“I never call what I do designing, to a degree, although I’m starting to get a bit more technical now,” says Graeme Gaughan, founder and designer of London based brand, Tourne De Transmission. “What I’ve been doing over the last year and a half is tweaking and updating classic silhouettes, shapes and pieces and making them a bit different.”
We’re sitting in the East London office of IPR, the PR agency that Graeme helped launch in 2008, and which also serves as a home base of sorts for Tourne De Transmission. Around us, the brand’s Spring/Summer 2014 collection hangs from racks, a reminder of how far the brand has come in three short years. Tourne De Transmission (literally, ‘Rotating Transmission’) is an analogy for the idea of combining visuals and words, resulting in the generation of poignant messages. Graeme’s collections are built around these statements, and the clothing takes on new meaning as its message is subjected to a media-saturated world, essentially becoming a walking banner. SS14 marks a return to themes explored by the brand in past collections – those of freedom and migration – which were placed to one side earlier this year with the release of Autumn/Winter 2013, a darker collection inspired by industrial revolution. Research and concept are integral parts of Tourne De Transmission’s process and eager to find out more, we spoke to Graeme about his vision for the brand, points of inspiration and past collections.
SLAMXHYPE: Can you tell us about the concept behind Tourne De Transmission? How you combine words and visuals to convey a message.
Graeme Gaughan: I was always really interested in the work of people like Barbara Kruger and also album covers. In fact that’s probably the earliest reference I can give to this, being obsessed with album covers. When albums had an image that had nothing to do with the title of the album, that was my biggest influence. Things like Nevermind for example – a baby chasing a dollar. Two things might not correlate at all, but on the album they work perfectly. You can take what you want from it yourself and as the viewer you’re able to make your own assumption, take your own message from it which is what I really liked. Barbara Kruger’s work is a bit more consumer-focused but there’s a social commentary element. So I tried to combine those elements when we first started with the t-shirts. We were finding ways of combining an image that had nothing to do with the statement or word, but somehow they worked together on the t-shirt. From there, it kind of ballooned and before we knew it we had people calling us asking for pieces. We ran out of things really quickly but everything had a hand-worked feel and quality to it which was an important part of us starting out. It’s started to be a bit more available now but things are still limited and we do run out of stuff. I like the idea of that.
SXH: In terms of the brand’s key vision, how has that developed collection-to-collection?
GG: Well I don’t think we really hit a ‘collection’ until AW13. In terms of that, this is really our second collection. Now, especially with AW14 coming up, you’ll see its grown, bringing in tailored outerwear and trying to interpret the print element with that. More leather styles. It’s not something we planned for. I think when I started I had the idea that we could stick with t-shirts and that would be great, but you have to do more than that. If you want to standout and create a real tone of voice and a real message as a brand you need to do a lot more. That’s why we’ve grown.
SXH: How much of your personal style do you think is inherent in the brand?
GG: Probably quite a lot, to be honest, although I don’t always think about it and I’m thinking about it less and less each season. Instead of always referencing things that I like, I have to reference what sells and things that are popular. For Summer ’13 we sold out of our Cloud pants and sweats in under a week and we couldn’t get any more done. People were going crazy asking ‘can I get it?’, and that’s not something I would particularly wear myself all the time, so it’s not me referencing my personal style but I’m learning that people like that stuff. It’s something I need to think about each season.
SXH: Can you talk about the underlying inspiration behind SS14?
GG: It’s based around the idea of escapism you encounter as a teenager. You leave school and start college and all of a sudden you’re allowed to go on lads holidays. Thinking back to when I was doing that it felt like we’d come of age where we could go and spread our wings without having to worry about our parents back in the chalet. No one was kicking off when we came in at four in the morning. We did some mental shit. That period of time was really pivotal and with the group of friends I was with then it did feel like we were taking a massive leap. We were going into the world as grown-ups and feeling a streak of independence. That’s what our Migration print is about – spreading our wings and finding new horizons, as it were. At the time the soundtrack was very Brit-pop orientated, to a degree. Lots of Blur.
SXH: That’s where the ‘Streets Like a Jungle’ tee comes from?
GG: Yeah, it felt like that at the time. The places we were going to at the time – places I could never think about going back to – it was like people had let the animals out of the cages! It was crazy. People jumping out of balconies nine stories up, people fighting in lifts, it was mental. There aren’t many times when song lyrics really ring true to the times that you’re in. At the time that album was always on, along with things like The Charlatans and Stone Roses, loads of rave and early hip hop. I mocked up the lyrics on a t-shirt and it just works. But again, that’s kind of the premise behind this collection, there’s an exploratory youth element to it.
SXH: And that’s something we can see with the bird themes that have recurred over the last couple of seasons…
GG: Birds are something I keep going back to. People seem to like them. We make them really big while most brands make birds tiny. It works. We also print them on the reverse which is unique and means the print disintegrates in certain places, which is part of the whole hand-worked process I like. Each piece will age uniquely as you wash them, they’ll decay in different ways.
SXH: You’ve basically worked with a monochromatic palette since the beginning, give or take the odd colour thrown in, what’s the reason behind this?
GG: I think it’s easier for people to understand. It’s a personal preference more than anything else. At the end of the day, what does everyone wear? It’s white and black, most of the time. It’s never too difficult for people. For Winter ’13 we put the orange in there to represent iron ore, and I think if colour is going to be there it needs to have a reason, to accentuate or highlight parts of a collection. There will be a little bit of colour in Winter ’14 but it will be predominantly white, black and grey.
SXH: Going back to the AW13 collection, which is based on industrial revolution, it seems to be in stark contrast to these other themes of freedom. It’s much more structured…
GG: It was after I read a book called People of the Abyss. The writer, Jack London, set himself up as a pauper in East London as a project, which is fascinating in itself. He’d literally sewn a tuppence into the inside of his coat if he ever needed it for an emergency and he had a little bit of money in his flat in Stepney in case things got really bad, but he never went there. He was basically putting himself in the position of the poor East Londoner. And that’s all in this area – and look at it now, it’s insane. At the time of the book all the street kids were talking about this industrial revolution and how things were changing but it made their lives worse, in a way, because they didn’t get any of the spoils of that. It changed the landscape here massively and I found parallels between that and what’s going on with technology right now. It makes you wonder, all this great stuff that we’re talking about, is it actually as great for us as we think it is?
SXH: In terms of reacting to that and the parallels to what is going on today, how is the brand responding to its environment here in London?
GG: London is a dark and gloomy place a lot of the time and I think there are elements of our brand that reflect that. There is a sort of sombre, dark side to what we do. There is a lot of humour in our SS14 collection – more so than ever before – but there is still a dark undertone to it.
SXH: Going forward, how do you see the brand developing?
GG: Bigger collections with a more rounded finish, in terms of product categories. A lot of pieces need research and development. That’s why we’ve done footwear with partners these last three seasons because we need to find our bearing in these areas. At the same time I want to expand the collection and not be so reliant on jersey and print, potentially. Winter ’14 will show we’ve grown up a bit – not serious and highly polished – but keeping things fresh. I also want to expand the consumer base. We’ve launched our new website so now we’ve got our own store online and can track where things are going. We also want to expand our accessories and do our own footwear at some point.
Next season we’ll take it a bit more sartorial and rugged. We’re juxtaposing seasonal influences and taking inspiration from desert nomads, but done in a wintery way. I love that ethnic side of clothing. But we’re also looking at what’s going in Syria where there is so much rebellion and punk, in a way. We’re inspired by that revolutionary attitude.