From Ralph Lauren’s penchant for polo shirts to Daiki Suzuki’s twist on the humble grey sweatshirt, the most ingenious clothing conjurers have always mined the world of sportswear for precious wearable ore.
Munich’s A Kind of Guise follow in this esteemed tradition.
Whether they’re crafting tracksuits made out of ultra-luxurious wool or making winter-weight terry-towelling baseball caps, this lot take classic sporting designs, and ramp the quality levels right up to eleven.
I phoned up co-founder Yasar Ceviker to peck his head about his designs, Germany and the modern age. We start by talking about his recent trip to America for a photoshoot…
I think it was actually the best one we’ve ever done. We always try and photograph people on the street — asking random people on the street to wear our stuff, shooting them in the atmosphere.
Who does the photography? You lot always manage to make stuff look interesting.
I do all the photography. I come from the skateboard industry, and I was always the one doing the filming and the photography, so it just came from that. Photography was always a good combination that fit with skateboarding.
How did you go from skating to doing A Kind of Guise?
My first clothing project was doing graphic t-shirts for a skate shop in Dortmund that my friend owned. That was my entrance to what we’re doing today. When I finished school I lived in New York for a while, doing photography assistant jobs and trying to make some money there. But when I came back to Dortmund I had the feeling that I had to leave my hometown — I wanted new faces in my life — so I moved to Munich.
To be honest, I had a lot of prejudices against Munich, as the south of Germany is very different to where I’m from and everyone’s very posh. But once I came here, I immediately fell in love with the city because of the landscape and the nature. I moved here and started studying graphic design, and met my girlfriend Susi.
We had the same idea of doing something ourselves outside of school – it was more or less a student project. We did a backpack and some knitwear — and we made some bags out of some left over leather from a factory in North Italy that used to make medicine balls. We only had like 14 pieces, but when we sold it all we put the money into making the second collection.
Where did the name come from?
We were sat in the kitchen and drinking wine. And do you know that film The Wanderers?
Yeah, it’s a top film – a bit like The Warriors.
Yeah — well one of the songs from that was on. In the song he says, “I’m the kind of guy.” And I thought, that’s cool — because when you’re making clothes, you always have someone in your mind who’d fit in it. So originally we were going to call it ‘A Kind of Guys’.
But then I spoke to a friend of mine who’s married to a girl from London, and he said to her, “What do you think of the name, A Kind of Guys?”
She said, “Yeah that’s cool, but how do they know the word?” Cos she was thinking of the word ‘guise’, and she thought it worked well because of the wordplay. That’s how the name came around.
Who’s the ‘kind of guy’ you design for these days? Is there still someone you’re thinking of when you come up with ideas?
Not so much anymore. We have customers who come in to our shop here who are 16 years old, looking for a good quality jacket, and then we have architects in their mid-30s who need a suit, and then old men who want a knitted sweater. There’s not really any specific ‘guy’ in mind anymore.
Do you design stuff for you to wear?
Yeah – I mean I can’t wear it all, but I’m dressed head to toe in our stuff now.
It seems like France and Italy have definite styles, but I’m not really sure what the ‘German style’ is. Does it exist?
I don’t think there is a German style in a fashion way, but maybe in industrial design? Of course there’s the traditional German clothing, but that’s more like heritage as opposed to what we want to do.
The thing about Germany compared to France, England or the US is that fashion and quality clothing was never a thing in German culture. Germany is still one of our worse markets. Generally people here are really into H&M or Primark. They don’t have style.
Haha, why do you think that is?
That’s a good question. I think it’s because Germans are more into technical stuff like cars. They don’t care about clothes. The clothing industry in Germany was mainly just for work-wear. If anyone here thinks they need good clothes… they just wear Hugo Boss. It’s a bunch of crap.
I suppose you lot are an anomaly then. Years ago people in different towns would wear different stuff; do you think that still happens now?
Not in Germany, no. Obviously you have Bavaria, where they try and keep the traditional life going, but that’s different.
Do people wear that traditional stuff seriously?
Yeah — I don’t think any young people are walking around in that traditional Oktoberfest gear, but I see older people wearing that stuff every day when I ride my bike to work.
I remember going to Germany on a school-trip once and the rat-tail haircut was very popular. Is that still about?
Yeah, of course.
Haha – that’s good to know. If A Kind of Guise isn’t inspired by German stuff, where does the inspiration come from?
When we started the brand, we wanted it to be very international. I remember when we did trade shows, we’d get buyers from Japan saying, “Where are you from? Scandinavia?” People don’t think of Germany when they see the stuff.
When we did the first collection, we had those bags made from leather from Northern Italy, and we just continued with that — travelling around and getting inspiration from different cultures. For example, last summer, the clothes we made were inspired by Italian camping vibes. I was in Italy with my football team, and we had a training camp in a very cheesy Italian camp site. No one on the team is into fashion, and we were sat there on camping chairs, drinking cans of beer, and I really liked the atmosphere. Sometimes it happens by accident.
Do you think the internet has changed a lot of things to do with how people look and how people are? Now it seems like people are influenced more by things they see on their phone than they are by their friends.
Yeah, I think that’s a very big thing. I remember back in 2002 I would buy stuff from eBay and then I had to make a payment through Western Union. And then maybe five or six weeks later, I’d get the Nike trainers or whatever. But now it’s so easy to get things in every city.
I remember if you went to New York maybe 10 or 15 years ago you could always find things that you’d never seen before and you couldn’t get anywhere else… but now you can buy that stuff in Munich or Berlin or wherever.
Do you think things are too easy now?
Yeah – it’s too easy. A friend of mine who is a photographer is always complaining that it’s so hard to get jobs now, and it’s because it’s so easy to make a photo look good now. You don’t need any knowledge, you just need some filter from Instagram now and you can be a photographer. The big companies who used to book real photographers who knew what they were doing don’t need them anymore, because it’s all so easy.
And surely it’s only going to go more that way.
Probably. I’m not too worried about it in regards to clothing — you can copy style, but you can’t copy quality.
But of course, it’s different with photography or things like music. I was really interested in music maybe ten years ago, but now you can’t keep up. Every day there’s a new band or a new DJ. There are a lot of good ones, of course, but it’s so hard to find them.
Yeah it’s impossible. Every band is touted as the next big thing.
And then they just have one hit and you never hear of them again. It’s the same with some brands… they pop up, and then they’re gone. And I think it’s only going to get worse. Let’s see what the future brings.
People will always need good clothes… hopefully.
Yeah, I hope so. I mean every day it seems like we get more customers who appreciate the quality. We get random guys looking in, and once they’ve bought something, they really begin to support it and they come back. There will always be people going to H&M, but then there’ll also always be people supporting quality.
This is maybe a bit of a vague question, but what do you think makes a good piece of clothing?
It’s got to be well made, and it should be timeless, so you can wear it for the next twenty years. Function is a big thing too. For example, if a coat is well made and timeless, it’s even better when it’s water repellent too so you can wear it in the rain.
You lot make a lot of things that are influenced sportswear, but not necessarily for sports – like those tracksuits you do for example. What’s the motive behind stuff like this? What are these clothes for?
Yeah, I always liked the idea of doing well-made tracksuits. For next season we’ve made tracksuits from virgin wool. This was a fabric we only used for our tailoring, but it looks so nice as a tracksuit. It gives it a twist too, and brings it to another level. It’s not a tracksuit you’re going to wear for track and field; it’s something you can wear for a dinner party without getting turned away. You’ll be the best dressed man there.
Is that ‘twist’ you mentioned something you think about a lot? You’re not afraid to mix things up a bit and use an interesting fabric on clothes you wouldn’t expect to see it on.
Yeah, we’re always trying to twist things a bit. For example, we made a parka out of some very traditional, Austrian loden fabric, which is usually only used on those very traditional loden jackets. We were bringing that fabric into something completely new, and I think things like that are very important.
Yeah, it keeps things interesting. I think I should probably wrap this up now as we’ve talked for quite a while. Have you got any wise words to finish this off with?
Slow and steady wins the race.
See the new A Kind of Guise stuff here.
Photos by Josh Rothery. Interview originally published in Pica~Post 13.