With an MBE to his name and as co-creator of one of the coolest streetwear brands of the 80s, it feels like Wayne Hemingway is as part of British culture as tea and scones. Yet despite my knowledge of his work as a designer, I'm less aware of his skills in the world of vintage clothing. Cutting his teeth at a stall in Camden Market, he began a life in fashion trading second hand clothes in 1982. This month, along with his wife Gerardine, Wayne releases a new book "The Vintage Fashion Bible" so I sat down with him in his West London headquarters to have a chat and look at some of his favourite vintage threads.
Wayne Hemingway, Designer and Author
What did you want to be as a wee boy? I had no idea what I truly wanted to be and to be honest the prospect rarely crossed my mind. As a teenager, all of my energy was focused on music so I guess I wanted to be a rock star. Music and fashion were my only interests. Design only came into my life as I was trying to fund my life as a musician by selling second hand clothes. We had a spot in Camden Market and as I’d always worn second hand clothes, now called vintage, I knew where to buy them in order to re-sell on the stall. At the time I thought it was just something to get cash for clubbing but gradually it became our passport into becoming designers.
Do you remember when the term ‘second hand’ become ‘vintage’? I think it was when we were in our 30s that it became ‘vintage’. That would be the 1990s. There was a trend then for looking back, particularly to the 1960s and 1970s.
Is there anything you’ve found over the years that you really treasure now? Not really. Men are different to women when they buy clothing and I don’t really value individual pieces. I have probably about 60 versions of the shirt I’m wearing in our shoot. The trousers that I wear are roughly all the same shape – usually Levi’s from the 1960s. I have loads of checked trousers like these. I also have about 15 tonik macs and I tend to know what suits me and what I like. Most of my shoes are either Loakes or Grenson brogues that I’ve picked up for £20 and when you repair them they last for decades.
Have you got a favourite period in fashion design? Probably the simplicity of the early 1960s. I’m now wearing a full outfit from the early to mid-sixties but I don’t look retro. If I told someone I was wearing a contemporary menswear designer they probably couldn’t tell that it’s not new. The design is timeless in many ways. When I was young I enjoyed dressing up like a mod or a rockabilly but when you reach your 40s and 50s, you just want to wear decent men’s clothes. I don’t like looking like I’ve just stepped out of a catalogue from 1962.
See the full interview below.
Do you ever buy clothing new? Always socks and undies. Also running gear. For marathons, wearing second hand trainers is not a good idea.
Did you buy anything new as a teenager which is now the ultimate in vintage menswear? I’ve got some great pictures of me as a kid. Today men wouldn't wear the kind of things I would in the 1970s. Being a Bowie fan I wore some bold clothing. I’d probably look silly wearing my canary yellow high waisted flares today. I grew up in a decade where fashion statements were massive: glam rock, Northern Soul, disco and punk. I remember wearing a bright red vinyl top with zips all over. Northern Soul and punk both look like costume’s to me today too so there’s nothing from my teen years I think would be too desirable.
Growing up in Glasgow I would find some amazing items in vintage stores which were nearly new and great value for money. I think it’s quite a challenge in London today to get a bargain. Is there anywhere you'd recommend to find a good deal? I don’t often shop in London, it’s always when I’m travelling. There comes a point where you realise you don’t need any more clothes. I’m at an age where I’ll probably never get through all of the items in my wardrobe as I repair them all frequently. As soon as something get’s worn I deal with it. I could do with finding another grey ambassador’s hat. They only come from Gotland in Sweden so they’re as rare as hen’s teeth. I could also do with finding some grey workwear as it’s usually only blue you can find.
Back in the day I loved Portobello Market but I’d never go there or Camden now. I used to go to Blackout II in Covent Garden and I still love Breuer and Dawson in Margate. Men have never been the same as women with veracious buying, though perhaps it’s more equally matched today. In the past men would’ve had a suit, one or two pairs or shoes and some shirts. That was it. Those clothes would have taken them through a whole period of their life. This means there’s not a lot out there. From the 40s to the end of the 60s the quality was so high so everything lasted. The trousers I’m wearing are 54 years old - imagine a pair of cotton trousers outlasting a car!
Is there anything about looking to the past that is inspiring or informs who we are as people today? I don’t think I really look to the past with the clothing I wear. When I was a teenager I really looked back which was the Jam years between 1977 to 1980. Now I think it’s about timeless design. Today I may be able to go out and buy a coat of equal quality to the past but it would probably come with a four figure number. For me, a jacket is a jacket. It would be difficult to part with that much cash for something like that.
Finally, leave us with some words of wisdom. I really like the idea of sustainability and of treading lightly. Consumption for consumption’s sake was never part of my upbringing. With second hand clothing you’re keeping the circle going. All of my clothing has had a life before me and will likely continue after me. As long as I look after it someone else can get fun out of it too. It’s important to understand timelessness and longevity in fashion. Also, I am certain that none of these clothes will have been made by children in sweatshops. These clothes are from a time when adults made money from creating items in western countries. That means that you can trust in the provenance of where it has come from. When buying clothing I’d like people to consider two things: sustainability and provenance.
Wayne's new book "The Vintage Fashion Bible" is available now on David and Charles.