Mixing the history of ourselves and the growth and need of the clothing, combining English/European work wear with a US influence we hope to have made simple day to day clothing using the best ingredients we can find.
'ARN Mercantile. This brand is the result of collaboration between two designers, one from Europe and the other one from Japan. Together they have created a brand that stands for organic manufactured products. We here on CAYA thinks it is great that brands like ARN Mercantile exist, because they show that it is possible to create good looking clothes in an all organic way.' from CAYA
ARN comes from a long history of collaboration between European pattern cutter and a Japanese fabric technician and has fulfilled their need to experiment with the processes involved in constructing garments that are cut in 3D and tailored to move with your body. By combining different ideas and materials from around the world, ARM wants to bring each part of the chain together to create garments that can be worn well with the wearer playing a part in the process.
INTERVIEW WITH WALLPAPER* MAGAZINE
Please start by stating your role in ARN Mercantile, and tell me about how the company outfit, i.e. is it you and Akimi who started this together? Is it just the two of you?
First off we don’t really have ‘rolls’, it’s just the two of us so pretty much everything that needs to be done we do together, if there is any difference it’s in the fact that Akimi is better with fabrics than I am but I cut the patterns, we both work on the design and business side, I’m at the Factories more but that is just follow on from the Pattern side of it. Akimi deals with the mills and the Japanese side of the business more than myself so it balances itself out to an even split.
Where do you learn the pattern cutting trade and from whom at what age? Did you studio menswear design at any particular institutions also?
The Pattern cutting was self-taught and osmoses I guess, when I was 12 I went to work with my dad in the summer holidays, he ran a corset factory in Letchworth, the place I cause the least damage was the cutting room, I sat on a stool and watch the layouts, I’ve always looked at thing in there exploded self, like an old Haynes manual or an Airfix kit, as a kid I took everything apart just to see it in bits to understand why, I was given my first motorbike in two big boxes and had to put it together myself, at the age I started sitting in the cutting room I was open to everything and the focus on building clothing and how to construct a 3d garment out of flat fabric grabbed me.
Much later on in New York , full of innocent belief I was involved with a group of people who needed some clothing made so we set up a small factory and made it, we had no idea what we were doing but also no idea that we shouldn’t do it! I started just pulling garments apart and working out how to cut them and the now to make them, made a whole lot of mistakes and kept learning, still am….
Where is your main workshop? Do you have a flagship store or plan to open your own shop?
We work from home, the main reason there is an ARN is R, we both wanted to be close to our child and this was the best (most foolish) way of doing it, we have talked about a store, sort of looking for a space but need to be able to combine it with home life as well as work.
Do you show at Men's Fashion week? Paris or Milan for example? What's your take on brand identity and imagery for ARN? For example...are photographic campaigns something you'll ever involve ARN with? Or do you purposely want to stay under the radar?
We have been showing in Paris at Tranoi, they have been very supportive of us and how we work, mainly they let our son into the show, in fact last time I went without Akimi and Robin, they were upset that he had not come, at Pitti and in Milan they are less child friendly, this is a business but it’s also our life so we like to keep that element to what we do.
Do you feel that as a niche production outfit, you are able to meet the demands of your whole sale buyers?
We make what we make because we want to, you hear a lot ‘I make only what I like’ most time I hear that the person is not wearing there our garments or it’s become the mantra of their ‘brand’.
We want to stay small, happy to produce what we like to, no massive hassles or dealing with people/companies we don’t want to, ARN is too small to be a brand and we’re happy with that. We’ve been lucky to work with people who understand that and want to work in the same way.
Which kind of garments do ARN make? i.e. bags? shoes? knitwear? shirts? trousers? etc..
We make shirting, jackets, pants, knitwear, bags, belts, denim and of one season socks (I like the idea of ‘the house of ARN)
Where do you look for most inspiration? Nature? The street? History? etc...
Our personal history and experiences, anything that has designed and built for purpose and reason
Tell me about the factories and wool/cotton farms/houses you work with...How does it work? Are all of your fabrics and threads sourced in England? Where specifically are your looming houses? dying sheds? Cotton producers? Wool spinners? It would be great to have specific locations and any fun facts or interesting history of some of them.
Sorry …NO, it would take too long and is too boring
We only use Japanese fabrics and organic systems, only UK production and off set our carbon, we have a child and believe (forgive the hippy moment) we are borrowing from our child not inheriting from our parents, every day I look down into my sons face and I have to feel I have not hurt him and his chances of a good life
Where does the "ARN Mercantile" name come from? Where do you find it?
I was a redlinner in the US for a few years, travel all over buying vintage. We set up in disused store for a week to a month advertised in local paper ‘old denim/workwear bought for cash’ and went to local store buying dead stock. I notice traveling through the mid-west now many stores were called something mercantile, most of which we closed down! Mercantile stores were everything stores, socks to shovels pans to ploughs almost Woolworths for the farming people, just like the idea and the word, we try to offer everything we can and wanted to keep open to what we did/do.
The ARN part comes from us, I’ve never like the designers name labels as it gives the wrong impression and is so what an ego thing, the idea that X is working away at every tiny piece of the garment in a candle lit office bent over the cutting table is just wrong, most have a big staff and do very little but give a big picture for others to paint in the detail. It’s group effort and the name should show that, I can’t do anything without Akimi and would not want too.
What are the three stockists for ARN that you are most proud to be working with and why? (Anywhere in the world is fine) Are there any new movement on stockists for the new season or next year that people might not already know about?
Le Globe in Tokyo, he was the frist to buy ARN and has been a great help to us every season, this season we’re doing bespoke collection for him. www.leglobe.jp
Present in London, Steve and Eddie are both great to us, also help develop new ideas and have been VERY understanding to how we work
Cris in UTRECHT, know him for ages, very nice man and understands the ideas and helps us
Which design collaborations have you already undertaken with other designers/houses? How did they work out?Tell us about the Cabourn Co. Lab? Can you elaborate on the kind of relations your have with Nigel Cabourn? PLEASE also tell me something exclusive or any specific nuggets of news you might have on a future collaboration or limited/specialist line you may have planned for next season or next year...or even further into the future.
Nigel approached us at Tranoi 2 years ago, we had a small following in japan and some very nice press from F&E, with another company we work with, Nigel Cabourn is a great outerwear company but there bottoms business was not so good we had a bit of a good reputation for doing pants that fitted and hung well so he suggested a co-lab, been interesting to work with them, very different processes to our normal way of doing things, demanding but fulfilling. We’ve done a bit more than just the pants, this is the fourth season (ss11).
I get on well with Nigel, I like to hear his war stories and he likes to tell them. I have no idea what the future hold for this work, I know we were getting busier and busier with other co-labs and being just the two of us time is always the issue, but I enjoy, in the most part, working with them and this is the key for us to move forward, in fact the SS11 pants I think were the best yet, although the 4 pleat we did at the start is very nice..
If you could sum up there ARN Mercantile aesthetic in 3 words, what would they be?
We’ll keep learning
Versatility, functionality and modernity.
Would you say you are style for the technically minded? Or Technology for the style minded?
Bit of both. We like to think it practical cutting for the shape you is, don’t get bogged down in that part of it, we make it as we see it should be made, no corners cut.
From a design point of view, if you could state only near-unobtainable for ARN Mercantile in the future, what would it be?
Shoes and boots…..I’d like to do something there, I know nothing about it so learning would be fun.
Do you put your cloth or prototype through any kind of distressing treatments for an extra worn look and feel? If so how exactly do you go about the process and what is special about these methods?
No wear/distressing, no tow people wear clothing the same so the wear patterns can’t match the distressing on our cloths is from the wearer not us and I’m so happy when I see it, the cloths sent in to wallpaper were my own cloths our samples are in factory or in japan so I had to send in my stuff, the wear is mine!
How are you collection comprised? Is the same pattern, each season, with variations in materials and colour? Or do you design vary lots from season to season?
At the end of each sale season, the samples are split up into press (normally japan only) and production samples.
This is the best time for us, we have an empty rail, to fill with new patterns. We talk about it then we don’t , then we do, then we think so more…..then we draw stuff, akimi is better than I am, my drawing look like I drink too much, then we talk fabrics and do the same dance, then I start cutting paper, that is when it becomes something real to me. Then I cut fabrics. As we do this other ideas come in to play and new design come together, there is a range plan but it’s just there to make me feel I’m doing something. It’s never stuck too.
We keep a main body of the collection in, there are three styles of pants we always do and two shirts that are there and two jackets, this is just because we like the idea of keep a ‘basic’ part of the range there, if you buy a shirt and it fits just right, you’ll want another one, if it becomes that one piece you always wear, your ‘feel good’ trousers, they will at some point the wear out or you feel the need to replace them with the same thing.
I had a pair of jeans, great jeans fitted well, hung right, loved them, had them for 10 years, it showed, when I came to replace them the company no longer sold outside of Japan the cut had change, took me two years to find a replacement, it was a Kato’s pair, it how we ended up working with Kato. But we not always that lucky, we want/wanted ARN to always have a core, something that would be there when you finally gave in and replaced the pants/shirt/jacket you loved.
I been in this industry for 30 years plus now, cut my frist pattern aged 13, did my frist layout at 12. I have a good sized vintage collection and wear a of it, worked for Nike, Carhartt, Levi and a few others, but still believe cloths are for wearing not just looking at, there age shows the love you have for them or the memory’s you have in them or just the life you lead. We want ARN garments to grow and change with the wearer. When we build them that what we’re thinking.
Why do you go about forming collections this way?
Only way we know how to do it!
What are the vague quantities in shirts and trousers that you make each season? At which numbers do you tend to cap it?
Over a season we produce 1000-1500 garments, shirting is 35-40% of that with trousers and jacket even split on the balance, whit a little left over for the rest (bags, belts, acc), we’re pretty much running a 75% of what we would cap it at, right now 2000 garments would be it. The reasons are the fabric and the production, there are not many small production house left in the UK that are any good at what they do, in most of the ones we used the staff are older (not many young people go into production) the machines we like to use are old to, so there braking down and replacements are hard to find, in short the skill base for production is in short supply, we work mainly with London based production, which is harder to find.
Which garment tends to be the most limited run in a collection? Why?
The bags, there all handmade (by me) and the time to make them is shown in the small amount we can sell, the leathers are all recycled this also reduces the amount due to the higher standard needed to build the bags
Is there a signature garment or design that you could safely say ARN is becoming known for? Have you invented a new shape/design that is still unique to your name?
We work on a curved sleeve in some shirting and jackets that matches the movement in the body, I guess we’re known a little for that! And the movement of the garments (3D cutting)
Chinos in different shapes of body types.
Are they any plans for a NEW design or addition to the collections for next season?
Working on Jersey , not something we’ve done before and blanket, that’s new to us too
Do you concern yourself with more tradition or more innovation? Or are they equally as important to you?
The idea of innovation without tradition and the reverse is beyond me, I’ve been in this for my whole life, and there is no one without the other is there? For me I’ve spent a lot of my time looking at how different country/places/times solve the same problems. This helps me when I look at pattern problems
What is the definitive feature to ARM Mercantile that sets it apart rom other artisan work ware houses?
I’m not sure if that many of them are in the lucky position we are, we work on our own time with people we enjoy working with, I think the main difference is we are a family business, all in house (which is our front room) and we really love what we do.