If the concept of a “Face” is still valid in this day and age then Scott Simpson is surely one. At the centre of the action, standing out in the crowd, immaculately dressed and pushing forward, breaking out new styles and new shapes in the way he wears his clothes, this is style with substance.
Busy, Scott not only sources the vintage pieces he wears, he restores his collection of scooters and motorbikes, he collects the records and DJ’s, and has a rapidly growing label under the Scott Fraser Collection name. Starting with a single bag it has grown to encompass made to order trousers, and knitwear with further pieces on the way. A book in the pipeline too, Scott exemplifies the creative life you can carve for yourself in London today. We managed to catch him for a coffee at our favourite spot, Carter Lane Coffee and spoke to him about his background, his numerous projects and the future.
KO: Scott, when I first came across you it was seeing you on the cover of several books and then appearing in ads for brands with strong ties to youth culture and particularly the Mod scene. I’m guessing that you were part of that from an early age?
S: I was around fifteen years old, had just started college and was looking for a scooter. It was coming to my sixteenth birthday and I started speaking to my parents. They said, ‘we’ll get you a 50cc, buy you something new’. I said, ‘ I’m not keen on a modern one, I’d like an older one’.
I was living in Brighton at the time and must have picked up, from a few of the shops there, that history that had come before. My dad had grown up through it and so vicariously I’d known about the music and so on. My dad was in to classic cars so growing up, I was always around old things.
I got a 50 Special, joined a scooter club and from there they took me to club meets, soul do’s, dancing and I was like, ‘what is this?’, I went nuts for it, and from there that’s where it grew. I knew what to look for and was so interested in the scene so I started digging and digging and digging.
I eventually moved out to London when I was seventeen – lived on my own and started going out more in clubs – 60s clubs. From there is sort of ramped up and ramped up.
KO: Certainly, from my experience as well, London is the land of opportunities. All of a sudden you’re in this world where you meet people that do so many things…
S: It was very much that way. I met a club promoter, and the’d say, ‘Oh, come to this meet up, or come to my house, we’re doing a photoshoot for a magazine’, and so I’d go along not really knowing what was going on, and then a few shoots later, well you know how it goes… It was very natural, but I was highly consumed by the whole thing- got in to scooters really heavily, getting in to clothing, spending all my rent on clothes…
KO: But I suppose that’s what it really is all about in a way.
S: Exactly, and I felt like I really embodied what I imagined myself to be at the time.
KO: And that lead on to DJ’ing, and you started modelling?
S: In London, I was seventeen and I got in with an agency; they approached me while I was at university. I got picked up by a few brands and that’s where I developed my interest in the industry and also started DJ’ing, and with the money I made from that, buying new records… and from that’s to where I’ve essentially wound up.
KO: You’ve DJ’d internationally as well, and you still do?
S: I did; mostly in London now. I was doing it all around Europe at one stage – especially over the summer from around July to October, so, one week in Spain, one week in Italy, and I went to France quite a few times
KO: You were saying, that scene you were in fired your interest in the industry?
S: It was just a natural progression, really, I got to see the back end of how a brand worked, the design end, shooting pictures and so on, and I was really interested in it. My Dad was was always getting stuff made for himself so I naturally followed suit. I thought I could make something in London, but make something different. I was always looking at making something different, and that’s when I realised how much I enjoyed getting my clothes made, almost to the point where that’s all I think about.
KO: And you didn’t want to wear anyone else’s stuff?
S: No, exactly, I just wanted to get everything made – running around getting buttons and trims, and from there it really built up and I decided I’d just start selling my own thing. I started out with a bag I designed for myself…
KO: I remember the bag, actually, that first piece.
S: It was out of necessity, really. I was looking for something to carry my things in and I couldn’t find anything that fitted what I wanted. I just decided, ‘let’s make one’. I cut the pattern, self taught myself what I thought you’d need to do, I took it to a factory, they then guided me onto another, and another and another, until I found someone suitable. From there I looked at designing a website, so I just thought, ‘well I’ll build one and see what happens?”
KO: A slight tangent here, but what did your dad do?
S: He was an entrepreneur really, he did everything. At one point he was doing buying for big bulk orders; things like, 40,000 pairs of army boots, you know? Or he was doing his own business – designing toys, even designing shoes at one stage.
KO: So he was quite a creative influence?
S: He is honestly one of the most creative people I’ve ever met, and his eye is just unbelievable.
KO: What did you study yourself?
S: I studied creative advertising and design, and I took what I knew from there and made it work for me. Probably looking back it may have been good to do a design degree but I actually don’t think, for me, I needed to. But that’s another story…
KO: So, going back to the Scott Fraser Collection, it started with the bag, and I think I came across you quite early, then we had that chat in Mendoza. I’d seen the collection develop almost product by product, and then it started to become more of a collection. I noticed you’d had interest from the Japan?
S: Yes, very early on and I was quite surprised by it, but at that stage, it was so ‘cottage industry’, and I’d also been picked up by a PR agency. From there that catapulted me to somewhere I probably wasn’t ready for at that time. I think the whole thing was a lot smaller than what they were expecting.
KO: And you started working with Tom O’Dell?
S: He’s a very good friend of mine, and we often work together creatively. A lot of shoots. He works really closely with quite a few people – Martin Freeman for example, who I met in Mendoza actually, on my first day. He’s been very helpful and a great client.
KO: Getting back to the label, at what point did you decide you’d develop it in to a proper collection? I notice you’ve decided to go down a made to order route.
S: I think that’s what it was best suited to, because I was working a lot of other jobs, and doing consultancy for bigger brands at the time. I needed that to prop up the work and allowed me time to find the contacts. I decided it was best to carry on as a made to order collection. It lends itself very much towards it because a lot of people really like the personal service a smaller label can offer.
KO: Much like yourself, there seem to be more and more guys who enjoy having things made just for them. They’re not committing to full bespoke, but they want that level above.
S: Definitely. There’s a lot of people who like the flexibility I’m able to offer, and I’m not too precious about the design. The block of it, I’ll keep the same, but if they want no pockets, or this, or that, I’m happy to do that because, ultimately, they’re the ones wearing the clothes, and if you can help out that’s great.
KO: Would you say that it’s through the label that you’ve found your own style?
S: Yes, it’s definitely morphed and changed alongside the collection.
KO: Away from the 60s thing, in to something I suppose a bit wider…
S: It’s very much still that mid century influence, but it’s pulled away from being a single, specific thing. I’d seen a few brands around that were like that, but I’d not seen the progression or the foundation for them to last as long. I didn’t want to reach the point where it became a panic to change, or find something else. You’ve got to try and create your own look in order for people to come to you – don’t stay still for too long.
I really wanted that authenticity to it. I guess that helped in the way that I always got the details correct. I’ve always felt that small attention to detail is the biggest and most important thing.
KO: And you trade and collect vintage knitwear?
S: Yes, that’s quite separate from the other projects I have; brokering in old knitwear and woollens. I keep them apart because I don’t want to muddle new stuff with older stuff. Sometimes those worlds just don’t mix and the message can get lost. I don’t want them to crossover with each other or dilute anything. I’ve been doing that for a while now.
KO: With that, I suppose you were a collector initially?
S: I started collecting about 10 years ago. I got paid from a shop I worked in with a piece of knitwear. I was quite happy to get paid like that so I got a couple of pieces and then from there it moved on quickly. When I get into things I’m obsessive over them to the point where I have to constantly find more. More came and I was amazed at the variation of them. It’s fascinating, still fascinates me – the amount of colour-ways, the history and the design of the labels, its never-ending. Generally they’re all Italian made American labels, but I’d say I’ve amassed, over the last decade, about 300 pieces- if not more. When it got to the point where I had about 100 pieces I decided I’d do a book. I feel I have to draw the line somewhere though because currently it’s a 300 page plan with archive details and everything.
KO: So it’s a labour of love?
S: Oh, hugely…
KO: From what I’ve seen they look amazing!
S: They are, they look unreal all laid out, but then when they’re all scientifically dissected, showing you the quality of the build or the colouring, that’s what I find really exciting.
KO: More recently you’ve been on the cover of Men’s File Magazine, which is creating a whole new culture and following around -not to use the word vintage- but this scene that appreciates heritage. Do you feel a part of that scene?
S: I guess so, I don’t feel such a strong affiliation to that as I did the 60s thing before, because I think with that came more music and a sort of constant lifestyle I was engaged in all the time, but from the magazine, I’ve built some really good friendships; people who are in to workwear, or 30s era, or whatever it is…
KO: People who have a shared interest in being interested in that sort of scene..
S: Exactly. Everyone’s passionate. Generally they have their roots in clothing or some sort of vintage element, and there’s a shared value, be it vehicles or art and design.
KO: What’s next for Scott Simpson? Any other projects?
S: At the moment, I’m focusing a lot on the book and really pushing for that to be completed. I want it done and ready to go, so I’m in talks with different publishers, getting people to contribute, and sourcing interviews with people who wore the items back in the 60s. I’d like to hone in on the brand a bit more and do more things that I know will work really well; so a lot more knitwear and micro collections to keep it fresh, a lot more limited. Move a little bit quicker you know?
Also to go in-house and design for other brands. I’m in discussions with a sportswear label at the moment which could be quite interesting. Let’s see.