moving beyond his eponymous line, christopher shannon launches north quarter
Before the technical sportswear line drops in store, Christopher Shannon discusses how he’s connecting the dots between catwalk creativity and aspirational quality-led menswear.
Following collaborations with Linder Sterling and a season away from the catwalk in which he created and curated his own little world, Christopher Shannon took center stage back in June at London Collections: Men, on his own terms. Swimming against the current tide of expectation, this is a designer who is building on the lessons learned from his eight years in the industry to confidently follow his creative heart, mind, and soul. "I think for me it's a focus on design this season, no drama and distraction, no sets," he explained pre-show. "I really miss design at the minute, everything seems to be styling and fashion referencing fashion." His first action of refocusing on design was a spring/summer 17 collection that took inspiration from the denim designs of his MA collection. The second sees the launch of North Quarter by Christopher Shannon.
A diffusion line with a difference, North Quarter delves deep into the designer's modernist vision of technical sportswear to connect the dots between catwalk creativity and aspirational quality-led menswear. "Inspired by my catwalk collection, North Quarter takes influences, design markers, and key silhouettes from my mainline and repackages them for a detail-obsessed male customer brought up on a diet of premium technical sportswear brands," he begins. "North Quarter gives me the opportunity to speak directly with the brand led British males who have inspired me creatively since the outset of my career." As we share the Jack Johnstone-shot, Max Clark-styled look book, before the 50-piece collection drops exclusively at Flannels, Christopher talks us through his design past, present, and future.
What was the catalyst for North Quarter? How long has it been in your mind? Why now?
I think I've begun to understand my brand in a different way over the last year or so. It's easy to just think of yourself as a London menswear brand focused around a catwalk show, but actually I love doing projects outside of that just as much — there's something really rewarding about working in the wider world outside of 'fashion.' I found the right technical team and facilities to actually develop a premium performance-inspired product which is something I've wanted to do for a really long time.
What are the greatest similarities and differences between North Quarter and your eponymous main line?
I think for me it's a focus on fit and subverting the technical facilities a bit, using them in different ways. Sometimes it's frustrating with mainline as I want to do cleaner technical product, but our mainline is a boutique fashion product so it doesn't always sit well.
When we last spoke, you mentioned that you missed design. How will North Quarter help you refocus?
North Quarter is a product focus which is quite intense, whereas mainline is much more about mood, and is more much personal. NQ is more about product to wear day-to-day, that's really practical and high-spec but doesn't feel too straightforward. With NQ we really obsess over minutiae, the trims and fabrications, whereas with mainline sometimes you just want a flavor of something quite raw and unfinished. I like that I have a brand that allows me to do both, then also go off and work on a ballet or an editorial — I think I'm really fortunate in that respect.
How has your mainline archive influenced the debut offering? Were there particular collections, items, or themes that you were drawn to?
We went through the archive and found shapes that maybe we made quite crudely at the time and without the proper machinery, and there are a lot of those pieces. As there isn't a narrative as such to NQ, we just work garment by garment. It's great to go back and do those pieces justice and give them another chance.
Beyond your mainline, what were your references for this first season?
Just people I know, and things they'd want. We seem to have a lot of followers who crave the more commercial sportswear side of the brand and I hope this caters to them.
From launching your own menswear label to introducing womenswear, entering the world of e-commerce to introducing North Quarter, what has been the biggest lesson learned over the last eight years in the industry?
Is it really eight years?! I feel like I've only really started to focus in the last three. The first few seasons were so easy really, there was so much more money around, and now you really really have to graft and focus. I can't summarize it in one lesson. One of our early collections was titled BLOCK OUT THE NOISE and I guess I'm best when I do that. You can't look at what others are doing — so much of fashion is smoke and mirrors — you just have to really stick to your point of view and focus on the quality of every detail. Although maybe that's not true any more, fashion seems to also be successful if you just copy other people's ideas and do them badly…so I guess you can go either way.
What advice would you give to anyone wishing to follow in your footsteps?
Do something else.
Finally, what excites you most about tomorrow?
I have to drag myself to the gym — the getting there is painful, but I'm always so much better when I make myself go for a run, then I have family down in the evening and I've been away for ages, so that. And a meeting about a project in New York in the afternoon that could be great, Is that enough?
Text Steve Salter
Photography Jack Johnstone
Styling Max Clark