Harris Elliott, creative director, stylist and designer, on a pair of shoes.
GB Tell me why you chose these shoes.
HE I chose these shoes because ever since they were designed and put together I haven’t stopped thinking about them. Even though I work in the fashion industry I’m not a person who obsesses about clothes, but these shoes sum up the ethos of my traditional Jamaican upbringing with symbols of the Lion of Judah and the English monarchy. They epitomise the ethos of the Jamaican/British experience here in the UK as well as my exhibition Return of the Rudeboy, that just took place at London’s Somerset House.
GB So you commissioned the shoes for your show?
HE I commissioned the shoes as part of the sartorial room in the exhibition, it was a chance to work with some of my favourite creatives who also happen to be inspirational Rudeboys.
GB Tell me how the show came about.
HE I started working on the show in March 2103 with photographer and film maker, Dean Chalkely. We’d worked together from time to time and culture is really central to what we both do, whether it’s fashion, entertainment or sport. We had this idea of the Rudeboy show as a kind of observation on where so many references in our culture come from. So many subcultures that emanate from the UK have been heavily documented, but the story of Rudeboys has scarcely been represented, even though they are responsible for influencing other notable British subcultures such as the Mod scene.
GB Where does the term Rudeboy come from?
HE Rudeboy originated in Jamaica in the late 1950s to early 60s and Rudeboys were all men, many with gangster associations, not just in terms of who they were but in terms of their aesthetic. At the time there was also a lot of political unrest and Rudeboys were sometimes involved in the activities which often involved guns. These people lived by their wits to survive but their style aesthetic was always something that was incredibly impeccable. Post World War II a lot of Jamaicans migrated to the UK, with Jamaica being a British colony – so the mix of Rudeboys and Jamaicans in general started to inspire people like mods who appropriated a lot of the Rudeboy aesthetic. We wanted this culture to be properly celebrated here in the UK.
GB So that impeccable style is associated with a certain toughness?
HE Definitely. It’s about an attitude, it’s not about working out which floral cravat to wear. It’s a statement of intent of who you are. It’s quite unique that something so sartorial would be associated with something that strong. I don’t really reference gangsters in terms of organized crime. It’s about strength through style. If you have that kind of style you’re obviously not someone to be messed with.
GB To what degree do you think beauty is a part of style? This is such a macho culture. Would the word beauty ever come up?
HE Beauty as a term is often seen as more feminine but I can’t look at these shoes without thinking that they’re completely beautiful – the design and the detail. I wouldn’t call them cool even though they are. They’re objects of beauty. I wouldn’t want to tarnish them because they’re precious and their beauty comes from that preciousness.
GB So regardless of fashion, these have a timeless beauty for you?
HE The nod to the past makes them timeless. They remind me of my uncles when I was growing up in the 1980s. Men would often wear these little satin sheer ribbed fashion socks with very shiny shoes. And that’s where it struck me that such a macho, hard culture had these delicate touches.
GB It’s a very feminine thing.
HE Yes, it seems very contradictory in that way. Jamaican culture can be macho and sadly sometimes homophobic yet have this almost feminine side.
GB Yes, it’s definitely a bit of a camp look. But I suppose that might make it twice as macho because if you’re wearing shoes like this, it means you’re very successful in that culture. Does the fact that they were made by your friends make them more beautiful to you?
HE That does possibly nail it for me. Barry Kamen and Marc Hare are two people I really respect. Barry is an artist and stylist and Marc is a shoemaker/designer and marketing supremo, they’re both incredible craftsmen. Marc made the shoes and Barry adorned them, or in his words “styled them up”. It does make it more meaningful to me that they would collaborate with me on this project, as they are two people whose way of working I totally admire and I often wish I had thought of the things they create.
GB Do you think that wearing beautiful shoes can contribute to your well being in life?
HE Yes definitely. There’s that point where your day is defined by what you wear and what you present to people. Getting dressed is a form of language. You get dressed knowing what you’re going to be doing that day so there’s always some kind of curation even if you’re just throwing on jeans. You should wear clothes for how they make you feel and if you put on shoes like these you know that you’re going to walk tall. Shoes are what hold you up. They set the tone and define your purpose. If you’re wearing beautiful shoes you’ll conduct yourself differently.
GB What makes something worthy of the word Beauty to you?
HE There has to be a sense of innocence. Even though these shoes have been created through a deliberate thought process, I don’t like things that feel too contrived. Whether I look at a cloud or a flower or a jacket, if it’s beautiful then I can look at it in isolation and it doesn’t have to be beautiful for anybody except me. I might like a crack in the pavement but I don’t have to share that with anybody else, as long it makes me smile through its uniqueness.