The Changingman

Paul Weller: fashion designer? Antonia Wilson talks to the ‘Modfather’ about his menswear label Real Stars Are Rare, his love of craft and the relationship between music and fashion

“There’s a couple of people I’ve spoken to who I’ve said, ‘I’ve started up a clothing line’, and they’ve said, ‘well there’s probably more money in it than music’. And it’s like… what… A: I wasn’t thinking about that and B: I don’t think that’s strictly true,” says singer-songwriter Paul Weller, who recently co-founded mod-influenced menswear label Real Stars Are Rare. “It’s not like I’ve got any delusions of being a designer, or being in competition with any brands. It was just a little thing we are doing, trying to make quality clothes and see how it goes really.”

Weller wears RSAR paisley dress shirt, single-breasted jacket and tapered trouser, both in royal blue (Photos: Sheena at Nice, courtesy of 101)

Real Stars Are Rare is all about great craftsmanship. Weller might be laid back in his approach to the industry, but his passion for clothes is evident in the high quality fabrics and sharp tailoring of the collections. It stands in direct opposition to both the fast fashion industry and meaningless money-driven celebrity fashion endorsements.

“It’s all bollocks,” Weller says. “I think generally speaking, without mentioning names, a lot of the stuff people have been involved with is pretty naff. I don’t see myself as a celebrity for a start. And I don’t really see it in the same light as all that. I’ve always loved clothes for as long as I can remember and still do, so it’s really from that point of view.”

Original designs for items sketched by Weller
Original designs for items sketched by Weller

From the double-breasted patch-pocket jackets to the star motif jumpers, the collection is an extension of what the former Jam and Style Council frontman would wear himself. And Weller isn’t just putting his name to it; he’s involved at every stage. “It’s more like a labour of love really,” he says. “I just didn’t want to mass produce cheap crap, because there’s plenty of that stuff out there. I wanted it to be a bit more special. I’d only want it to be stuff that I’d wear myself – that’s the quality control really.”

It all started when Weller got talking to Phil Bickley, owner of Portobello Road menswear shop Tonic, who offered to help him create a few T-shirts. After a couple of years developing ideas, the first collection was released last October. In the main, Weller sketches and designs and Bickley sources and manages production, much of which is based in the UK and Europe. This includes working with Fox Brothers, a Somerset based clothmaker founded in 1772; other fabrics sourced from the Albini mill in Italy; and tailoring often carried out in Portugal. Suitably understated branding comes via 101.

RSAR tags with quotes from Weller, and branding by 101: “We knew the early modernist clothing was mixed with the military look, that’s why we used the font we did. And the little star was something Paul had sketched, so we used it as an asterisk at the end of the logo,” says 101’s creative director Mark Elwood

The collaboration is grounded in crafting clothes that fit well and careful consideration to cut and detail, with many items carrying the RSAR star, embroidered on the chest or lapel. The label’s name also in part relates to this appreciation for the finer things, whilst being playful and not taking it all too seriously. “I can’t remember who it was, but I remember hearing it, it’s a bit of a camp, showbiz expression, ‘real stars are rare, they only come out at night’,” Weller says. “I liked it and thought it was quite funny. It also says to me that to see real qualities you have to be more discerning sometimes.”

It’s not the first time Weller has ventured into the fashion industry, having worked with Fred Perry, Ben Sherman, and Liam Gallagher’s Pretty Green label on various collaborations over the years. Similar to some of his work with these brands, RSAR has a mod-inspired edge. “Anything I’d ever think about wearing, would be mod-centric, but in a contemporary way as well,” he says. “So I’m trying to make [the collections] just classic, so they’re not in fashion or out of fashion.”

Although Weller was dubbed a ‘Mod Revivalist’ by Melody Maker in 1977 – to which he retaliated by wearing a cardboard sign which said, ‘How can I be a fucking revivalist when I’m only 18′ – he is more mellow about his current label of ‘the Modfather’. “I don’t like it or dislike it, I don’t even think about it really. There’s a lot of other, worse things you could be called. I suppose I should be grateful for it. I’m not really sure what it means,” he says. “I’ve been a mod as long as I can remember really and I don’t think that will ever change, so I think there’s a certain reference point or a certain standpoint when it comes to clothes for me.”

The Jam, Cleveland, Ohio, 1979 (Photo: Janet Macoska, courtesy of Somerset House)

Born in Sheerwater near Woking, Surrey, in 1958, Weller grew up in a proudly working-class family who strongly supported his music career. He still feels the influence of his involvement with – and later the leadership of – youth culture at the time, when Britain was in a political and economic crisis, and young people looked to musicians and the punk rock scene to give a voice to their sense of disillusionment. And for Weller, music and fashion have always gone hand-in-hand.

“I think the time that I grew up in, when I started getting aware of those things – mid-60s into the early 70s – music and fashion really were entwined. If you liked a band, you liked them not only for the music, but because of the way they looked, and the attitude and all those things. It was much more mutually related back at that time,” he says. “You form your opinions when you’re young, and I guess that’s the culture I grew up in, and I suppose it doesn’t change too much for me really.”

The Jam, at Frank’s Cafe, Beak St, London, 1978 (Photo: Martyn Goddard, courtesy of Somerset House)

“Probably up to the early 80s maybe, it was more street fashion at that time, it wasn’t so brand-led, designer-led, and labels, and that stuff. A lot of fashions really came from the kids themselves off the street,” Weller continues. “I was too young to be involved in the original mod thing but by the time I was 12 or 13 I was kind of into the skinhead and suedehead thing of the early 70s. I loved the way the fashions changed every week, and you’d see older smart guys wearing certain things, and you knew that in two or three weeks you’d be wearing that and they’d have moved on by that time.”

The Jam were distinctive both in sound and style, wearing sharp, black, three-button mohair suits, white shirts and what became known as ‘The Jam shoes’ – black-and-white lace-ups, similar in style to bowling shoes. It was a look that was willingly adopted by fans everywhere. “We were seen as being quite retro because of the way we dressed, but that was just what we were into,” Weller says.

The Jam (Photo: Neal Preston, Corbis, courtesy of Somerset House)

Their look was more polished than punk fashion, and wasn’t about dressing for shock-value. They were more colourful and distinctive in their aesthetic, from striped boating blazers to motif jumpers, black leather trilby hats to checked wool trousers. But it was all about classic pieces, evidently still an important approach for Weller when it comes to both his own style and RSAR.

Buyers seem slow to catch on to the brand’s appeal, but this doesn’t seem to phase Weller, with the online store doing well so far. “We did try a showroom with the first collection, but no-one really wanted to take it. A lot of the buyers came, and they all liked it but they were sort of like, ‘well we’ll keep an eye on it, because it’s a new brand’, and the usual thing,” he says. “So we just thought well sod it, we’ll just do it mail order, and see how it goes, and it’s been really good.”

It isn’t an easy industry to break into, and despite good sales, Weller admits he’s still out of pocket. “I’ve spoken to a lot of people and they say well you can’t really expect to make any money for maybe two years, a few collections in. But it wasn’t really done as a money-earner anyway, it was just something I really wanted to do,” he says. “I would like to get into some other shops, little independent boutiques, that sort of thing. I was talking to menswear designer John Varvatos, who I saw in New York recently, who I’m good friends with, and he was saying maybe they could have a little concession in their shops, which would be cool.”

Models wears long-sleeved henley, and star motif jumper (Photo: Sheena at Nice, courtesy of 101)

Currently Weller and Bickley aim to avoid being governed by seasonal collections, with the second collection out now, and a third planned for around October-time. They are keeping an open mind for the future, and Weller hints he’s interested in designing some children’s items too. Currently they don’t see RSAR catering to a particular market, but just hope people see the appeal of these classic, well-crafted pieces which are made to last.

“People like our clothes from 20 to 70, so I don’t think there’s a demographic in mind really. I suppose economics govern those things too. We are trying to keep our prices down but with the quality of stuff and the materials we use, it’s difficult to do that,” he says, (the star motif jumper retails at £155, and suits at £450). “We didn’t want to just make a load of dodgy mod clothes, because there’s plenty of those out and about, we try to aim it a little bit higher than that. I don’t think there’s anything comparable, but it’s not like we’ve reinvented the wheel either – were just adding small spokes to it.”

Visit realstarsarerare.com for more info and the online store.

The Jam: About the Young Idea exhibition is on at Somerset House, London until 27 September. somersethouse.org.uk

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