“I started to question if I had made the most of the tools I’d been given in life,” Applied Art Forms’ creative director tells LN-CC when asked about the events that led to the conception of his fashion label that recontextualises vintage utilitarian, military and workwear for today, tomorrow and beyond. Now, all of us have probably asked ourselves similar questions at some point in our lives but you might not expect a founding member of one of the biggest British bands of the 21st century to do so at the peak of his powers. But having left his studies in architecture and engineering to become the bassist of what would become Coldplay and go on to sell over 100 millions albums, Guy Berryman developed an obsession with collecting vintage garments as he travelled on tour and wanted to finally channel his previously neglected desire to design. While looking at his clothing archive one day, the softly-spoken Kirkcaldy-born, Cotswolds-based, globally-stanned superstar began to see a wealth of ideas. As Guy cut, pasted and manipulated various vintage jackets together in his home studio, the self-described Dr. Frankenstein of design crafted the first prototype of Applied Art Forms, the Modular Parka.
Since launching during the global pandemic in November 2020, Applied Art Forms has avoided the hype and short-termism of most celebrity-powered brands and instead quietly concentrated on creating an elevated-everyday wardrobe of garments sustainably crafted and designed to last. During a brief pause in Coldplay’s stadium-filled Music of the Spheres world tour and before a visit to the Amsterdam-based central A/A/F design studio, LN-CC sits down with Guy to talk through his vintage obsession, Dr. Frankenstein’s monsters, the power of storytelling through design and why he’s excited to see his creations in 20 years.
Let’s begin by going back to the beginning of Applied Art Forms. You’re at the peak of your musical career, touring around the globe filling stadiums and selling over 100 million albums, so what was the catalyst for launching A/A/F? I read a great interview with GQ from last year in which you described the label as a “vehicle for you to express yourself’. What did Applied Art Forms unlock that music, or anything else couldn’t?
It’s an interesting one. In many ways, I was never supposed to be a musician. I’ve always been passionate about music and was very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time to meet my bandmates at college. At the time I was studying Engineering at University College London before switching to architecture. That was my path because that’s how my brain is wired as a creative, it’s design and manufacturing. Back then I thought I’d be designing cars, buildings, furniture or lamps. Then, my world changed with the band. I got to a point about five years ago that I really started to re-address those kinds of early paths and disciplines that I trained in. I reached the point where it’s like, ‘do I really want to wave goodbye to that part of me?’ I didn’t, so began to re-engage with those disciplines and developed ideas to channel them. Something I’ve been doing as a touring musician is collecting things and my garment archive is a result of it. Clothes are all over my house and I began to see them as a library of ideas that I had to draw upon. So it was a combination of those early disciplines and that slightly later engagement with collecting garments that just have merged into an urge to create in a form other than music.
Can you remember when, how and what started your collection?
I started picking up nylon flight jackets from vintage stores on my travels and after finding a few of those, I started collecting other things. There's a purity of design in military clothing, which really appeals to me. It's a common theme. The cars I collect all have a purity of design and the sense that something becomes beautiful through a design process based on function rather than purely aesthetics. That soid, I do have a wider interest in fashion and the history of fashion. I have quite a large archive of 90s Helmut Lang because he was drawing upon similar utilitarian backgrounds. Katharine Hamnett too, she was playing around with all of these ideas as well.
So alongside a fascination with original utilitarian garments, you’ve developed an interest in how designers, particularly from the 90s, reinterpreted them over the years. In terms of sourcing garments, you’ve mentioned vintage store finds on your travels…
I've got an obsession with finding things which are out of the ordinary. I'm much more fascinated in finding things from vintage stores, charity shops and eBay than I am in buying new products.
There's an element of treasure hunting about it.
Exactly. I get to travel so much and on days off I'll wake up, have a coffee and sit on Google to find a list of places that look interesting. Then I'll just go around and hit them all up and handpick all the best pieces and take them back to the studio. The design process is one of amalgamating different ideas from different garments to make something which I feel is elevated from the original source material. People probably don't admit it so much, but that's how so many fashion designers work.
Can you remember how you approached your first Applied Art Forms collection?
Whether it's being in the band, publishing a car magazine or developing the brand, I jump into these things just through sheer passion and I then have to figure it out. You make mistakes along the way. Before what is Applied Art Forms now, I made a collection which never got released because I just wasn't happy with it. With Applied Art Forms, one of the overriding parameters was that the clothes had to be exceptional. If it doesn’t excite me, it doesn’t need to exist. So that’s the challenge. It’s been about sticking to our principles and allowing the brand to grow organically.. It takes time to be discovered. It takes time for people to finally commit to a purchase. But what we’re seeing is huge volumes of repeat customers, which is the greatest kind of compliment to me because it means people are buying things, liking them and coming back for more.
There’s a soft power approach to Applied Art Form, a sense of quiet but transformational discovery.
Clothing needs to be seen, touched and worn. It's hard to get across the amount of details, from the quality of construction to the fabrics that we use through digital communication. All of us in the studio are complete detail nerds when it comes to clothing and materials. It's just very rewarding when people buy things, perhaps it's one of our complicated jackets, and they write to us and say how much they love it.
That’s what it’s all about. It’s an affirmation…
Right. When we restarted the brand and reworked its whole direction, we wanted to make something which truly demonstrated our commitment to design, longevity, timelessness, fabrics, and construction. When we developed the modular jacket system, we knew it was a hero piece. It was an incredibly complex pattern to make everything work together, with removable liners and collars, alongside the reinforcement details. One of the characteristics I love so much about the vintage pieces is that you have an old jacket, maybe a Ventile RAF Parka or something, which just looks so good for having 70 years worth of wear to it. So, one of our design principles is making garments that we just know will age beautifully. I'm excited to see how our jackets will look in five years, 20 years or whatever because there really is a focus on just timeless design, with a sense of modernity to the fits.
The storytelling element that garments possess is fascinating. Over time, how, when, and why we wear clothes reveals so much.
I love the way denim denim heads approach a pair of raw denim jeans, where it's like, ‘okay, I bought this thing and I'm now going to wear them and weave my own story into these garments.’ That's how I really feel about all of our outerwear and our pants too. In terms of the storytelling element, there are so many stories that don't get told about our garments and we've actually just started expanding our website to share the development stories that make our products. When you're surrounded by so much, so many options,. I think it's helpful for somebody to make a decision by enabling them to really understand the DNA of every garment. For example on the back of our pants, we have a utilitarian, white cotton patch with black text. I've never told the story of where that came from which was my fascination with spacesuits, particularly the Apollo era spacesuits. Neil Armstrong had this glove, which has a cotton patch that listed instructions. That’s where ours came from and I've never explained that to anyone. You have to explain why something exists, where the fabric came from, how it was made.
This echoes and amplifies your approach to clothing itself. You've already described yourself and your design teams as garment geeks. These explanations enable the next generation and appeals to like-minded consumers… As a celebrity brand director, has there ever been a pressure to tap into that?
That’s a really good question and I have to say there has been temptations to do things which might be helpful from a commercial point of view. Like increasing the amount of branding on our products and I kind of get that but, as I’ve explored it it just hasn’t felt right. I'm not the kind of person that needs to wear clothes, and tell the world what brand I'm wearing. I buy clothes purely on how beautiful they are. For me, branding districts from this sense of timelessness and it’s just not necessary because I’m not appealing to that audience. I actually bought a jacket a few weeks ago in London, and it was a great jacke from a Japanese brand but it had a distracting round rubberised logo. The first thing I did when I got home was to remove it with a stitch pick.
A removal of outside noise, a focus on what matters and what’s necessary. With this in mind, let’s discuss some of the details that matter within this collection. What can you tell us about the Rescue Sleeveless Jacket?
I’ve collected a number of fighter pilot vests and they’re like sculptural objects. The original items, with their gas canisters, are unwearable as everyday garments but I kept returning to their silhouettes. The Rescue Vest is a result of drawing upon these original fighter jackets but reducing them to a wearable item. It’s a high-impact design that can be worn over a T-shirt or layered, with or without the collar, and combined with another jacket to add a more technical look.
And the Japanese Tailored Pant
The cargo pant was one of the first things that we we designed for the brand. They evolved out of an original pair of Swedish military trousers. They were absolutely huge and obviously worn by a giant of a guy but the width of the leg was amazing. So we wanted to keep that volume and we added pleats at the top, before adding darts on the leg to taper them. They are handcrafted in Japan from Japanese Cotton Cordura, which is a high-quality fabric that blends the softness of cotton with the strength of nylon. I would say these are one of our best sellers. I wear them pretty much every day, alternating between green and black. Our cargos are garment dyed and what's nice about that is as the sunlight hits them and as you wear them, the hue takes on this really interesting discoloration and patina, which to me is just absolutely beautiful.
To us too! The patina on your outerwear is particularly stunning.
We've developed processes for distressing and bleeding the colour out of garments, which is really interesting because it means every time you do one it comes out slightly differently so they're all kind of unique pieces in a way.
As we’re shooting you in your design studio in Amsterdam, what can you tell us about it?
There's three full timers in the studio, working on production and design. We also run a great intern programme for local fashion students. It's really helpful for us to have extra hands in the studio because it’s a relentless beast running a fashion label. Designing and manufacturing clothes is just the tip of the iceberg. It can be brutal, but we’re beginning to see green shoots and the right people are picking up the brand, like LN-CC.
In early interviews, you’ve liked your design process to Dr. Frankenstein and his monsters, is that still the case?
Let me show you a jacket. This was a prototype for the Modular Parka and it's basically lots of different styles of jacket, whether British, American or beyond, that we cut and pinned together to create a truly unique piece. I'm not very patient and if I have an idea, I just want to start making it.
I find the more traditional process so frustrating and things need to happen much quicker for me. We've got so much deadstock and it's easier for us to just have an idea and start cutting and pinning, you know, and then modifying and tweaking. So there’s often a kind of sculptural process, which happens in the studio. There's something very hands-on about that production, something very immediate and, ultimately, hugely satisfying.
Finally, what excites you most about the future of Applied Art Forms?
That it's a constant learning process. The team is working together and we’re evolving together. Knowing that more people are discovering the brand, engaging with it and forging their own relationship with our garments.
Photography Esmee Doorn, @esmeemonique