Yearly Archives: 2017

Diego Vanassibara, Footwear Designer

Every season of men’s fashion week is broken up for me by the trade show Pitti Uomo in Italy. Between London and Milan, I travel to Florence to photograph some of the best dressed men in the world. Pitti Uomo is more than a simple trade show, it has grown to iconic status as a platform for gentlemen’s style around the world.

This season, four designers stood out on a platform of their own. Selected by Conde Nast Italia, Brazilian designer Mr Diego Vanassibara was in town for a special project with MINI. I caught up with the 34 year old footwear designer under the Florentine summer sun to talk about his work and life in London.

Where did you grow up? In the South of Brazil. It’s deep in the interior of the countryside so was a rural upbringing.

How would you describe your childhood? I look back and see a free exsistance. I was able to exercise my creativity extensively because I had to invent a world that didn’t exist around me. The only outside visions bame in the form of books. It was a happy time.

What did you want to be as a child? An Inventor.

Were you supported as a creative young person? Not really because nobody around me was working in a creative industry. I was often misunderstood.

How did your interest in shoes begin? I realised during my undergraduate degree. I decided to study architecture and realised I wanted to blend the engineered side of architecture with the free creativity of fashion. Shoes seemed where those two fields merged perfectly well.

The U.K. is a long way from Brazil, how did you end up in London? I had a dream to be able to study design in Europe and when I got my first job in Brazil I began to save some money. I didn’t think twice; I simply began seting money aside and as soon as I had enough I booked a flight. London actually wasn’t my first option but I thank God that I ended up in there!

How does the city influence your work? In my opinion London has this brilliant dynamic of tension. On the one hand, an overwhelming sense of freedom and the other a sense of British restraint. That makes me tick.

Tell me about your collaboration with MINI.I was invited by Conde Nast Italia to collaborate with MINI for the Beyond Native project and I jumped at the chance. I designed a shoe for the urban traveller which is in effect the MINI man. It’s a shoe inspired by an element of chaos with the serenity of the forest. Chaos from London represented in the sole, which is a very unique technique that I use by missing textiles and rubber. The forest is represented by body painting from a Brazilian tribe called the Tapajós, Guardians of Our Forests.

What do you appreciate about the MINI brand? It’s relevant, eternally cool. It’s open-minded and fresh.

What advice would you give your 18 year old self? To go to London earlier.

Finally, leave us with some words of wisdom. Any relationship should set its foundation on communication. When there’s dialog, there’s understanding and mutual respect.

See more from Diego at www.diegovanassibara.com.

Mr James Turner, Tailor

In 1961 James Baldwin wrote “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” This sentiment springs to mind for me when talking to another James, the London based tailor Mr Turner.

An incredible man to emulate with a sense of responsibility and pride, he spoke of his new role as a father with excitement, maturity and consideration. From an outside perspective I can see that if his little boy grows up to be anything like him, he’s bound to end up a gentleman, and with that sense of style he may just follow in his footsteps as a tailor also.

James Turner is a rare breed. He’s a born and bred Londoner, so to take advantage of this insider knowledge I photographed him around Bethnal Green, the area he grew up. On set we talked about the city’s ever changing landscape, life as a tailor and how having a son has changed his life.

Sum yourself up in five words. Shaven, meticulous, driven, generous and humble.

What’s your star sign? I’m a Virgo. Apparently, that means I’m a perfectionist and very practical and hands on.

Where did you grow up? I was born in the east end of London in Mile End Hospital. I’ve lived in Poplar, Bethnal Green and then Hackney. Bethnal Green was probably the most memorable as we coincidentally lived in the same house as the Kray twins! There were always tourists outside.

What does it feel like to be a true Londoner?
I feel as a Londoner, you know the values of hard work and respecting other cultures. In my primary school, I was in the minority as it was 80% Bengali. I’m open to all types of people and feel to live in London you have to have broad horizons.

What’s your first memory of London? Walking through Poplar market with my Grandad. I remember the smells and sounds, the fruit sellers shouting, stallholders chatting and the vibrancy of it all. I just knew this was the city for me. It’s funny we’re shooting very near the Museum of Childhood and I loved visiting there. It was such a regular occurance for me, heading down the Toy Museum as we called it. I didn’t go for many years as I grew up and then went on a date there a few years back. It has the exact same exhibts it had 20 years ago, I felt like I was stepping back in time.

 
 

Favourite London street? Henrietta Street near Covent Garden. I’ve loved it for years but now with the menswear stores popping up and the brilliant restaurants I love it even more.

Favourite place for a night cap? My poison is always an Old Fashioned. Off Broadway near Broadway Market certainly do the best. I’m there a lot if anyone wants to buy me one.

Favourite Gallery? The Photographer’s Gallery off Oxford Street. There’s something special about photography that I get drawn into. I saw the Saul Leiter exhibition there recently which was outstanding.

What’s your favourite movie? On the Waterfront with Marlon Brando. Hollywood pre-50s was all about high society types whereas when the mid-century kicked, as the McCarthy Era was in full swing, it was time for the working classes to shine. This movie showed true working class Americans. Brando won an Oscar for it too.

What’s your favourite book? ‘Naked Lunch’ by William S Burroughs. I love the way he writes so vividly.

 

How did you end up as a tailor? I actually started by working in the City. I’d always loved clothes and I remember watching Hitchcock’s ‘Notorious’ when I was really small with my Grandfather. It featured Cary Grant and I became obsessed with how he elegantly glided across the screen in his outfits. It wasn’t about the story or the character, it was the moment captured in clothing that really struck me. After that I think I knew I had to work with them. There’s such a connection between a gentleman and his clothes. I started learning about how they were made with my Aunty who was a seamstress. We began with patterns and then looked at fittings which is what I predominantly do now. Its’ all grown from there really.

How would you succinctly describe your style? Matinee Idol. Classic with my own touches.

We shot with Boden today, what was your favourite piece? I really liked the crew collar sweatshirt. It’s soft, fit well and had a real Gene Kelly feel to it when I paired it with my bespoke linen pants.

Tell us about your inspirations. I’m not really a follower of fashion. I take a lot of inspiration from classic Hollywood. I love the way the men from that era could blend masculinity and elegance. Their grooming added to the power and strength they had on film. There’s a confidence in knowing and looking after yourself.

What sort of clients do you see most often? Is it stylish guys who want a custom wardrobe or men who need a little help? The trend is often fairly generic – a straight and narrow fit. I try and encourage people to go a little wider and to play with shape. A lot of people don’t know how to dress for their shape so I try and help with that. There’s been a focus on skin tight clothing over the past few years and I feel it’s definitely time to move away from that.

I travel often and really feel like London is quite distinct in the way people dress. What do you think is ‘London’ style? It’s fair to say that London is the most stylish city in the world. It’s traditional, there are military influences, it’s structured. Mostly, it’s timeless. That said, my style is a little more ‘classic American.’ I love denim, particularly how it transitioned from workwear in the 1950s into a casual staple through James Dean and Marlon Brando. The Brits created the sihouette of menswear as we know it today, but the Americans added a practical flair. I love how raw their style was and also how their outfits had longevity. The fabrication and construction needed to last.

You’re in the lucky position of being a new father, how does that feel? Were you prepared for everything that would throw up? It’s the best feeling in the world! It’s definitely a huge responsibility. There are two to think about now, in everything you do. It’s been such a pleasure to share that headspace and live a less selfish life. I come from a big east-end family and there were always children around so children has always been part of my life plan.  my mind. It’s amazing to have a little one of my own.

How has being a father changed the way you look at yourself and the world? Being a father definitely makes me look at myself as more of an adult. I suppose with a lot of guys whether they like to admit it or not, you are stuck in a perpetually child like state of mind but becoming a father most certainly makes you grow the hell up. I now see almost everything as a potential experience that I could share with my son. Whether it’s watching a West Ham match, going to see a movie or just walking down a street in The East End. It all feels like something I can one day do with him too.

Do you have aspirations for him or is it too early to say? All I want is for him to be happy and to be well-mannered. Have those and the rest will come. Manners do maketh the man.

What advice would you give your 18 year old self? Don’t smoke!

Any words of wisdom? A man isn’t a man unless he’s a gentleman.

Mr Ian Bruce, Artist

Photographing Mr Ian Bruce for The Rake Magazine, I knew I was in for a treat. As the lead singer of The Correspondents he has built a reputation for powerful costumes and high energy performance, exemplifying English eccentricity at it’s best. For this shoot, the focus is on another of his exceptional talents: his paintings. We met in his South London studio, surrounded by recent work and joined by his Jack Russell.

This interview is an excerpt from an article in The Rake, looking at men who wear sneakers with their suit.

When did you first notice your creative talents? When I was 4 I drew a picture of a clown for my ill mother and she said “this has really cheered me up” so I thought “hey, I’m good at this”. I’ve had an obsession with clowns since. I love the rules behind clowning and the illusion. There’s a mid-way point for performers between normal life and being on stage that I’m fascinated with.

When you were a boy, what did you want to be when you grew up? As a child all my friends wanted to be firemen or astronauts. I never had an aspiration for that. I always wanted to be an artist.

Have you always been interested in clothes? I used to consider myself a dandy with far more flamboyancy. I went through a stage of only getting new clothing in exhange for my art. This Spencer Hart suit was a gift in exhange for doing a gig at their launch party.

How does wearing a suit make you feel? Formal and upright. I walk in a slightly different way. Wearing sneakers with the suit adds the ability to dance.

Leave us with some words of wisdom. One of my first mainstage gigs was with Flaming Lips and Wayne Coyne came up to me at the end and said: “in our game it’s all about thinking of the maddest idea possible and getting away with it.”

Ian wears Spencer Hart suit and Converse sneakers. See the full story on TheRake.com.

Mr Paul Weller, Muscian

It’s not until you have a face to face conversation that a man’s true essence of intention can be felt. When sitting opposite Paul Weller to photograph him for the first time, I see an icon of British music, a face I grew up looking at on record covers and who’s voice was the soundtrack to many drives with my father. Over the next few hours, this icon transforms into something a lot more relatable. Mr Weller is a man of the people. He earnestly shows gratitude as numerous passers by express their love, and he speak with candour and directness about his life and work.

This year he launched a menswear collection with long time friend Mr Phil Bickley, bringing his distinctive style to a new audience. The obvious path should be a flashy “celebrity” PR circuit, but Paul is hardly even visible on their website. The feeling here is that slow and steady will eventually win the race. I imagine they will.

Exclusively available through Tonic on Portobello Road, the collection mixes knitwear, shirting and tailoring to create a small collection of classic menswear essentials. It was the flannel double-breasted suit that initially caught my eye, produced in a quantity of only 25 and made from the finest Italian wool. Ultimately with Real Stars are Rare, you get a limited edition piece at half the price of Saville Row off-the-peg clothing.

I chatted with Paul and Phil during the photoshoot to hear some more about their opinions on music, menswear and the city that started it all, London.

Firstly, how did you two meet?

Paul: My son used to skate near Portobello Road at the weekends so I’d visit the Tonic shop then. We got chatting one day and I mentioned to Phil that I’d always wanted to do a fashion line. At first it started out with just some shirts and it grew from there.

How long has it been from that initial conversation until now?

Phil: It must be 4 years. The brand has been going for over a year now but it takes a long time to bring a project to fruition.

Paul: I remember when we made our first samples we excitedly showed them to the team at Purple PR. Reality set in when they told us we could do better! That early shirt looks like it was designed for the Pilgrim Fathers.

How did you start to decide what direction to go in initially?

Paul: I had some sketches as well as a lot of reference material so that was the core of our first conversations.

Phil: Yes, Paul has some excellent sketches and that’s the starting point for most of it. Paul also has an archive of clothing we can draw from which is incredible. We’ll take the initial ideas and then see how we can translate this to the customer. Paul can get away with things that most other people can’t because of his job but also because he’s one of those people you can put anything on and it works. It’s about adapting who he is for a broader audience.

It’s clear that you both have great communication. You’re very direct with one another – there’s no bullshit.

Phil: We both come from similar backgrounds so we have a similar way of talking. When we decided we were going to do something together we agreed to always be honest. There’s no point otherwise. We’ve had a few creative stand-offs but that’s par for the course.

We were talking earlier about how menswear is a bit bloated right now. What makes this brand stand out?

Phil: The bottom line is it’s different. Our trousers say it all. Every men’s trouser today is tapered and rolled up but we have a straight leg, parallel leg and one with a bootcut. No-one else is doing that right now. We focus on fabrics and getting small numbers manufactured in the best factories. We only use British or Italian fabric and to keep that at a reasonable price is tricky but we’ve done it. I think that says a lot.

Paul: Personally I’m bored with the tapered leg silhouette. It’s been around for 10 or 15 years and it is time to evolve. We want to change the direction of menswear a little. I think fit is everything with this brand. When I shop in other stores it makes me realise how our brand stands out. Our price is really reasonable for the quality we’re offering and effectively everything is limited edition. For example there’s only 25 of this navy double breasted suit produced. It makes it special.

Style has been such a huge part of your career Paul. Was that a conscious decision to create an image from the beginning?

Paul: I think it’s a cultural thing, just something I grew up on. I was a kid in the 1960s, a decade when Britain was changing dramatically, and by the early 1970s I was immersed in street culture. Music and clothing were inseparable then. There’s only a few things that define you when you’re a kid and clothing did that for me. It was before “designer” labels became a thing so it was authentic, street-led style I would see. All the fashions I was influenced by came from the kids themselves.

Do you remember hitting a groove at some point and thinking “this is me, this represents me best”?

Paul: It changes all the time as I change as a person. As I grow older I adapt. Where I am now, may be different to me in a year. Having said that, my style has always been quite mod-centric and that’s the core of everything.

What age did you start getting into clothes?

Paul: In the late 1960s I was about 12 with the post-skinhead, suedehead movement. That had a huge impact.

Phil: For me it was going to the football in the 1980s. I used to dress up at 15 and 16 to go to the match and wear my semi-flared cords. I’d see guys at the game and think ‘damn, he’s fucking cool’. At the same time I started to identify with certain brands like Levi’s. It all grew from that.

How did you get into the fashion industry Phil?

Phil: I’ve been in clothing for years and it all started with a part-time job in a shop. I did a fashion degree later on then became a buyer. I worked for Paul Smith for a long time then opened Tonic on Portobello Road.

This location is iconic in the style history of London. What does Portobello Road mean to you?

Phil: The area is obviously where my business is but really it goes deeper than that. It’s home to me. I know a lot of people around here and they know me. It’s my London. It’s not as ‘fashionable’ as Shoreditch but it’s a little bit more old school and I prefer that.

Paul: I love the mixture of cultures. I used to live very close by and would love that fact that everyone is here. It’s a real melting pot.

Do you think London is as exciting as it was when you first moved here? 

Phil: From a clothing perspective British menswear is more exciting than it’s ever been and London is the place where it comes together. There are so many new independent brands, all with differing points of view on menswear. Different cuts, fabrics, ways of manufacturing with the ‘craft’ returning to focus.  I’m constantly finding new things for my shop Tonic. Real Stars are Rare is all about the craft.

If you could give your 18 year old self advice, what would it be?

Paul: Be nicer to people, be kind. But myself at 18 would’ve said “fuck off”.

Leave us with some words of wisdom. 

Phil: Keep it simple.

Mr Marcus Leatherdale, Artist

Hanging with the likes of Andy Warhol, Madonna and Liza Minelli should be enough to keep anyone busy, but during his tenure in New York downtown nightlife, Marcus Leatherdale also documented the scene through his classic medium format photography. Being the partner of artist and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, Marcus landed on the East Coast in 1989 and has never looked back since.

I first discovered Mr Leatherdale’s work through his “Hidden Identities” series that ran in Details Magazine. Before it became a menswear title, the publication was at the cutting edge of culture and photography was it’s pillar of strength. Capturing the likes of Debbie Harry and Jodie Foster alongside unknown characters from Downtown NYC, he found their essence with nuance and intrigue. As a portrait photographer myself, I love to investigate work that presents individuals in a new way, which is the reason these images always stuck in my mind.

Getting the chance to photograph him today is truly an honour. Sitting in the wilderness looking through his archive, it seems more appropriate than ever that the photographers memoirs are being compiled. In the 40 years since Marcus Leatherdale first made his mark in New York, it’s apparent that the significance of the time is as important as ever.

Splitting his time between urban and rural life, I photographed Marcus on his estate in Portugal, a tranquil spot surrounded by acres of forest.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Montréal, Québec Canada. Father of veterinary surgeon, mother a gorgeous housekeeper.

How was your childhood?

I had wonderful parents. Privileged, well-off and an absolute terror of an older brother. We moved around a lot so I was always starting at new schools. There was a stretch from grade 3 to 9 where I actually had stability and three friends that I hung with. Other than that, school was absolute hell.

Do you think there’s anything about being bullied, it being hell that sort of makes you…

Stronger? What doesn’t break you make it stronger? No, I think I could’ve done without it. I don’t think I needed to know how unique and different I was by constantly being bullied for it. I think I could’ve figured that one out without it being smashed in my face. I guess, it did make me stronger, but it got pretty intense. I was taken out of school for it. I remember my father marching me out of school to a psychiatrist because they were afraid I was going get my ribs broken.

What did you want to be as a child?

I didn’t have any goal. I knew I wanted to be an artist of some sort. I was actually suicidal at 15 because I thought there was no future. Luckily my mother was clairvoyant about it and she came home to find me overdosed on sleeping pills. She left the hairdressers with curlers still in her hair to come and find me. I never saw myself as an adult, but now I’m stuck!

Were you supported as a creative young person?

Absolutely. My father never expected me to be a doctor and my mother used to paint and sing. They always assumed I was going to be an artist and they were very encouraging. I knew I’d go to art school – I didn’t have to fight to not be a lawyer.

Did you always know it would be photography?

I didn’t even know what photography was. I went to École des Beaux-Arts, as a fine arts major. Within a year the Dean of the school introduced photography, animation and film — so it took a course in each of those, in fact it went from painting forward. With painting I realized I was impressionistic, and didn’t have the skills to do detail – and when I realized detail was a big issue, I thought why in hell would I spend so much time and energy learning to do detail when I can capture it in a photograph. So I shifted.

Later, at the San Francisco Art Institute — where I went for film, I switched to photography, even though I was an honour student as a painter and actually won the award painting out of my class that year, which was awarded by the teacher who was also a successful artist. He kept encouraging me to stay and paint. I was the only photographer at the institute that would turn up to photography class covered in charcoal. I’ve always approached photography as an alternative artistic medium and I never thought of photography as commercial. I never wanted to work for Newsweek or be a Playboy centerfold photographer. The only magazine that interested me was Interview, but that was an Andy thing.

That period of time it all sounds so organic and natural. Did you consciously talk about work, creating, shoot ideas or did it just flow?

Nothing was pre-conceieved. This was a time for me when my trust fund was cut and I had to get a job so Robert Mapplethorpe and Sam Wagshaft, who had the largest photography collection in the world, hired me. I never discussed things with Robert in detail, unless I had to assist him on a rare occasion on location, for example when we shot Truman Capote at the UN. Working with Sam was amazing as all of a sudden all the slides that were flashing in front of me while I was at Univerisity were sitting in my hards. The Penn’s, the Steiglitz, the Avedon’s. I had to organize then with little filing cards and be placed in a flat drawer. That was a very privideged position.

How did that influence your own work?

It gave me a sophistication. A reference as to where things came from. My inspiration always came from painting and not photography although I always love Sanders and Penn. It was truly Rembrant and Modigliani that impressed me, their use of light.

A lot of your story is about this incredible world you lived in – the people, the places. Did these early experiences like meeting Truman Capote change you?

It humanised celebrity. When I met Capote, I had read everything he’d written and then I met him he was this sad, little old lonely Grandma in a tiny apartment that stank of hard boiled eggs. Also I came to New York with Mapplethornpe who’d photographed my idols – Patty Smith and Lou Reed – both turned out to be completely neurotic and I intimidated them on some level or another. It did make things more real and easier for me not to be star struck. Celebrities know ass-kissers and they can never become true friends.

Was there any memory of New York that really made an impression of you?

I remember one time YSL gave a party for the launch of Opium at the Peaking Yacht and it sat on the harbour with a long runway. I went with Robert and I didn’t own a tuxedo. I was black tie from the waist up and leather pants from the waist down. I’d also just shaved my head which was unusual. It was amazing, we walked down a runway with rose petals all over the place and hooked up with Paloma Picasso and Saint Laurent. That was impressive. I was a punk then so when everyone started to dance I began to pogo dance. It caught the attention of a girl who later became my very close friend Larissa. She was head to toe in gold lame that night and gave me my first experience in a limo when she picked us up to go onto Studio 54. We got shitface drunk.

How did Hidden Identies come about?

I was at the Mudd Club upstairs and I ran into Steven Sailen who was the downtown chronicler for Soho Weekly News. My first picture ever published was a picture of Mary Lou Green who was artistic director of Vidal Sasson. He’d seen it so asked me if I’d like to do the profile photographs to illustrate his weekly articles. It was $35 a week. That’s how it started and continued for about a year until the paper was sold. He started Details Magazine with Annie Flanders and asked me to contribute. There was a Dada night called Underground at that time and I took the gogo cage and made it into a studio for unidentifiable portraits. Dadaism always spoke to me. I almost never went to my Art History class all year and by the end I had to write a paper on the Dada era. I had no idea so took crayons and wrote “Dadadadada”on 20 pages of paper and handed it in. I got an A+ and thought “ok, Dada’s working for me”. After that Dada night of unidentifiable portraits Steven came to me and suggested “Hidden Identinties” There was an understanding that I didn’t get told who to photograph and when it started there was a feeling that if you didn’t know who it was you weren’t cool enough. As time went on it would start being revealed in the next issue and finally came instant gratification where it was written in the back of the magazine. As it became more international it had to be more than just the kids on the tabletop of Pyrimid and more recognisable like Jodie Foster. That went on from’ 82 to ‘90. That helped me to go anywhere. Everyone wanted to be a hidden identity. I turned down the likes of Grace Jones because I knew she’s be 3 weeks late.

Did anyone stand out from you as a subject?

Leigh Bowery turned up in full drag in the middle of the day. He wore a beaded mask, a busier, silver boots and a vagina merkin. Butt naked otherwise. Broad daylight. Turned up at my door. I acually never met him without a mask so at the time didn’t even know what he looked like. He couldn’t have been more of a gentleman. We left together and went down to Broadway and hailed a cab. Two or three went past but one finally stopped. Hailing cabs for these people was the most fun thing.

Did any not make it in the magazine?

We shot hundreds. Madonna and Debbie Harry didn’t make it in. That’s because Detail’s was sold and became a men’s magazine.

How many frames do you take in a session?

About 3 to 6 rolls of 12 per roll. That would just be a warm-up for a digital guy. I use a Hasselblad 500c/m. The only one for professionals.

What do you think makes a great photograph?

It’s an internal dialogue. Showing, touching or saying something. It’s art to me. If I had to pick my five favourites of my own, they would likely not be the famous subjects. It doesn’t have to be who it is in the picture.

What do you think makes you skilled as a photographer?

I think the talent is in the printing. It took me years and years to learn. When I take a photo it’s not just the flash, it’s dodged and burned. I fingerpaint with light. That’s the skill element. Otherwise I’m not interested in wading through the technology to get to the image – that’s just the gesture line in paint. People should just get lost in the image and what it says to them.

Finally, leave us with some words of wisdom.

Enjoy the trip. Enjoy the process. Chances are the destination is not what you’re going to expect. That’s not a negative thing. I learned that from Robert. He was one of the most discontent people but one of the most successful. If you live in the past you’ll live in remorse and if you live in the future you’ll worry too much, so live in the moment. That’s what I’m trying to do right now.

Mr Mikail Uptown, Farmer

When I’m told that there’s a Scotsman living in remote Portugal as a goat herder, with no prior experience, I know it’s a man that I have to visit. I heard about Mikail through a friend and drove with a car full of camera equipment for nearly 4 hours from Lisbon to capture the experience. It’s hard to portray how remote the location is, but just to illustrate, it was necessary to change cars mid-journey to continue on the trail down a cliff face in order to meet him.

On arrival I discovered a haven of hand-made goats cheese and tranquility. It transpires Mikail and I grew up down the road from each other and I left refreshed and inspired by his difficult but rewarding transition from city life to living off the land.

What’s your full name and where we are? I’m Mikail Uptown and we’re in Arganil in the mountains of Portugal.

Arganil sounds like something from Lord of the Rings. What did you want to be when you were a wee boy? I dont really know, it sounds silly but I really didnt know. Now I realise it’s this, I just wanted to live a simple life but I never realised I was always searching. I didnt know till I found it.

How many years did you live in Scotland? I grow up in a small village on the west coast and I moved to Glasgow at the first chance. That when I was 21 and lived there till I was 28.

What has the best moment been so far from being here? The realisation that you can take charge of your own life and live on a small amount of money. A realisation that it isn’t just a dream, it is possible and it doesn’t take much work.

 



What is your average day like? It starts early with milking the goats at 7am and take them for a walk if we don’t have serious work on. I’ll always walk them for an hour or two then clear the forest for an hour or two. Then I attend to what needs doing that day, which right now is the veg garden. Everything needs watered. I tend to make cheese in the afternoon and then collect the goats again if they’re still out.

Do you ever think to yourself that this is like a dream, it isn’t reality? It doesn’t feel like reality but this is real for now. I didn’t expect it to be like this, I’d didn’t expect to have this many goats that’s for sure.

Earlier on you mentioned your “projects”, what do you mean? At the moment we have a guest staying with us who’s a volunteer and he’ll stay for two weeks. He’ll experience life here in exchange for food and shelter, and live our life outside of work if he wants. Whilst he’s here it’s important to have scheduled work and make it more focused. At the moment we’re doing a number of things like cleaning out the water channel after a storm, collecting stone for a patio, making firewood for next year. Tomorrow we have a tree surgeon to take down some dangerous trees. My daily routine is with the goats but lots of other things that have to be done along the way.

How do you connect with people when they visit? Theres a website called “Help Exchange” and you can make an advert for anything. We tend to take people only when we know we have work to do. We turn down more than we invite. We try to scare people off because you have to drive 2km down a bumpy road on the cliff, you can’t just walk out. It’s hard to escape if you want to. We have to be honest about where people are coming.

I understand, and you can say it’s remote but people won’t always fully grasp quite how remote. How did you learn about how to survive here? You’re listing off all these jobs and in my head I’m thinking I wouldn’t know to begin.  Most of them we have had to teach ourselves. That’s another thing, everything had to be done but us. This was 40 years overgrown with brambles and vines and we cleared it by hand with the goats. We didn’t use machines. Peter has a chainsaw but I don’t use it. Basically everything has been done by hand. We started to work and we taught ourselves. You make mistakes, hurt yourself and adapt it. For the big things we read books, we have the internet, any information you need is at your fingertips. We have friends that did the same for us. A lot of other settlers have left already and taught us the wrong way to do things. That’s a positive outcome for us. There are plenty of examples, there are loads of people around us doing similar thing work.

Do you get lonely? I don’t because I don’t feel like I have enough time for myself. There are lots of things I do apart from this. I love music, reading, hill walking, cycling, running. I don’t actually get time to do them. To get lonely would mean I would have too much time on my hands.

Is there any element of you that craves or is lacking an ego driven life? Not really. I worked in a corporate environment for 5 years as a stop gap to coming here so I could save money. The amount of times I bit my tongue and nodded my head means there’s no way I can go back now.

Its funny, the principle of what life is, you’re living it. It’s amazing. I was thinking ‘could I do this with the work I do?’ I could do photography but I’d be missing the community part of showing people the work. Thats the thing, what we do is quite hidden. A friend from Scotland came last week. It was the first time he came and he wasn’t blown away, he was very bored. We were taking him to some beautiful places but overall, he didn’t get it.

Anything you miss about home? Home is here, this is my home. I’ve had so many lives. Some have been short and some long, this is definitely home.

Do you see it that way for a long time? It can’t be forever. The environment is harsh you’re on the side of a mountain. I walk up and down every day and I can’t be doing that forever. For now this is what I’m doing.

Who lived here before you? It had been abandoned for about 40 years and nobody ever lived here full time. It was originally allotments, most people live in villages here. In the past family would have had land like this and cultivated it in the summer. People would stay in the house for a weekend or a harvest but people didn’t live on this kind of land. People in the village think we’re mental. They don’t get. For them if you’re not from the next village and you’re not their cousin, you’re a stranger. It’s that kind of lockdown. They see me with the goats and thats the only connection. Most people here don’t live this life anymore.

Leave us with some words of wisdom? Be tolerant, be patient, be all you can be. My dad told me that when I was younger.