Perhaps theyâ€™re trust fund babies, or maybe they hit some cash investing early in the organic food market, either way U.K.-based The Affairâ€™s founders Zoltan Csaki and David Black have created a few tees by way of their intellectual motivations. The line is inspired by late night philosophical discussions over cigarettes and chardonnay. With a sick website and decent logo, The Affair prints on American Apparel tees. Why are we featuring them? Because we wanted to know how smart they really areâ€¦
â€œLondon has a strong sense of its own identity and the fashion trends that were born here – the mods, skinheads, punks, and ravers – which has an influence on everything from streetwear to couture.â€
Format: What roles do you each play with the brand?
David: I do all the work. Zoltan hangs out at cocaine bars and wife-swapping parties talking shit and handing out business cards.
Zoltan: I do all the work. Dave spends weeks at a time at forest rave parties swapping neon spandex with men who don’t wear t-shirts.
Format: “Slightly more intelligent than your average brand.” Please explain this statement.
Zoltan: The t-shirt market is super-saturated. So when we decided to start-up, we began by thinking about the type of people we’d like to be producing for. We are aiming at men in the creative industries who think and act differently to the majority. They are well read and somewhat outside of the mainstream. Or, in other words, slightly more intelligent than average.
David: In practice, this means we’ve made a conscious departure from the themes and ideas, which dominate most other t-shirts brands out there – eg. skulls, 80’s graphics, hip-hop influences, cutesy visual puns etc. We know we’re onto something interesting because developing graphics to fit into this identity is really challenging. We’d love to be doing artwork about all the music and movies that we grew up with and still love. But lots of other brands are already doing that, and they’re mostly doing it very well. So why would we bother? We’ve got some strict constraints to work within, and as designers, not artists, this makes us happy.
Format: You look to movements of art, music, literature and technology. Are these not also elements of pop culture?
Zoltan: Pop-culture is all-pervasive, but thankfully has many different stripes and colors. We tend to shun the consumerist mainstream in favor of more peripheral movements that we find interesting. But we’re also very conscious that we need a cultural anchor, a reference point that people can hang onto. After all, we’re selling conversation starters, not one-off canvasses.
David: The hardest thing about starting this was trying to find something that a customer was going to recognize, but probably hadn’t seen before. I wanted to do graphics that reference something bigger and better than the t-shirt itself. This is a pretty standard tactic, but there’s a big difference between referencing Machiavelli and referencing Star Wars. Although it probably makes good commercial sense to do a Star Wars graphic, it’s neither original nor challenging. We’re hoping that someone who buys one of our shirts is going to want to talk about ideas, rather than simply win a smile off some other bloke who saw Star Wars too.
Format: How does the streetwear scene differ in London relative to Japan and the US?
David: London has a strong sense of its own identity and the fashion trends that were born here – the mods, skinheads, punks, and ravers – which has an influence on everything from streetwear to couture. Geographic location still counts too, so we also see a lot of Continental influence too, such as Swiss graphic design.
Format: Where did you get the funding to start this brand?
Zoltan: We gave up fair-trade organic food.
David: We had to lay off the drugs and hookers.
Format: How much did it cost you to do your first run?
David: It cost us our innocence, and our friendship, as we never speak anymore unless we’re under the careful supervision of our respective legal advice.
Format: What specific works of art inspire you?
Zoltan: Any old advertising, graphic design. Japanese heraldic crests. Anything symmetrical.
David: Comics, heavy metal, tattoos, hot-rod stuff.
Format: You reference Machiavelli, Don Coreleone and William Gibson in your product inspirations. How do you successfully translate the literature to the cloth?
David: Usually a few long hours sitting on the couch sipping hard liquor and talking bullshit is what it takes to get the ball rolling. We begin with a single idea â€“ be it literary based or otherwise â€“ and then work to translate that in the best way possible to communicate that concept. We research, draw, design, argue, fight, and then belittle each other’s ideas and intellect. It’s a painful, iterative process that seems to work.
Format: The Frenemies tee is nice. Are you two friends or enemies?
David: We are mutual parasites with a healthy disregard for each otherâ€™s feelings, which means we have a stronger product in the end. All of the cheap emotions and silly ideas about friendship died long ago.
Format: You have a Muslim Jesus tee, which speaks to the fact that Christians and Muslims have gone to war over ideology. What would you go to war for?
David: To fight the generic â€˜threadless aestheticâ€™ that prevails in the world of online retailing.
Format: What do you mean by Threadless Aesthetic?
Zoltan: We’re not against Threadless at all, it’s a brilliant idea and even better business model. What we don’t like is the prevailing aesthetic that always wins the votes – hand-illustrated, bright colours, flowery vector graphics.
David: We’re actually quite jealous, as it’s all really nicely-drawn and well-finished, and a much easier way to make money. But it’s the sort of inoffensive, pointless artwork that mobile-phone companies put on their advertising during summertime, and it drives us a bit nuts.
Format: You have repeatedly mention “highbrow” art and literature in your product descriptions. Do you think that the general streetwear culture is based upon lowbrow movements?
David: Firstly, we don’t use “highbrow” in the champagne-sipping, poetry-reading, opera-loving sense. We’re making t-shirts, not couture. What we’re trying to do is something a bit more thoughtful than simply trying to appeal to anyone who grew up in the 80’s with a passing interest in computer games, hip-hop and bright colours.
Perhaps our definition of streetwear differs from most, but we believe most of it is pretty unimaginative. If all you want is a t-shirt that’s going to compliment your limited-edition Nikes and your New Era cap, well, there’s already plenty of stuff out there to choose from. That visual style was already tried and tested long ago by the likes of Stussy and all those obscure Japanese brands, and it’s going to be difficult to stand out as so many other guys are doing it. Again, we’ve made a conscious departure from what’s already out there.
Format: You claim to be the very first t-shirt brand with a mobile store through the iPhone. How did you lock this project?
David: Our website is built in Flash, and thanks to our resident Flash guru Kamil Gottwald, we found a hack to get it on the iPhone. Itâ€™s not perfect yet, but at the same time we haven’t seen anyone else doing it.
Format: Will you ever move into cut and sew?
David: It’s a natural evolution, but we’re going to concentrate on getting into women’s tees first.
Format: Where can we find your product globally?
Zoltan: When you’ve got an award-winning website you’re already global – www.the-affair.com
David: We’d be interested in hearing from distributors, so please get in touch if you think you can help us – firstname.lastname@example.org
Format: When will you release your next collection and what are a few of the inspirations?
Zoltan: We don’t really work on collections in the SS/FW sense. We’re constantly working on new designs and we release a few at a time in what we call a ‘batch.’
David: The next batch will be out soon as it takes. We’re really interested in having some other designers and illustrators contribute some artwork. We’ve got a few ideas on paper, such as architectural themes and nanotechnology, and of course literature will still play a big part. Thanks for having us, and please stay tuned.
More Info: http://www.the-affair.com/