Who are The Rodnik Band? They’re not a real band, as the name suggests- but a cut-and-paste London fashion label with a tongue firmly in cheek. Meet Phillip Colbert- the man behind the brand who once marched Pied-Piper style into the National Portrait Gallery followed by a harem of models wearing his creations and bowler hats. Fast-forward a year from a cobbled band performance featuring a certain Geldof girl, a series of larky Youtube music videos, and a diffusion collection with Italian brand OVS to join us in the present. We caught up with The Rodnik Band tucked away in their Whitechapel studio preparing for another London Fashion Week…
Hello Phillip, tell us about how the label was started:
Seven years ago I started a label called Rodnik and was later inspired to create The Rodnik Band label. Fashion is very oversubscribed by people doing similar things and it’s quite a tough business as well. It is very different in the art world, in the way in which modern artists re-invented the genres slightly. I feel with clothing, even though people would push the boat out it can get quite ‘samey’ in the sense that people were pushing the technical aspect of the clothing with cute, form etc but I didn’t feel like people were reinventing what it actually is and how people look at the clothing.
Why did you decide to create a concept brand?
The idea of the Rodnik Band was to create a fashion label that was also a satirical pop band. For me, the most interesting thing about fashion is the sense of escapism and the absurdity of it all. Obviously, there is the most classical side of fashion which is interesting depending on what you are dressing for- whether it be for a lunch or a date- but I guess I am interested in a more developed and artistic statement. A sense of expression and fashion in a more high-end sense. In the same way that early Moschino had a similar ‘anti-fashion’ humour in the statement, I worked on a classic template of wearable and sophisticated shapes- that somehow played on the humorous nature of fashion. I think humour is a great way of expressing humanity somehow. Fashion sometimes takes itself too seriously- it’s made in cheap factories abroad- and sometimes I think: where’s the spirit? Some people just want to follow the fashion magazines.
Above: model in The Rodnik Band fashion video
It’s a bit like the way in which bands like the Sex Pistols came to represent a cultural spirit by becoming associated with fashion and change. As a brand, I quite like the idea of (at least in a post-modern sense) of bringing a few of these genres together and creating a sort of satire collection. You get the idea that my work is an art gallery hanging on hangers, with a twist. With my music videos, even the idea of a designer having a microphone and having whole audio creates a sort of phenomenon which is a different approach. It’s about spirit in the end, and I think that spirit can become too formalised and too dry, and lacks that emotion… that spirit of freedom of ‘anyone can do anything’. This is why much of my work is quite naive, for example one of my dresses has a Picasso face which actually just a lino block. So this is a naive interpretation of art, and similar to Outsider Art, it has the same appeal.
That’s why to help cement that I looked at trying to develop a line of accessible ideas like Van Gogh, Picasso, Warhol, Wesselmann- very obvious icons of art. I translate it to clothing in a direct way that would retain their obviousness in the art world. I say my style is ‘with a spin’ as I recycle old imagery, re-inventing it to create a new genre. I’m basically playing on pre-conceived ideas.
Are there any pitfalls of being a concept brand?
With high end brands, you can make a humorous statement but it is still well-made clothes in a competitive market- so you have to back that up with making sure it’s translated in a sophisticated way, so it’s still luxury.
What defines British style for you, and since The Rodnik Band is based in London- does the city play a part in this vision?
British style for me is that mixture of humour and grandeur. There is a rich cultural language of association here in London; for example the more immediate rock history and punk phenomenon. The Sex Pistols and The Clash are obvious symbols of London. I love all the images of Beatle mania, plus things like telephone boxes, West-end musicals and double decker buses- all the obvious iconic locations of London’s surface. These almost animated symbols of London are all that makes it such an international attraction. I think there is something fantastical about that and captures the imagination of everyone across the world. Other aspects of grandeur in London are seen in the amazing architecture in the 16th and 17th Century. There is also the West End musical. There are so many inspiring things about London in terms of style.
Above: Colbert and model in The Rodnik Band
I launched with Italian brand OVS for my last collection. I really pushed the basic styles of other things like brick leggings, fish and chips t-shirts and union jack jackets. They were a mish-mash of artistic, spiritual and cultural statement pieces which were mixed together with lots of fun references. So it’s bold, but not tacky. That’s why I love humour references in contemporary art; the way in which you can make it a sophisticated reference point- but it can be communicated in a way to make people understand it.
With fashion, some designers take inspiration from more abstract things and the inspiration is quite hard to see in the clothing. If a passer-by in the street sees a prettily-dressed girl, it quite hard to read into the clothing, to get anything from it. You can see there is something pretty about the clothes- but there is not much of a message or a strong brand concept to pinpoint. It’s more of a literal sense of communication. There is always room for variety and a pretty dress I a woman’s wardrobe, but at the same token, it would be very boring for me if all a woman’s wardrobe was just prettiness and no communicated ideas.
What British designers do you admire?
Vivienne Westwood is amazing and inspiring. Her brand tied in so directly with a strong cultural movement (punk) and it was so interrelated with The Sex Pistols and exciting political messages. In today’s times it seems like statements and movement have been diluted down into pastiches of past movements. Alexander McQueen was definitely an artist who was pushing fashion as a genre and an art. I like Moschino too, a very anti-fashion brand who are always humorous in an intelligent way that quotes artistic reference. I like to think I am going in my own direction with a similar feel to some of these people.
Let’s talk music. The Rodnik Band is quite music/ art driven. Do you have a musical background yourself?
I don’t have a musical background, but I just like the idea of it and find myself doing vocals for The Rodnik Band projects. My new songs are a homage to Venus in Furs, it’s playing again on the mechanic of associated ideas and trying to spin them into one cemented idea. I love The Sex Pistols and the Clash (my last song was a spoof on London Calling)… Johnny Rotten’s Public Image Ltd was another great band that came out of that too. I love Devo and the way in which their style is quite ironic and aware of itself. I am still drawn to classic eighties sounds like Spandau Ballet and Gary Numan- ideas that were in line with kitsch/ fashion/ music.
Above: model and Colbert in The Rodnik Band
Do you dream of one day dressing a real-life rock band?
I’m friends with the band The Kooks and we are in talks of doing various things together in the future. At the moment I do promote the band from the Rodnik label as myself, but I am thinking about making the band more of a moving vehicle, either getting other people to perform whilst I disappear from the forefront a bit. There is an obvious cross-over between fashion and music. I like the idea of an amalgamation of the two, rather than doing the PR thing and just dressing a cool band.
We love the witty approach to fashion, it’s about time the industry lightened up. Do you have any more guerrilla ideas in store for 2011?
We are looking at doing a guerrilla show in the Louvre during Paris Fashion Week, rather like the one we did in the National Gallery. We’ll have some kind of funny installation by the Mona Lisa or something- and make it a big wacky.
Have you learnt any valuable lessons since you first launched?
Yes. Fashion is a difficult business. It’s easy to get over excited when people to lift you high but it is hard to maintain longevity. You have to be careful to take little steps, and to be level headed and tough. At the same time there is a lot of goodwill and passion, and there is a lot of fun to be had.