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Sunday, 28 February 2016

GarconJon meets Gavin MacDonald

Gavin MacDonald, Arboriculturalist

“Oh I know someone from Scotland. Do you know John Smith?”

This kind of question is one I am asked more frequently than you’d imagine. Scotland may be a small country but it should be known that I am not personally connected to all of it’s residents. It’s for this reason that I was surprised to discover so many personal connections with Mr Gavin MacDonald. I first came across the chap a few years back through a story in Fantastic Man magazine and since then he’s been on my radar for an interview. It’s not every day you discover someone who works as an arboriculturalist after all. But it wasn’t until meeting him this week that I realised not only do we have many friends in common but he also grew up with my sister’s husband. Maybe Scotland is smaller than I think.

For this ‘meet’ with Gavin, it was important to show the man at work embracing the elements. The only question would be how to portray him in the most authentic clothing. That problem was solved in the form of nobis.

I first found Nobis at the Pitti Uomo trade show in Florence where I discovered a stall with the warmest outerwear I’ve ever worn. As a photographer I know the importance of appropriate clothing and so delved a little deeper into the brand. It transpired that the heat I felt from Nobis was due to a double membrane allowing heat and moisture to escape from my body into the Canadian duck-down filling – the only brand to use that technology. I was hooked from then on.

It crossed my mind that the real test of these jackets would be my homeland. The result: Mr MacDonald and Nobis outerwear brought together in the rural Highlands on a snowy January morning, where we embraced the outdoor elements, climbed some trees and shot the breeze.

What exactly is an Arboriculturalist? Effectively it’s a tree surgeon. I’m a tree specialist and we mainly work on felling trees or removing branches.

It’s quite an unusual job in this age of desk work, how did you get into this line of work? My Dad’s always been a tree surgeon and in school holidays I used to help him out. When I left school I wanted to go to university so I went to study graphic design in Glasgow but after I graduated decided I didn’t want to be stuck behind a desk my whole life. It was then that I set up my business.

So you didn’t feel a pressure to go into the family business then? In school I was always artistic and actually felt more of an obligation to go into secondary education. University was great but the money offered for first time jobs is ridiculous. It was the money at first that drew me into opening my own business.

What age were you when you started the business? About 24.

That’s young to be a business owner. Do you think you had a good grasp of what the job actually entails at that point? Absolutely not. When I helped my dad I actually wasn’t doing any of the jobs that I do today. I tended to stick to moving branches. I’ve done about 16 courses since starting which cost about £1000 each so it’s not cheap to learn. At an early stage I asked my Dad to show me how to climb the trees and advance further so he taught me a lot.

Was it hard to start growing the business? The first couple of years were definitely challenging. Sometimes I’d only be working for two days or three days a month but at the same time I was able to fall back on the work with my Dad at home. It’s progressed every year to a stable income.

What qualities do you need to have to make a good tree surgeon? The funny thing is people tend to not know what quality work looks like. They look at a chopped up tree and think it’s done and dusted but if you don’t do the exact right cut the whole tree could die. There’s a lot of skill to it. Every job we do is always perfectly completed so I’d like to think it’s because of that but in reality customers focus on our attitude. My team is happy, chirpy, laid back and good to work with. I think that makes us stand out.

How do you prepare for the job? It’s important to have the right equipment. I always pack a bag with ropes, a harness, helmet and saw but also the workwear is key. I need to wear sturdy boots and a lot of layers, particularly in winter. Scotland isn’t the warmest or driest place! This Nobis jacket is actually the warmest coat I’ve ever worn. Even in today’s snow I hardly felt it through the duck-down coat so that’s quite a feat.

What do you love about Scotland? I’m from the countryside so I really value green open space. I’ve lived in Glasgow for a while and just moved back to a more rural area. I love the calm and quiet we have here and also how friendly people are. I’ve got to be honest, people have a pretty easy life in Scotland.

If someone had never been to Scotland where would you recommend they visit for an outstanding experience? I’d say the Isle of Harris. I try to go up every year in Summer as the beaches there are unbelievable. It has perfect white sand and there’s never more than 5 other people on the beach at one time. It’s also great for surfing and if you get the timing right can get quite warm. Harris isn’t too hard to get to from Glasgow, just drive up to Skye and get the ferry over in only a couple of hours.

Where did you grow up? Kilmore which is outside Oban. It has lots of countryside, sheep and some cows. I had a fantastic childhood experience as we had a big group of friends who would spend hours adventuring for miles in the area.

There can’t be that many customers for a tree surgeon in Oban, how does your Dad’s business compare to yours in Glasgow? Actually my Dad services are a lot of surrounding villages so can travel up to 40 miles for a job. He seems to be the only one operating there whereas in Glasgow competition is fierce as I usually put a quote in against 4 or 5 other companies.

What’s your favourite type of job to do? There are only really two options in my work: climb up a tree and cut small bits off or fell a tree completely with one big cut. I love the climbing part and the bigger the tree the better. I’ve climbed a huge redwood tree up 120 feet in a place called Loch Awe. I had to deadwood it, removing all the dead branches up a single stem.

How can you tell if a branch is going to hold your weight? When I saw you climbing today I couldn’t believe that thin branch held you. It’s amazing what a branch can hold. You can get away with only 2 inches of branch as long as the rope is in at the crotch. It’s really trial and error at first to build experience.

Have you ever fallen? I thought were you pretty ballsy to go up today without a helmet. Nope – I’ve not had any serious injuries either! I know what I’m dealing with now.

Does your girlfriend ever worry about you at work? Not usually though she did ask me to be careful yesterday. She said I had to be extra careful in the wind!

So you also model which must feel like a world away from this business. How did you get into that? It was through Mr Scotland. I’ve played rugby for years and our team was approached to be in an advert for the competition back in 2010. We were automatically entered into the competition and for some reason I won that year. My prize was a trip to New York and a modelling contract which isn’t too shabby.

Did you think at the time that modelling is a career to pursue? I actually hardly worked for the first year so wasn’t really that into the idea but a friend of mine is a photographer and spoke to other agents on my behalf. I switched agencies almost immediately and I’ve worked steadily ever since.

What’s been your most exciting job? I was in Mexico last November to shoot the campaign for Macy’s which was quite a moment. I remember going into the store the first time I visited New York and thinking “this is a crazy place” so it was funny to come full circle. I also did Ralph Lauren in the States which was a dream come true. It was my first casting in the US and I was quite intimidated so was even more grateful to get the job.

You first came on my radar when I saw the Alasdair McLellan spread in Fantastic Man. How did that affect your career? That was actually shot just after I won Mr Scotland so it was a great first job. I didn’t know anything about modelling at that point so Googled Alasdair’s work. It was then I realised what a big deal it was. He actually taught me a bit about modelling.

Do you remember what he told you? Two things stick in my mind: to clench my face as much as possible and to laugh uncontrollably.

How would you describe yourself in 5 words? Adventurous, laid-back, ambitious, romantic and caring.

What’s your star sign? Pieces. What’s that meant to mean? Bit of an air head?

Haha no I think it’s more that your head is in the clouds but your feet are on the ground. A practical dreamer, no? That sounds like me! I do have my head in the clouds quite a bit but I’m also an action oriented person.

What ambitions do you have for 2016? I want to double the business to two vehicles and two sets of men on the ground. Also I’m hoping to get a big modelling campaign under my belt.

Finally, leave us with some words of wisdom? Be yourself and keep warm!

Wide Boy: Republique, Paris

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Friday, 26 February 2016

Eshan Kali: Bloomsbury House, London

Eshan Kali wearing Laird of London and Oliver Sweeney at London Collections Men.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Terry Donovan: Bloomsbury Street, London

Terry Donovan from Exposure PR, photographed at London Collections Men outside the Bloomsbury Street Hotel.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Agape Mdumulla: Kingsway, London

Agape Mdumulla from design duo Agi and Sam wearing all navy with classic Converse in London.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

GarconJon meets Paul Weller

Authenticity is hard to convey through imagery. It's not until you have a face to face conversation that the true essence of intention can be felt and this is something I got when sitting opposite Paul Weller to photograph him for his new menswear label Real Stars are Rare. In collaboration with Mr Phil Bickley, the collection brings Mr Weller's iconic style to a new audience in the highest possible quality. In many ways, I think they achieve this both aesthetically and in the brand ethos. No force-fed "celebrity" flash, in fact Paul is hardly even visible on their website. The feeling is that slow and steady will eventually win the race and I imagine they will.

Exclusively available through Tonic on Portobello Road, the collection mixes knitwear, shirting and tailoring to create a small collection of classic menswear essentials. It was the flannel double-breasted suit that initially caught my eye, produced in a quantity of only 25 and made from the finest Italian wool. Ultimately with Real Stars are Rare, you get a limited edition piece at half the price of Saville Row off-the-peg clothing.

I chatted with Paul and Phil during the photoshoot to hear some more about their opinions on music, menswear and the city that started it all, London.

Firstly, how did you two meet?

Paul: My son used to skate near Portobello Road at the weekends so I’d visit the Tonic shop then. We got chatting one day and I mentioned to Phil that I’d always wanted to do a fashion line. At first it started out with just some shirts and it grew from there.

How long has it been from that initial conversation until now?

Phil: It must be 4 years. The brand has been going for over a year now but it takes a long time to bring a project to fruition.

Paul: I remember when we made our first samples we excitedly showed them to the team at Purple PR. Reality set in when they told us we could do better! That early shirt looks like it was designed for the Pilgrim Fathers.

How did you start to decide what direction to go in initially?

Paul: I had some sketches as well as a lot of reference material so that was the core of our first conversations.

Phil: Yes, Paul has some excellent sketches and that’s the starting point for most of it. Paul also has an archive of clothing we can draw from which is incredible. We’ll take the initial ideas and then see how we can translate this to the customer. Paul can get away with things that most other people can’t because of his job but also because he’s one of those people you can put anything on and it works. It’s about adapting who he is for a broader audience.

It’s clear that you both have great communication. You’re very direct with one another – there’s no bullshit.

Phil: We both come from similar backgrounds so we have a similar way of talking. When we decided we were going to do something together we agreed to always be honest. There’s no point otherwise. We’ve had a few creative stand-offs but that’s par for the course.

Navy flannel DB suit by RSAR, grey sweater Paul's own.

Paisley shirt by RSAR, Wool Felt Wide Brim Hat by RSAR x Bysju.

We were talking earlier about how menswear is a bit bloated right now. What makes this brand stand out?

Phil: The bottom line is it’s different. Our trousers say it all. Every men’s trouser today is tapered and rolled up but we have a straight leg, parallel leg and one with a bootcut. No-one else is doing that right now. We focus on fabrics and getting small numbers manufactured in the best factories. We only use British or Italian fabric and to keep that at a reasonable price is tricky but we’ve done it. I think that says a lot.

Paul: Personally I’m bored with the tapered leg silhouette. It’s been around for 10 or 15 years and it is time to evolve. We want to change the direction of menswear a little. I think fit is everything with this brand. When I shop in other stores it makes me realise how our brand stands out. Our price is really reasonable for the quality we’re offering and effectively everything is limited edition. For example there’s only 25 of this navy double breasted suit produced. It makes it special.

Style has been such a huge part of your career Paul. Was that a conscious decision to create an image from the beginning?

Paul: I think it’s a cultural thing, just something I grew up on. I was a kid in the 1960s, a decade when Britain was changing dramatically, and by the early 1970s I was immersed in street culture. Music and clothing were inseparable then. There’s only a few things that define you when you’re a kid and clothing did that for me. It was before “designer” labels became a thing so it was authentic, street-led style I would see. All the fashions I was influenced by came from the kids themselves.

Do you remember hitting a groove at some point and thinking “this is me, this represents me best”?

Paul: It changes all the time as I change as a person. As I grow older I adapt. Where I am now, may be different to me in a year. Having said that, my style has always been quite mod-centric and that’s the core of everything.

What age did you start getting into clothes?

Paul: In the late 1960s I was about 12 with the post-skinhead, suedehead movement. That had a huge impact.

Phil: For me it was going to the football in the 1980s. I used to dress up at 15 and 16 to go to the match and wear my semi-flared cords. I’d see guys at the game and think ‘damn, he’s fucking cool’. At the same time I started to identify with certain brands like Levi’s. It all grew from that.

How did you get into the fashion industry Phil?

Phil: I’ve been in clothing for years and it all started with a part-time job in a shop. I did a fashion degree later on then became a buyer. I worked for Paul Smith for a long time then opened Tonic on Portobello Road.

This location is iconic in the style history of London. What does Portobello Road mean to you?

Phil: The area is obviously where my business is but really it goes deeper than that. It’s home to me. I know a lot of people around here and they know me. It’s my London. It’s not as ‘fashionable’ as Shoreditch but it’s a little bit more old school and I prefer that.

Paul: I love the mixture of cultures. I used to live very close by and would love that fact that everyone is here. It’s a real melting pot.

Do you think London is as exciting as it was when you first moved here? 

Phil: From a clothing perspective British menswear is more exciting than it's ever been and London is the place where it comes together. There are so many new independent brands, all with differing points of view on menswear. Different cuts, fabrics, ways of manufacturing with the ‘craft' returning to focus.  I’m constantly finding new things for my shop Tonic. Real Stars are Rare is all about the craft.

If you could give your 18 year old self advice, what would it be?

Paul: Be nicer to people, be kind. But myself at 18 would’ve said “fuck off”.

Leave us with some words of wisdom. 

Phil: Keep it simple.

Fox Brothers check jacket and Shetland wool sweater in sky blue by RSAR.

Model Off Duty: Baker Street, London

Friday, 12 February 2016

Marc Henri-Ngandu: Le Marais, Paris

Marc Henri-Ngandu at the menswear shows in Paris. I photographed him for GQ in 2014, see the shoot and interview here.