Crafting the collar

Crafting the collar

To celebrate London Design Festival, the RIBA invited us to collaborate with America’s oldest apparel retailer, Brooks Brothers, in this year’s Regent Street Window Project.
Now in its sixth year, the project unites 13 flagship retailers with a like-minded RIBA practice to create 13 engaging window displays. With each retailer setting a unique brief and budget, the outcome is a wonderfully energetic public exhibition seen by over three million people.
Our installation evolved into a dynamic display of craft, working alongside ceramicist Billy Lloyd to hand-sculpt 35 ceramic collars evoking the image of “birds in flight.”

M Conran and Partners RIBA Window for Brooks Brothers photography by Liam Clarke Crafting the collar

During a Polo match in the UK in 1896, Brooks Brothers discovered that players on horseback secured their shirt collars with pins so that the collars would not flap while riding. The savvy retailer famously adapted this idea by permanently affixing working buttons to the collars and introduced “The original button down polo shirt” to men’s tailoring and has since turned it into a true fashion icon.

Upon visiting the store, we were inspired by this story and the charming array of collars on display. Their horizontal configuration with angular cotton fabric evoked images of birds in flight created by photography pioneers such as Eadweard Muybridge and Étienne Jules Marey.

A Brooks Button Down Shirt photography by Conran and Partners1 Crafting the collar

B The Concept photography by Conran and Partners Crafting the collar

We experimented with varying gestures of an individual collar; twisting and turning the material to bring about a sense of life, energy and personality; like a bird with open wings.

“A flock of collars captured mid-flight represents Brooks Brothers’ innovative spirit with a single gold button-down leading the formation. The collar is the main protagonist of their fashion story and we hope the ceramic installation captures the curiosity of passers-by.” Tim Rundle, Design Director, Conran and Partners

C Collars in flight photography by Conran and Partners Crafting the collar

Craftsmanship is integral to both Brooks Brothers’ and Conran and Partners’ ethos; utilising the hands of the craftsman and the material’s properties to tell a story in an emotive and considered way.

We explored various materials and craft techniques to form the collars before working with London-based ceramicist Billy Lloyd. Together we experimented with scale, shape and surface to recall the simple romance of Brooks Brothers’ original story. Billy was able to sculpt, stretch and sensitively personalise each collar into its own dynamic form; making each collar different and reiterating the concept of birds in flight.

D In The Making photography by Billy Lloyd Crafting the collar

“Working much like a tailor would, I made templates and patterns to cut the individual pieces of porcelain. The clay was then pressed between two sheets of canvas to achieve a fine woven texture and the curved shapes express the plasticity of the porcelain.  By leaving the surface unglazed, the ceramic collars appear light and ethereal, creating a sense of theatre upon the streets of London.” Billy Lloyd, Ceramicist 

E In The Making photography by Billy Lloyd1 Crafting the collarF In The Making photography by Billy Lloyd Crafting the collarG In The Making photography by Billy Lloyd Crafting the collarH In The Making photography by Billy Lloyd Crafting the collarI In The Making photography by Billy Lloyd Crafting the collar

We utilised fishing wire and engineered fixings to invisibly suspend the ceramic collars, as if floating in the air. We worked closely with Into Lighting to develop a lighting strategy that would give the collars high-impact and intense drama both day and night.

“Our collaborative installation is a physical interpretation of an inspiring story. Like Brooks Brothers, it is driven as much by innovation as it is traditional craftsmanship, combining heritage and creativity in a dynamic and elegant form.” Simon Kincaid, Project Director, Conran and Partners 

N Conran and Partners RIBA Window for Brooks Brothers photography by Conran and Partners1 Crafting the collar

R Conran and Partners RIBA Window for Brooks Brothers photography by Conran and Partners Crafting the collar

For more information on the other window installations, visit the RIBA website, and to read more about ceramicist Billy Lloyd, have a look at his website here.