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A-COLD-WALL's Curation of British Street Culture :: A Conversation with Samuel Ross

A-COLD-WALL's Curation of British Street Culture :: A Conversation with Samuel Ross

By Tom Winslade

Growing up as part of a generation that has the ability to share a story or document a moment with the click of a button, it irritates me that more people don’t take true advantage of that privilege. Please believe, the Internet isn’t short of life updates, but there’s a distinct difference between people sharing the reality of their situations and those simply showing the versions of themselves that they want the Internet to see. It’s important to acknowledge that we each have the opportunity to use our own voices, rather than simply echoing others’ and adding to the noise.

A manifestation of this disconnect can be found in the state of streetwear in 2015. In my opinion, there are fewer and fewer brands that have an individual stance or identity. For the most part, it’s the same old played out ideas, regurgitated time and time again; which is why it’s more than refreshing when a brand like A-COLD-WALL comes knocking with their own story to tell.

Whilst holding multiple meanings, the core concept behind the brand is to represent the juxtaposition of class systems within Britain and the paradox that it in turn creates for thousands of inner-city people. It’s output stands as proof that circumstance and location no longer restrict a person’s taste levels or ability to create. Besides offering a new perspective, it’s also the chance to start a new conversation.

I recently sat down with Samuel Ross of A-C-W to discuss the conception of the project; looking at how his personal story and experiences have laid a foundation for the brand and how he intends to use it as a vessel to document British street culture through intelligent product.

TOM WINSLADE: What’s the narrative behind A-Cold-Wall?
SAMUEL ROSS: The general concept behind A-Cold-Wall is to tell this untold story, based on class and geographic location, which stems throughout the entire UK. The main focus I’ve highlighted is London, as it’s such a focal point for British culture as a whole, and not just street culture. It’s more of an accumulation and summary of the British working class story, which is so relative to streetwear and fashion, and has been censored for the last 5 or 6 years. It’s telling that story from the perspective of somebody who has actually been within that and lived across the UK, from small areas to huge cities, and what that experience is like.

So, it’s quite a broad perspective?
Yeah, it’s just about telling that story with an articulate manner. Although it’s a broad perspective, it’s also super personal.

With all of that in mind, and your experience to this point, is there a particular reason why you feel now is the time to launch your own brand?
As a creative, I’ve been working within the design industry for the last 6 years professionally, and I’ve had other projects before, but I feel like I’m now at a point where I can articulate my ideas properly, in a more intellectual and smart way, without oversaturating the story to the market or people I respect in the scene. I feel like my ideas have become a lot more refined as I’ve aged and gained experience.

Would you say the concept behind A-Cold-Wall is a specific idea that you’ve been building towards or more something that’s taken form organically, in the back of your head, over a period of time?
I’d say both, but definitely organically. At first I didn’t think that the tale of the British working class kid, myself, was a good enough story to be told. But working with so many other peers and greats within the streetwear scene, you kind of see, when you pause and look at what they’re doing, and strip it back, it’s very specific to them. I felt that was the best way to make something organic, which is not going to come off as corny, or forced, or pretentious. Just to tell my story – our story – the story of thousands of people. So, you could say this has been in the works for a lifetime, but in terms of really sitting down and working on ideas, concepts, names, textures and contextualising the idea; the last year and a half.

Would you class the brand as menswear, streetwear or would you rather not pigeonhole the direction?
At the moment, I like to refer to it as the “curated product of British street culture.” That’s the best way I can think of putting it. It’s a high-low mix, which goes back to the geographical melting-pot idea, where you could have a council estate area, that you’ve grown up on and spent the majority of your time on down one road, and then 5 years later, you could be working 30 miles away in a huge, marble building. It’s mixing what you would wear to work, such as the oversized trench coat or a tapered pair of slim fit trousers, with what you’d wear at home or even what your grew up in – like a baggy-fitting hoody. It’s about crossing over those two world’s, as they already do within both menswear and streetwear, except it’s a more specific cultural reference point.

I feel you. I can definitely see elements of both worlds in there at this initial stage, which is also derivative of the current market. Was that a conscious decision or just a natural combination of your influences?
When I moved out of my area to go to university, to a more affluential area, I didn’t feel like I could turn up to a lecture or go get a job in an oversized tracksuit, so I delved straight into menswear. That’s when I first began learning about cuts and fits, but I felt alien wearing just that style. Now I feel like I’m at a place where I can balance the two and still be myself, without overselling to either side. So yeah, it’s great that it’s relevant now, but it’s just my personal evolution. I can go back through my Facebook photos to streetwear, Fila and Air Max 95s, to hardcore church vibes with lime green suits, right through to how I’ve learned to merge it now. Wellgosh [the Leicester-based clothes store] would be a testimony to that. They’ve seen me walk in for the last 4 years, each year with a different vibe. It’s only now that it’s started to come together.

And now you’re in a position where you can produce your own products which are perfectly tailored to your style.
Exactly, but at the same time it’s also relatable to other people. Other people can understand it.

ALL DAY in London last night @srd_____ x @virgilabloh x @jerrylorenzo

A video posted by TeamKanyeDaily (@teamkanyedaily) on

It’s obvious you’ve approached A-C-W from a very personal perspective, but in terms of outside influence, did you bounce ideas off of peers and friends during the development process, which in turn effected how the concept manifested itself?
I mentioned it to a few of my peers and mentors as I look up to them and they have great minds when it comes to streetwear and whatnot, but for the most part I kept A-Cold-Wall completely under wraps until January 1, 2015, when I set up the Instagram page. It was something I wanted to keep quite isolated, so that it remained specific to my story, and very much a pure, British story.

Talking mentors, obviously Virgil [Abloh] comes into that category. What has his feedback been on A-Cold-Wall to date?
He’s someone who appreciates youth culture, so he’s very much supportive of the idea and he’s someone who of course saw it ahead of it’s unveiling. He went as far as to say it’s the “beginning of something new.” He made that comment, so that’s set in stone.

In terms of your journey as a creative, from University and playing around, through to today, where you’re working in a professional setting within a melting pot of other great creatives, how would you say your creative process and the way you approach a project such as A-C-W has evolved?
I think it’s been about learning how to work, how to work in way that University doesn’t teach you. Working with the people I do now, it just teaches you how to really work. I think you just get better the more you pour into it. It’s about sacrifice, as well. I mean, if you spend 5 hours a day on a project, you’re not really going to get anywhere. Like, if you get knocked over tomorrow, your life will have been a misery. It’s a case of ‘I do this or I die’. That’s the way I look at a project. In terms of learning to evolve, I started off as primarily a graphic designer, but as a creative you shouldn’t be limited to one area. I’ve grown to want to create in as many formats as possible, which has all led up to this point.

Moving forward, do you have any specific goals or milestones for where the brand is heading, or are you just thinking in the moment for now?
For me, the only game plan is to document a moment that is important in British street culture. Not necessarily a moment as in right now, though, as I think this is a continuous, regurgitating cycle within Britain. It’s about documenting that combination of contrasting cultures within our cities, as melting pots, which are so key to Britain’s heritage. It’s about making sure people realise that this is something of substance, something that is real and something that is actually happening around us. The only game plan is to make sure it’s documented properly. That’s where my head is at. I’m not so much looking at Excel sheets, I’m just trying to make sure what we have is represented properly, and most importantly, authentically.

You’re saying it’s a snapshot of Britain, and there are obviously uniquely British inspirations behind A-C-W and your design concepts. So I was wondering, what is your outlook on contemporary British fashion, in particular streetwear, and where your brand sits amongst it?
My outlook is that if you look back through Britain’s history as a creative hub, and look at what has previously been done here, across all creative fields, I feel that we have an amazing platform. An amazing platform, amongst such a rich culture, that needs enriching. A-Cold-Wall is one angle from which I can display what is happening, in what I feel is an equally rich format.

You could go as far as to say British culture is becoming slightly overlooked, too.
Yeah, I mean, it doesn’t really make sense. When people think of London, they think of Saint Martins & Goldsmiths, which have produced amazing, global artists. People like Damien Hirst, you know. So to have this disconnect right now, in terms of how streetwear from Britain is viewed, I think that I’d just like people to be more honest about what they really think street culture is. The true British street culture – it just gets snubbed. The kid in the full Nike tracksuit with a 10 bag of weed, he’s the real street culture – but that’s not the popular opinion. Like, I’m not necessarily saying that’s A-C-W’s story, but I know there are thousands of kids in the scene right now and that is there story. I just think it would be good if people could be more honest.

So in the way that you’re telling your story, you almost want it to act as a catalyst, to inspire others to tell their personal story. Be it in streetwear, or otherwise.
Yeah, because we have a super culture and I know people from other countries look to us in that sense. There’s space for a lot of markers within the streetwear scene to thrive within Britain. Honesty is important and I don’t think that as a nation we’re being honest enough with what we’re putting out there right now.

Agreed. So if we look away from Britain and across the pond, to brands such as Off-White and HBA, both of which you’ve worked with personally – is the goal for A-C-W to be mentioned in the same conversation?
I want to make sure that people understand the intellect behind the brand, which should hopefully be diffused down through the clothing, but it does need to hold the same sense of intellect that those other two brands do. When people think about those brands, they think about the concepts, the materials; they think about why it was printed a certain way, they question what each piece of clothing is addressing culturally. I think A-Cold-Wall holds some of those values, or at least the same sort of insight and thought process behind it, you know? This is why I’ve said it’s a “curated product of British street culture,”, rather than saying it’s a menswear brand, or high fashion. I’m just stating what I aim to explain through the garments.

The fashion is secondary to the concept itself.
Yes, exactly.

So, there are a lot of dope things coming into fruition in 2015. Aside from launching A-C-W, are there any other things you’re particularly looking forward to this year?
I think this is the year that I’d like to see more British brands emerge. New ones. I’d like to see new ideas come from inner-city areas. Places like Birmingham, or Leeds, or Coventry – areas like that which are little more neglected or overlooked. I’d like to see what they’re saying. I’m more excited about what’s not happening than what is happening, in that sense. There are these huge inspirational muses in all these places, that people aren’t realising are there, or choosing to ignore. Maybe that’s down to how we as British people look at class, whereas if you go back to what streetwear is supposed to be, and the people it represents, that’s who we should be looking to for an authentic product.

That’s the thing. Streetwear started out as anti-fashion, an alternative to mainstream culture, and now it’s become a major part of it. Young brands are now looking to streetwear as the primary inspiration, rather than looking to the streets and themselves.
Exactly. And all these alternative stories can be told from a mature perspective now. Building upon the foundation that is already there. I just want people to produce more intelligent product. That’s what I’d like to see.

Agreed. Talking of intelligence, who’s part of the creative movement that’s making things happen right now?
GEO Designs, Andrew Harper, and Wize.

And finally, when should people expect A-Cold-Wall to be available?
Autumn / Winter 2015.

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Follow Samuel on Instagram and A-C-W via @acoldwall. For everything else, head straight to the brand’s website.

All photography c/o MRWIZE.

*drops mic*

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