He’s in Fashion
Resurrecting two of our best loved sports fashion brands? It’s second nature to Liverpool’s most inspiring sportswear champion…
Follow your passions and the rest will take care of itself. If ever you wanted proof that, in business, there are few better lessons worth learning just spend an afternoon in the company of Microbrands one’s Chris Lee.
A one man motivation course, it was Chris who brought the magazine-as-apartment as clothes -and-gadgets store Microzine to Bold Street, way ahead of the curve (perhaps too ahead) at the beginning of the 21st century - and it was his untrained but unblinking eye for fashion’s next big thing that a just-opened Wade Smith took a punt on, when they opened their first store, on Slater Street.
The rest is retail history: Wade Smith became Liverpool’s first superstar fashion house, and Chris went on to top positions at fashion brands from Reebok to DKNY. But now he’s back, with a fire in his belly, and a determination to breathe life back into some of our best loved British brands.
“I was a punk in the late 70s,” Chris tells It’s Liverpool, “but I was always really aware of clothes, especially if someone was wearing something new, something different. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had a keen eye on what worked, and what didn’t. Mind you, all our gang did back then. We didn’t think of ourselves as fashion designers. We just cared about how we looked.”
The Old Swan of the late 70s might have been a far cry from the catwalks of London and Paris, but it was here that Chris first understood the power, and the pull, of urban fashion, street and sportswear, and of how, with a little customisation, you could create something essential. The casuals of early 80s Liverpool owed a lot to the man from Stoneycroft.
“I used to travel up the northern line to visit the golf shops of Ainsdale and Southport, and come back with golf shoes you just couldn’t get anywhere else, take the spikes off, and wear them around town,” he recalls.
It was this flair, coupled with his eye for spotting a must-have label seasons ahead of the crowd (and even dusting down, and making relevant again, labels whose glory days were behind them) that elevated Chris to become Wade Smith’s creative director.
Chris is back, with an office at Elevator’s Baltic Triangle studios, and a small, hard working team, working his magic on two classic but slumbering giants of sportswear he’s recently snapped up: Slazenger and (Liverpool’s own) Dunlop.
“These brands could have been as big as Nike and Adidas if they’d have continued innovating and looking forward,” Chris says, “everyone wore Slazenger in the early 80s. But they paid the price for bad management and a lack of passion in their product.”
As Chris talks, he shows It’s Liverpool mood boards, samples of next season’s ranges - all the way through to Autumn/Winter 13 - and files bulging with archived adverts stretching back to the beginning of the century. There is nothing he doesn’t know - or cherish - about the labels Chris is bringing back from the dead. And that passion is shot through Chris’s bold, vibrant and sleek new ranges: currently wowing lads, and clearing the racks, in Top Man, Urban Outfitters and indie retailers across Europe: “they love us in Spain and Italy,” Chris says.
“If you’re in business, the temptation is to look over your garden fence to see what your competitors are doing, and saying ‘I want what they’ve got’. Well I’ve never worked that way,” Chris says, “I’m far more interested in taking my inspiration from real people, from bands, kids, history. My own intuition. ”
Chris’ recent Croquet-inspired range of clothes for Dunlop shows that this is a man not afraid to take chances - but the results speak for themselves. As do the order books: he’s just returned from a trip to source new factories in India and China. “Quality control is everything,” he says. “I’m confident in my team’s commitment, but if you take your eye of the production or distribution process, you’re done.”
Keeping his ranges to a limited number of outlets ensures a certain caché too: “If you flood the market, you’ll quickly become fashionable. And anything that’s fashionable is instantly unfashionable. I want our ranges to be desirable, but to sit outside of fads and trends,” Chris says, as he shows us his elegant Slazenger range based on cycle sport (“Liverpool had the country’s first cycling club, so it all fits!” he says), woven with fine made-in-Britain tweeds, leather buttons and enamelled logo pins. It’s all gorgeously wearable, and will, we’re sure, catapult the golden panther of Slazenger right back into the pages of the fashion press again.
“We’ve taken some of their classic designs, and some of their beautiful old logos, and used them as inspiration for new ranges,” Chris says. “If something’s got some authenticity behind it, it’ll last,” he says, showing us his latest range of adverts: complete with a lad from Host restaurant modelling, in Elevator’s cafe.
“Why waste time and money going to London to shoot it? We’ve got all the talent we need right here in the city,” Chris says.
Microbrands One in Baltic Triangle
Date created: April 30, 2012