In Conversation: David Hellqvist

As the Editorial Director for his own creative agency and Fashion Features Editor for Port Magazine, David Hellqvist knows a thing or to about menswear. Having worked in the industry for over ten years, inhabiting a range of roles from stylist to journalist, David is in the perfect position to discuss the blurring lines between editorial and commercial work and the importance of timing and context when it comes to innovation and trends.

Tell us about when you started working in the fashion industry... I think by now it’s over ten years; when I graduated from journalism school, at the time the country went into recession—it was 2007—there were not a lot of jobs around, so by definition you become a freelancer. But up until then I’d worked in retail at Browns, Dover Street Market, some of London’s best stores. That was part of my education—selling clothing and knowing why something is expensive and what makes a brand valuable and popular.

And working with the brands? Not so much, I was just on the shop floor, folding jumpers and selling Kilgour suits at Browns. For me those things are equally important, that education, meeting those people and working with that clothing, as going to school and studying journalism. If you then combine the two you become a fashion journalist—whatever that means. So technically I’ve been doing this for ten years, but as for many people, no matter what area you’re in you can pull from parts of your life and different experiences to create your own unique way of doing things.

Did you always have a passionate interest in fashion? I came to London when I was 21 and there was no doubt that I wanted to work with clothes. My first job was at Topshop, but how do you move on to Browns? It was all about one step at a time, next was a small store in Soho, then Browns then DSM and then moving away from retail and towards what I do today. It’s an organic way of developing yourself, your interests and your work. I’m from a small town in Sweden, fashion was never part of the agenda for many of my peers and friends. I still cared a lot about what I wore, but when there are only 20,000 odd people in my hometown, what you have access to is different. Like today, I don’t really see myself working in fashion per se: I’m very product focussed. For me, especially in menswear, it’s all about product. It’s about what that product does for you and then you combine a few different products and you have an outfit, a look.

What was your first experience of oki-ni? My original experience is going to the store in Savile Row and being blown away by the new approach to bricks and mortar retail—in 2001, stores didn’t look like that. There was nothing like that. Fuck me, what’s going on here? I remember walking down Conduit Street, passing Yohji Yamamoto, passing Vivienne Westwood and it was a different world to me. If you approached it from the other direction you would walk by all the bespoke tailoring brands and then the luxury brands and, there, smack in the middle you have oki-ni. It was like the perfect storm mixture between all those things.

Did you manage to buy anything? I probably couldn’t afford it! My first experience buying that kind of stuff would have been working at Browns when you have a discount...

You work both commercially and editorially, how do you approach projects differently depending on what they’re for? My commercial work is very much an extension of my editorial work, but even then, you approach things differently depending on the magazine or the story, and it’s the same with commercial work. What we do with Document Studios, the whole point is that we treat commercial brands from an editorial point of view, because I was just so fed up with being asked to do thing commercially, for brands that want things done their way and the brief is just a ten-point marketing plan. As a consumer of those things, who gets a newsletter in his inbox, or is sent that brochure or given that book, I just didn’t feel that there was a connect between what I wanted and needed as a consumer and what I was asked to do as an editor. Why shouldn’t we be able to do commercial content the way that we do editorial?

Tell me about Document Studios... We've produced documents with various brands—we’ve done Gap, Lee Cooper, Kickers, Timberland and adidas. We approach the brand and its history from the eyes of an editor, because what is an editor? He or she edits and selects, and the definition of the job is to say yes and no to things. And instead of including everything we cherry pick what’s interesting and, more importantly, what's relevant. When you do that, honesty and authenticity come through and you are creating something that is true to your values and opinions as a brand.

How did you approach your oki-ni takeover? When it comes to menswear, it’s not so much about silhouettes—there aren’t that many silhouettes—so what you’re left with is colours, textures and fabrications, so I wanted to work with that. Texture and fabrication are not so easy to show on a still life shoot, so then you’re left with colour. We created colour coded outfits and then I asked Mads [photographer Mads Perch], who is brilliant with third party elements, if we could use smoke in this instance, I think he really brings something to it. It was that combination between my colour coded outfits and his smoke. I was conscious on the day that some of them turned out to be really nice product shoots but I didn’t want it to be like a studio shoot for a webstore.

Where there any pieces in the shoot that you really liked? I think that white is such a, by definition, bland colour that it makes it even stronger. That’s the look we were most unsure of, if you have a white background and white smoke you could be left with nothing.

What other trends do you think are happening right now? I don’t deal so much in trends but that’s not to say that we’re not all drawn to certain things at certain times—myself included.

If not trends, what is there that’s happening in fashion right now that you’re most excited about? I struggle to come up with lists—I get excited about what to wear and what we work on everyday, but if you ask me it’s difficult to encapsulate it into a snappy answer. I think the biggest, best, most exciting things in fashion are those with an element of surprise. I enjoy those brands and products that are perceived to be ugly and unattractive but then a different context can completely change the way you look at that product. I remember going to the Gucci SS14 menswear show in Milan, pre-hype, and Frida Giannini sent out taped seams and Gore-Tex jackets and anoraks—super sportswear—at a time when Nike sportswear and those things were quite big. I remember just sitting there in Milan and thinking fuck me, I want this Gucci. It felt so wrong but it felt so exciting to come away from Milan saying: Prada was great, and Marni and I love Missoni—which I do—but more exciting to come out liking Gucci SS14. In a world where there so many things have a formula, like gothic fonts and Cyrillic text, we get that, that works, what is the next thing? What is the next font and typeface? But next season for Gucci it was back to velour trousers and garbadine DB jackets, so it wasn’t a success. It’s about a time and place.

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