Since selling the label towards the end of the 90s the couple set up Hemingway Design, applying their creative skills to almost everything, from affordable housing, furniture, books to exhibitions. Humans Invent met up with Hemingway to find out the secret to his success and what suggestions he has for young, burgeoning designers seeking to stand out among the crowd.
Hemingway has no formal training as a designer though he was brought up in a household where creativity was an essential part of life. He says, “My nan made all my clothes all the time and my granddad made all my toys and there was always stuff going on. While the term design was definitely never used, design is about doing stuff and wanting to improve stuff and that’s what we did in our household.”
It is important to have a philosophy; to know what you are and where you’re going
The music scene was a second important factor in drawing Hemingway into fashion design. He says, “From a very young age I was going to concerts, dressing up, going out. I was lucky enough to grow up in a time where it went from Glam Rock to Northern Soul to Punk to Disco to Rockabilly to the New Romantics.”
Despite these influences, in many respects, Hemingway rather stumbled into fashion design. As hard-up students in desperate need of some quick cash, Wayne and Gerardine emptied their wardrobes and flogged the contents at Camden market – by the end of the year they had 16 stalls at the market. In 1983, along with setting up a shop in Kensington, they released their first Red or Dead collection.
As part of the acid house movement their style was often subversive. They got into trouble when they poked fun at giant oil corporation, Shell, with a T-Shirt that copied the logo but dropped the S from the name. Shell forced them to pull the T-shirts from the shops on the grounds that it undermined their branding.
As the governing ethos behind Red or Dead was to make affordable clothing, the label initially jarred with the elitist sensibility of London Fashion Week. However, in 1995 they won the British Fashion Council’s Streetstyle Designer of the Year award, which they proceeded to win for the next two years.
Towards the end of the 90s Wayne and Gerardine sold Red or Dead for several million. Wayne says, “We wanted to move on and do other stuff, we wanted a break from the fashion industry. We had been showing at London Fashion week for 21 seasons in a row and it was a treadmill we wanted to get off. We always wanted to do other things. And also, it’s very nice when you come from our background to have a lot of money in the bank.”
They immediately set up Hemingway Design which has worked on a huge number of multifarious projects. Wayne says, “We didn’t know what we wanted to do but we thought we’d see what would come along. We knew our name would open doors. At Hemingway design, there is nothing that we wouldn’t attempt or believe we could add value to but I think that’s the same with most designers given the chance.”
At Hemingway design, there is nothing that we wouldn’t attempt
As well as setting up a museum, the Vintage festival and publishing several books, Hemingway Design has also spent time on various social housing projects including the development of 688 affordable homes in Gateshead in partnership with Wimpey. Currrently, Hemingway Designs is looking at ways to improve sheltered accommodation.
Hemingway’s success hasn’t gone to his head. He believes that being talented is only half the battle – the other half is working damn hard. Humans Invent asked Wayne what advice he would give to young designers.
He says, “It is important to have a philosophy; to know what you are and where you’re going. It helps a lot if you have a raison d’être and if people look at your work and understand where you are coming from. Branding is not just about a label, it is about a philosophy that enables you to cut through. Then you’ve just got to work bloody hard. You need to graft because the competition is so good. You will always come across people who can design as well as or better than you but the one way to leap frog somebody like that is to work a lot harder than them.”
He also draws parallels with sport. Wayne says, “It is the same in sport, you’ll find loads of footballers, cricketers, tennis players who’ve got an ability but when you look at Andy Murray, it is not that he has a God given right to be a tennis player, he’s got an ability to work his backside off and that is what life is about.”