Oi Polloi

Interview : Kenneth MacKenzie (R6 / 6878)

Published: Mon Nov 15 2010

Glenn: For this interview we wanted to get away from asking you about design process, construction, fabrics…‘whats this collection about’ etc. because 6876 doesn’t work like that anymore, it’s not a seasonal thing. We’d like to concentrate on your influences…

Ken: 6876 has never really worked like that. I came about it in a bit of a naïve way. I sort of had an idea of how hard starting a clothing label would be, to get things made and get things financed and I thought if its going to be about me then I’m going to bring in whatever I’m interested in as influences. That way it made things ‘sane’ for me. I never wanted it to be about cat walk shows…’this season its this theme’ etc. There have been concepts and ideas within my work but they tend to be repeated or rather revolve and are current through all 6876 design.

In the early days when Japanese or English magazines were interviewing me I found it hard to take it seriously because I couldn’t believe people wanted to interview me. Japanese journalists would ask, “Why do you use a lot of grey?” and I would just say “Joy Division… Dundee… I don’t know?!”

I didn’t want to do it like everybody else, not in a radical way. I just thought if I’m going to do this then I need to put in what interests me.

Glenn: In a design sense, what motivates you to move things on?

Ken: With the clothing it can be very simple. It might just be a move to a more formal classic style, or workwear style or sportswear style. The basic premise of menswear is there are classic influences, workwear, military, outdoors clothing etc. then I just tend to react to that. I may think ‘God, I’ve had enough of workwear. Everybody is doing it!’ and just move on… brighten things up, or make it more somber… be more technical… and within that I may add other influences. It could be music or art… whatever really.

Glenn: Looking at cultural references specifically what sort of stuff are you into and how does it affect your work?

Ken: Well, the most misrepresented thing is the whole Punk idea. For instance, people making out it was about Mohicans or wearing bin bags – where I grew up it wasn’t about that at all. Before I went to college I never bought any new clothes, no one my age group did. We all wore second hand clothes, there was a massive second hand culture and that’s how we put things together.

Joy Division was my era, I was 18 or 19 and it was about low-key straight clothing. It went into the post-punk scene, PIL etc.

Glenn: I look at pictures of Joy Division and they looked smart. Not your average punk cliché’s?

Ken: When I saw them play it was more about attitude. They wore very minimalist clothing, smart, austere.
This is the stuff that drove the brand (6876) from the beginning. The problem with it now is a lot of this stuff has been looked at elsewhere, almost fetishised. It became quite trendy. I refuse to watch Control.

I didn’t want to get drawn into talking about Joy Division though. Id rather talk about new stuff such as Mono or re-discovering things like Harmonia etc..

Although it was an influence, they (Joy Division) are more difficult to talk about now. It’s been picked apart. It’s like the Paris 68 thing aswell. People have completely missed the point with that. The whole thing about the 68 movement and the Punk thing was that it was a statement, it was an explosion, it was an action that moved things on.

When people get caught up in it, things stagnate. And that was the whole point of 6876, taking different influences mixing them together and moving on. I want people to buy the clothing, take it away and make it into their own thing. That was the cool thing about selling to Japan in the early days because they would really get that. You have got to buy it, take it and trash it… rather than people in the UK… for instance football casuals ringing up asking about how best to dry clean stuff!

Glenn: Ha! I see a lot of people getting it wrong, rather than appropriating stuff from the past, mixing it up and making it contemporary they seem to buy into a wholesale look. It’s a bit fancy dress. I do a lot of work around London and I see people who look like they’ve stepped out of a Hovis advert…

Ken: I was into the whole Beat culture thing and would listen to Coltrane and read Kerouac and try and learn about stuff. It was very similar to the punk explosion and moved things on, that’s the Americana I’m into. The poetry, the music and art along with their style which was a bit ‘crumpled’, a little anti-establishment. For example they would wear a tailored jacket with a t-shirt (which sounds tame now but back then was very noticeable), they weren’t so smart as they lived quite rough, very bohemian. But then you get people into this heritage trend who go completely over the top.

In Britain we have that whole idea that I think goes back to the Mod thing, the idea of mixing stuff up and making it contemporary. Like, if you’re wearing a technical jacket then wear it with some suede shoes rather than hiking boots, that kind of thing. People get tied into a certain ‘look’ and it takes the cool element away.

Glenn: Can we talk about what books have influenced 6876?

Ken: Leaving the 20th Century compiled by Christopher Grey. The complete ideological history of the Situationists. It’s really dense. This particular copy is quite rare, its printed on Surburban Press who where the people who did the Miners strike stuff in the early 70’s. Jamie Reid was involved with them before he went off to work with the Sex Pistols. It reminds me of that whole culture in the UK before everything got modern with easy access to information etc. There were these people burying away printing up situationist manifestos, doing miners strike magazines etc.

Another book I picked out is Beat Culture and the New America. This was a book put together for an exhibition that unfortunately I never got to visit but a friend brought me the book back from the States. Full of images, poetry and writing on artists, film-makers, all people involved in the Beat Culture thing.

Glenn: It strikes me that you are into the whole ‘Year Zero’ thing? Stuff that shakes the paradigm, creates a new way of thinking? The Beats, Paris 68, Punk… even Acid House.

Ken: Yes, and Mod aswell. I’m really interested in that. I think that was the very first of people taking styles that weren’t essentially meant for them. It’s a very British type of thing.

Back home in Scotland when I was growing up, people where very much into the New York punk scene. It kind of started there and it was more of an art school thing. It became politicised in the UK but I really liked that scene of them starting it in New York, the US is such a big country and it’s difficult to have an impact there but I really like to look at the genesis of movements or ‘scenes’. It interests me.

Glenn: And what other books?

Ken: Another book I pulled out to show you is In Flagrante by Chris Killip, a book of photographs documenting British society in the 70s and early 80s. We have a few the prints dotted around the house and to me it really reminds me of a particular time before Thatcher…. crushed everyone (laughs) and also British society became so commercial and ‘styled’ up. Everyone thinks they’re fashionable now, and everything’s got to be fashionable…this whole celebrity thing.

I went to art school in the North West (Preston) and I have fond memories, going to the Hacienda or heading over to Liverpool to see bands and this book really reminds me of that.

Glenn: Does the book influence your aesthetic?

Ken: I think it does. I love its black and white, raw photography. Another great influence is Joseph Beuys. I have at least ten of his books and he’s a massive influence on 6876. His art, his presentation, very low tech, minimalist. I’ve always been into his work.

It’s almost like that British one-upmanship thing but with art. It’s very Mod! Thinking about it, there are certain aspects of that whole Americana heritage trend that sit uneasy with me. The preppy American thing, I really like the style but I feel uncomfortable with it as it’s quite a conservative thing. For instance, the Beats were more rough and ready and it was totally unconservative.

Glenn: So you think people are dressing like Richard Nixon?

Ken: Ha! You can look at it that way! Back then, I’m not so sure it was cool to dress like that. Perhaps mixing it up, a bit preppy, a bit beat is quite cool. That fusion again.

Glenn: I think someone like David Byrne gets it right.

Ken: Yep, if you look at those early videos of Talking Heads they look just like blue collar workers playing in a band. I think that’s really cool. Talking Heads along with people like Television had this ethos of being non-descript and that was the whole Punk thing.

With music these days it has gone a bit weird. I split it down to vinyl, CDs and downloads. Everything is of an era. My vinyl is all from a different time. I may buy a new bit of vinyl but it’s not that often. The first record I pulled out to show is the Frontline album, which is a reggae album. I got into reggae through punk. Studio One, roots reggae which I still listen to now, and this was the quintessential album. It’s got an amazing cover.

Another record is this John Coltrane album. I feel a real affinity with the whole Coltrane, Ornette Coleman left field avant garde early 60s Jazz scene. To me again, it felt like a very punk thing. This album for reminds me of a time when I was trying to take more things in, learning, reading more. I would listen to Gil Scott Heron around this time too. I’d also listen to the Clash but everyone listened to the Clash. And also the Sex Pistols were around but it seemed a bit ‘look at me’. Me and my friends were more into Wire and Television and then the Pop Group. The Pop Group and Gang Of Four were mixing punk and funk influences which seemed important, they seemed to be really moving things on. I remember being at school, there was this old record player and one day we were allowed to bring our records in. I remember thinking you could really tell who were the kids that would be working at the local factory or the kids that where going to go off and do cool things…

Have a look at Kenneth’s latest offerings here… R6 by 6876