign can be seen below.
Samuel took a break from a day at A-C-W* HQ to speak to us about the roots of his Converse collaboration, the influence of geography in his design work and the changing definition of British culture in 2020.
_The last time we spoke was at the top end of 2020. We had a lengthy discussion about the semantics and definitions of streetwear and your progression from that. What is it like to design sneakers and sportswear, some of the symbols of that culture, in the aftermath of A-COLD-WALL_’s movements?*
Indeed, it's been a short while. The beauty of growing a fashion label up, is the capacity it allots for various narratives to exist in different scopes — the cohesion and structure we have built. It’s by design that these rooms, or spaces, you could say, carry a clear continuity.
A-COLD-WALL* has several dimensions between ongoing sportswear collaborations, to technical outerwear, to refined menswear and more abstract garment developments. The focus here really was about how the term streetwear has become a coded moniker to depreciate the critical work of educated black designers communicating social and cultural critiques through fashion — this is still a problem that it is not being seriously looked at, as a critical movement within the 2010s – 2020s of fashion history.
Do you see the familiarity of a silhouette as something to be disassembled and recreated? What are the respectful boundaries of a collaboration like this?
Yes. Heritage and restraint belong within a mainline product SKU. My role here is to push boundaries and reimagine how the pre-existing models can be re-engaged, whilst retaining a very precise perspective. The respect lays in critical thought and execution of concept to function, interlaying with a boldness that signals through leadership.
What, in your opinion, are the codes of design that you and Converse All Stars share?
A vested interest in performance and function underpins everything. A key link regarding the notion of sportswear and accessibility from a cultural perspective — we’ve worked hard here to ensure maximum product quality whilst offering a price point more accessible than mainline A-COLD-WALL*. Ensuring the access point to conceptual design needn’t be segmented by pay bracket – democratising product is key here – that is the future.
When it comes to the formation of a team surrounding this campaign — creative direction, styling, casting with Bafic and Leah and Marqee — what drew you towards those figures?
This is a Black British narrative communicated to and resonating with a global audience. Acyde has also been heavily involved behind the scenes ensuring the messaging carries a through-line between the UK to US – sports and environment being a key link. All collaborators involved I consider peers and friends – there is not just trust, but a serious respect for Bafic, Leah and Marqee that has built over several years. Working together on the project has been an organic process.
_A-COLD-WALL_’s roots were in British youth culture, and here you have a collaboration with a symbol of Americana. A-C-W’s shows are now in Milan. Do you think about geography as a designer, and the influences of the places these respective brands have passed through?**
They still are. An identity can globalise and not lose its essence and awareness – in fact, such happenings strengthen an identity as it is introduced to new eyes. Small is not good. Niche is not good — in the context of scaling businesses, accessibility and shifting monolithic perceptions. I mean, look, the history of the 20th century Black diaspora is this in practise — a body of people moving between different geographies.
Let’s not forget the importance of the Chuck Taylor in West Indian culture, that being my heritage and a huge part of my identity — being part of a 1.5 generation. The eclecticism of forging a contemporary British identity is dynamic and complex, filled with scar tissue. British youth culture is not linear – it is pluralistic in nature and by historical happenings. Reconstructing the identity of Britishness is happening in real time.
Read Sondra Perry’s Typhoon Coming on. It is incredibly important. Sondra captures the notion of digital and non-geographic identities with precision, expanding upon why the diaspora is able to exceed within digital landscapes. The notion of geography being rooted with identity within the Western-European scope is not a reality (for the Black diaspora) — we do not have that layer of security or fixed identity — we have had to move beyond a linear location, existing in multiple locations, whilst retaining our individuality and distinct experiences communicated through our cultural output, spanning architecture, music, fine arts, cooking and fashion.
We are seeing coveted, designer fashion pieces (a Telfar bag, for example) being democratised. Is it possible to democratise luxury, and is this collaboration an example of that?
Elements relate, though it is not exactly the same. A-COLD-WALL* x Converse is a collaboration focused on democracy, access and functionality spearheading a narrative strongly echoing performance, and A-COLD-WALL*’s distinct sociographic rhythms of fashion communication. The approach is slightly more encoded, though both represent a stance that the status quo of who determines what luxury is and what underpins luxury, has evolved.
The A-COLD-WALL"* x Converse collection will debut on September 14 exclusively at a-cold-wall.com, before being released in-store and online via Converse on September 17.