Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Can't Stop Dancin'!

It's been a good month since I featured a designer on this page. Not because I have no interest in the matter, you understand. Far from it. My hesitancy to write about up-and-coming designers is due to the fact that I only want to bring you, dear reader, the brightest, most original independent designers I can find. Designers who go against the grain. Designers who have something to say (aside from 'I'd like to stick my penis in Henry Hollands ear'). As you can probably imagine, discovering such designers is like pulling a solid gold needle out of a moldy haystack.
So its with a kick of my heels and a dandy grin that I bring you an interview Christopher George, the wunderkind behind the teeny-tiny Sally Can't Dance 'label'. Some of you may recognise him from his saturday stalls at Camden Market, where he sells slogan tee's for the thinking man and woman, as well as a handful of accessories, all sold with a good serving of irony. I personally discovered Sally Can't Dance a year ago as I perused Camdens stalls in the hot june sun, slightly drunk, ice cream in hand. A simple canvas bag with the statement 'Dear NME, we need bands not fads' screamed out at me and in a second I was converted to the SCD gospel. I've been a fan ever since.
But enough from me, I won't try and convince you any more. Lets hear from the man himself....

"I'm based in Hackney, where I've lived all my life. I won't say "I was living in Hackney before it was cool" because that'd make me sound like a wanker. I was though.
I've always been interested in art and design and, although my output over the years has been patchy, at the moment I can't stop doodling.

I've had no formal training with Photoshop or screen printing which are central to the operation. When I first started making T-shirts I was cutting stencils out of card and acetate and using fabric paints. I had some designs up my sleeve that wouldn't have been possible with this method so I talked to a friend of mine who was a dab hand with screen-printing and he helped me out. Since then I've been mostly self-taught (with bits of advice here and there from others). I've made some pretty big fuck-ups but I like getting to grips with the process like this. It feels more natural and it's nice to have "Eureka!" moments when you find a solution to an obstacle that's been bugging you.

I first started making my own T-shirts about seven hundred years ago. I was really bored of seeing the same old designs and slogans all over the place and I'd thought of a couple of slogans I'd like to make for myself. I came up with quite a few and friends of mine asked me to make them ones too and eventually encouraged me to try and sell them. I'm awfully suggestible.

My collection started off with slogans accompanied with appropriate images ( "I only listen to unsigned bands” was written on the white label of a “7 record, for example) but as things have gone on, I've moved more towards illustrations, usually with speech bubbles (sometimes I think I should've done a webcomic). The designs still have a similar, occasionally dark sense of humour to the original line-up but I'd like to think they're a bit more sophisticated. I'm currently phasing out those original designs, moving towards the future with my fingers crossed for flying cars and robot butlers.

I often find that boredom is a tremendous catalyst for creativity. My current best-seller was, for the most part, the product of a long, hungover train ride and my second best was born on a very quiet, rainy day at Camden Lock Market. They have their roots in anything from caricatured memories of my childhood, video games, music, movies, art. There's something horrendously satisfying about starting a drawing with only the slightest idea about what you're doing and coming out with a fully-formed design that people are prepared to give you money for.

I first got a stall in Camden Lock Market in 46 A.D. T-shirts had been invented the previous spring and I saw a gap in the market for T-shirts bearing comic slogans, so that summer I went to the market and I was put on a stall in between a chap selling amphorae and some woman selling leeches and fertility idols carved from mammoth tusks. I still am actually.
For all its faults as a market (all markets have their short-comings), Camden Lock is in many ways a good place to start: it’s not too difficult to get a stall as they allocate stalls for casual on the day, so you don’t need to book in advance and if you make your own stuff, they give you first choice of stalls.

Joe Public’s reactions to my designs never cease to amaze me – some people want to marry me (no, seriously), others want to punch me. My old “Smoking makes you cool” design ruffled many a feather, as some people perceived it as a call to arms rather than a tongue-in-cheek gag (http://sallycantdance.wordpress.com/2009/05/26/in-defense-of-smoking); “Leave me alone! I don’t like broccoli!” has resulted in lots of people giving me recipes for broccoli, most of which involve drowning out its taste; “Hang the DJ” elicits the occasional murmur of sympathy for disc jockeys... If a gaggle of creationists burns down my stall for “Oi, Noah! Wait for me!” I won’t be altogether surprised.

In autumn 2008 I decided to try out Brick Lane’s Backyard Market on Saturdays, instead of Camden Lock Market, and actually received hate mail (http://sallycantdance.wordpress.com/2009/07/28/bring-on-the-brick-lane-backlash-redux). That was interesting.

I also sell my T-shirts at UpMarket in the Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane, where I've been trading for just over a year. When I first went to trade there, I was accused of going there so I could hit on East London hipsters. Lies and slander, I swear it. It's a good market: a nice array of very individual products, for the most part made and/or designed by the people working the stalls, there's some great food stalls and a relatively low level of mass-produced tat imported from Chinese sweatshops.

I’ve also got an Etsy shop (http://www.etsy.com/shop.php?user_id=5699143) which I update once in a blue moon.

When I first started, it was more for a laugh than anything else. I was going to do it for two months and then go back to pursuing a career in journalism but things got a bit out of hand. In retrospect it was probably a bit naive to think that one could pour so much care and energy into a project like this and walk away from it easily. It would be nice to wholesale my wares, which wasn’t realistic when I was painting the T-shirts, but now I’m solely printing them I’m offering a higher quality product, so we’ll see.

I think catwalk fashion holds very little relevance for today’s youth. Whilst it is a bone fide art form, very few elements find their way into the lives and wardrobes of most people and if it doesn’t truly influence much outside its own world, can that really be said to hold genuine relevance? I’d say that street fashion is what holds real relevance for the majority as it instantly projects our near-tribal affiliations: it may take the occasional cue from the catwalk but personally I’d say it has more to do with the music scene.

Music and fashion go pretty much hand-in-hand and are defining factors of any generation. Thanks to music blogs, Spotify, MySpace, YouTube, etc. there’s almost no excuse not to be in the loop about what the next big thing’s going to be. The same goes for fashion: the proliferation of fashion magazines/supplements and dedicated blogs, plus shops like H&M, Topshop and so on (not to mention the upsurge in popularity second-hand and vintage shops have had over the last decade) all combine to make “cutting edge” street fashion more attainable than it’s ever been. I get punters barely in their teens at my stall who are really, really well-dressed and are superbly clued in on the latest, most exciting acts. It’s almost disconcerting."

Christopher George has a Sally Can't Dance facebook group which you should probably all join. I should also state for my own decorum that I wholeheartedly agree with the statement on the bag I bought all those months ago. Every single copy of NME should be rounded up and thrown on a bonfire, doused with petrol and set alight, along with Chantelle Houghtons hair extentions and Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong.

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