Good Morning Vietnam!  It’s been a while…
During my most recent trip to the land of Pho (food rules my logic for travel), I was introduced to Paul Norriss. An ex-pat living in Saigon, he runs the contemporary retail/food/design space, L’Usine on Dong Khoi Street -think a mellow version of Colette but in Vietnam- in the heart of the city with his wife Jap, his sister and brother in law, Tib and Thai, Gina Pham formerly of Opening Ceremony, and Paul’s design partner, Darren Chew. A stand out in Saigon’s developing scene, if you’re young and hip or modern and mature, you’ll have heard of L’Usine.
I meet Paul here to chat about his real job outside of L’Usine. On a day to day basis Paul runs his own ISO certified manufacturing plant with 400+ employees –the quality control in this place is absolutely stupendous–where he oversees the production of his clothing line, Marshall Artist as well as others such as Penfield and a certain iconic Italian brand that starts with a P and ends with an A.
Created in 2000, Marshall Artist, a beloved UK based menswear brand, focuses on well tailored modern garments. Over a decade later MA still creates solid collections season after season of well-crafted and detail-oriented pieces that please not only to their long time fans, but new ones as well.
To get some insight to the behind the scenes of MA, Paul put me in touch with his Creative Director Neil Maloney…  (text by Joy Yoon)
SLAMXHYPE: What makes Marshall Artist unique compared to other brands?

Neil Maloney: I’d have to say the thing that sets us apart at a structural level is the size of our core team and where we’re based – 2 partners are based in Vietnam where they own the factory that not only makes Marshall Artist but a whole host of top brands including Penfield and Prada. I’m based in the UK where there is just me and my assistant at our studio. I go over to the factory in Vietnam at least 4 times a year where we have a fantastic team dedicated solely to Marshall Artist. It’s a designers dream to have a 400+ factory at his finger tips!

At a creative level I’d say the thing that sets us apart from other brands is the attention to deal and general quality of product versus the price brackets we sit in. I spend a lot of time (far too much!) researching construction methods and finishes and how we can reinvent them or make them relevant for a contemporary market and at the right price point. The end result is a well thought out garment that is functional and stylish.

SLAMXHYPE: What’s your background as Creative Director?

Neil Maloney: I started out in London in about ’97 as a junior Art Director for a great agency at the time called Attik. We worked on fantastic projects for the likes of MTV, Nike, Sony, EMI, Adidas, Levi’s etc etc. Everything from music clips to print campaigns and everything in-between. I look back now and realise how lucky I was to walk out of art college and straight into what was probably the coolest studio in London at the time. I got into designing menswear in about 2001 and gradually moved from Art Direction into fashion and since 2004 I’ve pretty much just focused on designing menswear.

SLAMXHYPE: Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Neil Maloney: The people around me and their environments. I grew up in Liverpool in the 80’s so the whole casual thing has always been a part of me. I love that genre of menswear. Not so much the full-on sportswear look but more the outdoor kind of brands that were cool back then, and still are now really. I think you can see that in my work for sure. I love traditional workwear as well – garments that will last longer than life time. There’s always something new to learn from old pieces you find on your travels. I’m an absolute jacket fanatic – I drive my wife crazy with the sheer volume of outerwear I hoard away at home!

SLAMXHYPE: What things do you touch upon in regards to design that is “English”?

Neil Maloney: The collections definitely have a British feel without a doubt as it’s who I am and what I’m about. I don’t know whether there’s any more to it other than it’s where I grew up. Would the aesthetics of the brand change if I left the UK? – I don’t know. I do love the idea of classic British tailoring though. The tradition and history I suppose. There’s a certain confidence and authority when you speak to an old tailor or machinist that’s been around forever. Making garments in the UK is really popular right now (avoiding the H word! here) but what we have in Vietnam is just too special to even think about shifting things over here!

SLAMXHYPE: What does Marshall Artist emphasize in its product?

Neil Maloney: Modern tailoring for modern people.

SLAMXHYPE: Favorite pieces from upcoming line or favorite piece that is repeated every season?

Neil Maloney: The Nautical Jacket in burnt orange waxed canvas seems to be the piece for Autumn 2011 that everyone’s going mad for. (See image below)

SLAMXHYPE: Why the expansion into accessories? Will it have the same QC as the clothing?

Neil Maloney: Definitely. The footwear looks amazing. It felt like a natural progression. We kept getting asked for bags and shoes all time from retailers and our sales guys so we thought why not give it a crack. It’s taken 6 months of really hard work to get the sampling looking how I wanted them but it was worth it, as you’ll soon see! We use a lot of the same material like the leathers and waxed canvases across the garments and accessories so it works well for us.

SLAMXHYPE: The ideal Marshall Artist customer is who?

Neil Maloney: All men great and small! The collections tend to be pretty broad so we appeal to a broader base of shops and punters.

SLAMXHYPE: Are there any ‘Easter Eggs’ in Marshall Artist clothing?

Neil Maloney: Too many to mention! I’m a nightmare when it comes to minute details. I thought there was only so many pockets you could fit onto a jacket but I prove myself wrong every season! My trim sets per garment are ridiculous – Our merchandisers at the factory run and hide under their desks when I rock up!

SLAMXHYPE: What is most noteworthy about your brand?

Neil Maloney: Honesty and hard work across the board – From the factory floor to the showroom. I’d say we’re the most unpretentious bunch around.

SLAMXHYPE: What is the ultimate direction the brand is headed towards?

Neil Maloney: Have you got all night? – I could put my global strategy hat on but you won’t thank me for it!! ……..Nice clothes for nice people……….