Interview / James Bay

Platinum debut record, singer-songwriter James Bay has turned his hand to fashion design. Collaborating with high street giants TOPMAN, Bay has designed a capsule collection that encompasses his trademark style and‘rock star aesthetic for something that ‘feels quite universal’. ‘It’s not exactly aimed at people’s parents,’ he explains, ‘I mean, they’re welcome, but it’s aimed at our generation. It’s for the folks like you and me walking into high street stores’.

While he confesses he does have the opportunities, as many people in the music industry do, to check out designer labels and collections, he does tend to stay loyal to the high street. ‘I still walk down the high street, dipping in and out, I still like what’s going on and still connect and relate, but I try and mix it up a little bit’.

When speaking of the collection, it’s clear that fashion very much has a new-found place in his heart. ‘[The collection] is very ‘me’, to put it one way. The cool thing about being approached by TOPMAN was, I kinda discovered them about ten years ago… before that, my general sense of style was atrocious’.

‘In one way [the design process] is quicker, it’s different. With the best will in the world, it doesn’t mean as much to me as writing a great chorus; fashion comes after music for me. But in general, the way fashion can inspire and influence… pouring your heart and soul into verse one is a different beast but it’s been a lot of fun. Weirdly, from the word go, it was surprising how much I enjoyed it, I didn’t realise I’d enjoy it so much early on’.

But having previously modelled for brands such as Burberry, was fashion design always going to be the next step? ‘I was always an artistic person, painting and drawing at school, so [designing] exercised that muscle’. When it comes to a celebrity collection, it’s always interesting to see where the artist’s own style comes into play, and with Bay’s collection, it seems to very much be based on his own personal fashion sense.

‘The stuff I wear off and on stage is kinda the same. This was a bit easier and a bit more fun, whether I wanna wear it out one night or on stage. I based some of it on stuff I already own, but customised and edited.

‘Some t-shirts are simple and look unique and battered, subtle, but I’m also really proud of the jackets, from the sequin, glam-rock inspired Bowie/T-Rex one to me taking a new direction with a suede jacket that’s very subtle. It’s a nice shape and cut. I abused my jacket addiction’. This makes sense of Bay’s three-word description of his collection as ‘jackets, jackets, jackets’.

But, for Bay, what inspires his sense of style and ultimately, what inspired his collection designs? ‘When I was 15, The Kooks, Kings of Leon, The Libertines were the coolest bands in the world and they certainly looked incredible as well – I realised that, though I wasn’t listening to their music as much, what was interesting and what got me listening to them more was I saw they were dressing like the Stones, in a similar way with the skinny jeans, Chelsea boots, leather jackets. It’s all that sort of music that inspired the way I’ve always dressed’.

With any type of artist, there always seems to be some kind of message involved within a collection, be it a collection of songs or clothes – it’s a must. Bay’s collection is no exception, with the lyrics ‘let’s be incomplete’ laced throughout from debut album track ‘Incomplete’. ‘It’s tragic because the idea of perfection or being complete doesn’t exist, it’s not real, you can’t have it. It’s an honest statement, subtle but in your face. That’s kinda poetic… so let’s embrace it. It’s me talking about the lyric. It does mean the same thing in the context of the song, I evolve it in these clothes. I feel proud to wear it in an alternative sense’.

Given that his debut album Chaos and the Calm was released over two years ago, it’s impossible to talk to Bay without asking him about the possibility of new music on the horizon – especially as he’s now in the process of recording his new sophomore record. ‘It’s going good, I’m very excited. I can’t tell you anymore, though I want to, believe me. We only finished touring in December, and suddenly it’s all systems go. I’ve been spending every second writing, that’s gone really well. I was doing a lot of designing at the end of last year… my radar is up, I’m all about being inspired to be different and do new things and do something else.

“I had a really exciting time [touring], because at the end of the day I love every note of every song on my first album, they mean everything to me – we still had offers to go out and tour this year, but I needed to say to stop. I totally understand and appreciate every album cycle, and they generally seem to last 18 months and then go away, so they’re ready to release a new one’.

Will there be new collections and lines in time for the new album? ‘I’ve enjoyed the clothes, we’re basically done and I’m able to focus on music only… [though] you’ve made me think, I wonder what I’ll do. I’ll wear [the new collection] on stage for sure’.

Now we expect several of his new jackets and t-shirts to be rocked on stage during his next tour, but there’s one last thing we just have to know: why does he wear his famed fedora? ‘I hate to be boring, but it’s just a hat that I chose to wear really’.

Well, at least now we know.

Bay’s collection in collaboration with TOPMAN will be launched in stores on 17th August.

[Originally written for tmrw magazine]

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