Andrew Davis left his job as a pastry chef in Manchester behind in the early '90s, swapping the kitchen for the corridors and classrooms of Central Saint Martins. He barely had time to look back. On his year out he was taken on by globally-renowned PR agency Purple, a move on his part fuelled by the fact that the owner's father owned The Face, where he was intent on working - “she wouldn't let me leave though, she said I was too good at PR!” Eventually, he made the move to Arena before joining The Face as the magazine's fashion editor.
Andrew slips back into the role of editor this month, joining oki-ni to take the reins throughout October. It makes sense. He's been with us from day one – just look through our STYLED archive for evidence of that – and as one of the first to champion streetwear as high fashion and fashion in turn as something accessible, we feel like there's always been a synergy between us and him. Like we're looking in the same direction.
As the site makes its long-awaited comeback, and Andrew takes his place at its helm – for one month only – we caught up with the man himself to discuss oki-ni's legacy, longevity in fashion and menswear then vs. now.
Hey Andrew – welcome to oki-ni! Thank you! I'm very happy to be here.
What are your memories of oki-ni, what did it look like back when it first launched in 2001?
I'd worked with the founders quite a bit in my time at Arena and The Face and had quite a close relationship with them, so when I found out they were opening a store I was really excited. When it opened it was kind of
ground-breaking in terms of design and what was being offered on Savile Row – obviously that street is steeped in history and tradition, and here was this beautiful, conceptual store throwing open its doors and selling
all these rare and unique products that you couldn't get anywhere else. It was really clever and different, and we'd been yearning for something like that.
We'd had amazing stores before – Browns, for example – but nothing that talked to the kids that were into sneakers and streetwear in a big way. Colette had just launched and was in Paris anyway, and it was way before Dover Street Market and even places like Size? had really taken off, so it was amazing to finally have a real destination for menswear particularly.
It felt very important at the time; from the design to the layout to the product selection and how special you were made to feel whenever you popped in – it was really accessible. It was inclusive not exclusive which felt like quite a new thing in a space like that, I think it paved the way in that respect. I want them to open a new one, Ben Banks if you're reading this, sort it out!
What did the menswear landscape look like when you started out? When I started out in the early-'90s it was all about this very buff, healthy-looking Italian guy, you know, very groomed. Obviously, the independent designers and magazines were doing their own thing, Vivienne (Westwood) and Galliano were still sending all this avant-garde stuff down their catwalks, but the main focus in fashion was really on people like Gianni Versace and Giorgio Armani.
A few years later, designers like Raf Simons started making a name for themselves for disrupting that aesthetic a bit – working with skinny, awkward models and offering a whole new silhouette. I could relate to that a lot more because I wasn't this ripped guy in an Italian suit! People like Hedi (Slimane) and Prada were also doing the slim, more understated thing, and then one day it was just like 'oh…this is it now'. A lot of designers started paying attention to youth culture again, which was interesting – what kids would be wearing a Versace suit down the pub on a Friday night, do you know what I mean? It looked great, but it just wasn't relatable for a lot of us.
How has the industry evolved in the time since? Designers like Raf, Calvin Klein and Helmut Lang are really important to how fashion has evolved – I think what they were doing back in the '90s made a younger generation of designers realise that you can do 'you' but you still need to sell clothes! It's all very well sending a guy down the runway in a pair of fluffy shorts and a bra, but that's going to appeal to a very limited demographic. I think kids are starting to realise that to have longevity, they have to develop the statement they want to make into something wearable, for better or worse.
So which designers do you think have the balance between innovation and longevity right at the moment?
I'm really excited by what's happening at Helmut Lang. They've always been innovative and while countless designers try to rip them off, they never really succeed. The new approach to the way the brand is run is fascinating,
and seeing Shayne Oliver's interpretation of the label was just so fresh – there's such a treasure trove of an archive to dig through and I think it's very relevant more now than ever. It has proved its longevity and now it's
ensuring that continues by introducing one of the more interesting designers on the scene into the mix. It feels bold and progressive. I'm interested to see what happens at Calvin Klein too – seeing Raf take the reins of a
very American brand and put his own spin on it is exciting.
Closer to home, I've worked with Matthew Miller a few times and I like what he's doing, he's got something to say for himself. And John Skelton, who graduated from CSM last year – his designs have a very mid-'90s Yohji or Miyake feel to them, but they're also very new. He puts real emphasis on things being eco-friendly and sustainable, which I think we'll see a lot more of in the future.
Tell us about your first shoot for oki-ni... I was obsessed with the Barbican and at that time, people weren't shooting in there as much as they are now! I just loved the brutalist architecture and the light in there – everything about it really. Then when I was walking through looking for locations I noticed there was a school right in the middle of the estate. The idea of these young lads hanging out in the middle of this brutalist playground wearing layer upon layer of streetwear was really interesting. We shot with Michael Morgan, who's a bit of a star these days.
And what about this one?
Showing my favourite pieces from the new brand offering was obviously really important, and I wanted to demonstrate the contrasts in the selection. Mixing the stained-glass jeans by J.W. Anderson with something that's pretty
'normal' like the Stone Island jacket isn't necessarily the expected pairing, which I think reflects the unpredictability of menswear now. I wanted to demonstrate as many different characters as I could, too, because I feel
like a lot of characters make up the men that shop at oki-ni. So there's the guy that's die-hard Margiela, the guy who lives in Stoney, the Rick Owens disciple. It was all about that feeling of inclusion that the store originally had.
On the shoot, I worked with a photographer called Daniel Benson who kept popping up on my Instagram – I contacted him because I felt like you knew who his models were and he was good at capturing a character as opposed to just a model, which I liked. I was really surprised because he'd take three or four photographs and I'd be like 'you've got it, let's move on to the next!' – making sure the shoot was full of personality was really important to me and I think as a team – the models included – we really managed to get that across.
What do you think oki-ni brings to the table on its return? I think it offers something for the sneakerheads, something for the collector, something for the die-hard fashion lover, clothes to go out in, clothes to go to work in – it's a diverse offer that caters for everyone without trying to cater for everyone if that makes sense. It doesn't try too hard.
What do you see as the future for menswear? I think the designers that create wardrobes that you build upon each season are going to become the industry heavyweights; the ones that look at what Margiela, Helmut and the likes do, then apply that to their own work. More and more people are being careful about what they buy and want their clothes to have integrity and longevity and designers that take that on board will flourish. I think we'll see the end of 'fast-fashion' for the most part. I hope we do.
You're our first ever guest-editor. Nervous? Excited? I'm really excited, it's a privilege to be back! I think I've driven everybody mad because I've wanted it to be perfect – it's been quite a daunting task. We referenced a lot of my old work from when I was the fashion editor of Homme+ and when I was first working with oki-ni so it brought back a lot of fond memories. I'm excited to see where it goes from here, too. Who'll be next?!