In celebration of 25 years of You Must Create, we bring you a special edition Journal interview with Fraser Moss and Jimmy Collins, the co-founders of the brand. Find out more about our 90s origins, Fraser’s encyclopaedic knowledge of music and counter-culture and how this continually influences our DNA, plus what the future holds for YMC.
YMC is recognised as one of the great, independent fashion brands that has come out of the UK in the past 40 years. But how did it all start?
Fraser Moss: I moved to London from Wales in the mid-’80s with no clear plan – just a passion for music and clothes. I made a nuisance of myself, constantly knocking on the doors of my favourite designers. Eventually, I wore down Vivienne Westwood’s son Joe [Corré], and he gave me a job working with his mum. I spent five years there and gained a wealth of invaluable experience. That prompted me to start my own thing, which became my first label, Professor Head. At the same time, Jimmy worked for another brand called Komodo, and we both had the same German agent. So, it’s thanks to him that we met. He knew we were both looking for a fresh start and introduced us. From the beginning, it was the perfect match. Jimmy brought his brilliant business nous and experience, while I was buzzing with ideas, and a concept for a completely new brand.
Jimmy Collins: My parents were in the industry, in retail, with a couple of stores in central London. As a teenager, I had a holiday job on the shop floor. I can’t say I really loved it, but that was my first glimpse into the world of fashion, I suppose. I left school at 16 and worked for about ten years in, what you might call, the corporate world of fashion. Then I met a guy called Mark Bloom who owned a small, independent brand called Komodo, which was a post-rave, ecological street label. He asked me to come and work with him and gave me a percentage of the business. The clothes were manufactured in places like Bali and Kathmandu, so I did a lot of travelling. In fact, he lived out in Bali, so I was really learning about running a small business and taking charge.
What was the initial concept?
JC: Komodo was Mark’s business, and I wanted to take the experience and knowledge I’d gained there and build something new from scratch, something that was mine. Meeting Fraser, and seeing his creative talent and drive, I could see that we could work really well together.
FM: In the early ’90s, the fashion landscape was made up of powerhouse brands that just seemed out of step with the times, and streetwear labels preoccupied with scenes that didn’t interest me. The one thing they all had in common was their reliance on heavy branding. I wanted to create a brand that was the complete antithesis of this – an understated, utilitarian clothing label that referenced workwear and military clothing, combined with the rebellious edge of British youth culture.
And that interest in youth culture extends to music too. Fraser, as well as designing, you’re known to do a bit of DJing. And you have an encyclopaedic knowledge of music. What influence has that had on YMC?
FM: Well, my music taste is very much a reflection of my own experience. I was a kid in the ’70s, a teen in the ’80s, and in my twenties in the 1990s. And those three decades have really shaped my musical tastes – and my personal style, I might add. The youth movements, back then, were very tribal. Each subculture had its own music and a uniform to go with it. That always fascinated me. Bands and fashion seemed inseparable; so it was only natural that music would be a big part of YMC. I’ve been collecting vinyl for over 40 years now. And in the early ’90s, I started searching out old library music LPs. They are the musical equivalent of utilitarian clothing — music made for a specific purpose. The artwork on these records is visually clean, understated and generally weird. They ended up being a big influence on our early graphics as well.
YMC celebrates 25 years this year. That’s a really impressive milestone for any independent business today. What’s the secret to your longevity?
FM: It’s a difficult thing to pinpoint, but at a guess, I would say it’s because we’ve stayed true to ourselves, and we haven’t strayed far from our original path. I sincerely hope and believe this has instilled confidence in our customers. They can see we have integrity, and we are honest —albeit with our faults.
JC: Yes, loyalty with customers has been key. And we’ve always managed to stay positive. In the hard times — and there are hard times — you have to believe and remain determined. And, I always remind myself that I love what I do. I chose this life, so I’m eternally grateful that I’m able to get up and do what I love every day. We’ve also got a great team, which is vital. YMC isn’t just about the two of us.
Describe how you work together. Working with friends can be a really positive experience.
FM: After 25 years, we trust and respect each other’s role. I know I couldn’t do what Jimmy does; just the thought of it stresses me out. So, hopefully, we complement each other.
JC:Actually, we weren’t friends initially. Our relationship has developed in tandem with YMC. And in some ways, it’s like a marriage. But we have become great friends. And we have mutual respect and understanding for what we each do.
How do you keep things fun and fresh?
FM: This is fashion. It shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
Quite right. But you still need inspiration. And to keep developing new ideas.
FM: Afrika Bambaataa had a tune in the ’80s called Looking For the Perfect Beat. I think that idea succinctly sums up my approach to design. I’m never satisfied, and I always think I can do better. I’m obsessed with the idea of moving forward. But I’m also grounded by an awareness of where we’ve come from and what we are.
JC:From a design point of view, it’s all about the new, and Fraser is continually creating. From a business perspective — where I sit — it’s about moulding those new ideas into something sustainable and relevant. And giving it all longevity. So, it’s really about balancing those potentially opposite forces and bringing them together in a way that moves us forward each season whilst maintaining a continuity.
Do you think what you do plays a wider role in society and the world around you?
FM: Well, my creativity tends to be reactionary. I feel you have to upset the status quo to move forward.
What role does fashion play in contemporary culture, both as a mirror and an agitator?
FM: Fashion has always been a mirror to the world. Of late, it has certainly helped change people’s perception of gender. From the beginning, YMC set out to create a unisex brand, which seemed a totally alien concept back then. It’s always fascinated me how a movement, at its genesis, can seem outlandish and anti-establishment. And once it’s devoured by the masses, it just becomes the norm. That’s why being an agitator is so important — without reaction, you don’t get change.
YMC is well known for collaborating with a range of different talent – artists, designers, photographers, filmmakers, musicians, cloth makers, etc., as well as various people you meet along the way with the brand. Clearly, you see collaborations as a vital part of what you do. What do you think they bring to the party?
FM: There are many reasons for collaborations, but, for me personally, there needs to be a genuine reason to work together. And a mutual respect. I like the idea of a meeting of two minds. Both parties bring something unique to the table, and hopefully that makes for an interesting new blend.
JC: Collabs bring new energy, which is important. The other party’s experience allows for something different. They might have skills and viewpoints that we don’t have, for example. We talk a lot about our customers but really what we mean is the YMC community – and that connection. So, a collaboration can be a way to reach outside our own network — and vice versa. If done correctly, it can be a very enriching experience for everyone involved.
YMC is a relatively small business. The staff works very closely together. Do you aim to create a family atmosphere, and is that important to you?
JC: It’s fundamental. It’s essential that the atmosphere is a happy one and conducive to working quickly and effectively together. Like any small business, we probably work in a slightly unorthodox way. Being a small team, everyone’s role is both creative and varied. And you want — and need — that positive energy. We have people from all around the world working here, which is just amazing.
Today, a fashion brand faces a range of existential threats – be it big business, globalisation, ethical practices, new tech, etc. What is the secret to YMC’s resilience?
JC: As a brand, we are not trend-led; we’re not chasing the latest season fashion. We keep our quantities low, and we use quality fabrics. We try and work with the best manufacturers, and as local as possible. We make our clothes to last; the insides of the garments are properly finished, for example. We are continuously reviewing and refining our production and processes to keep ourselves agile and independent.
How does YMC continue to evolve and be sustainable?
FM: The fashion business as a whole has a big responsibility, and we are very conscious of our effect on the planet. We try to do as much as we can to lessen our impact on the biosphere. We work with small European factories using organic fabrics and use natural biodegradable packaging wherever possible. But beyond this, I think our sustainability really comes from our design ethos of creating timeless clothing that attempts to avoid trend-led fashion. This, of course, makes us niche. But it also gives us resilience.
How has both YMC and the industry changed in the past 25 years?
JC: There were no mobile phones when we started! The tech back then was the fax machine. Seriously, though, the business works completely differently now. When we started, our model was a wholesale one; we’d design a collection and then sell it in to retailers. But, in fact, we opened our first store 20 years ago, and today we can sell directly to our customers through various digital platforms, so that’s hugely different.
Can you name a garment from the last 25 years that encapsulates the spirit and values of YMC?
FM: For me, it’s less about one individual piece and more about how we’ve, hopefully, helped develop menswear over that time, whether that’s through silhouette, fabrication or just our attitude towards fashion in general.
JC: For me, more than anything, looking back at our archive brings back great memories. Particularly the early days. It’s impossible to choose one piece, but I do remember this hood that Fraser designed. It was really just an add-on piece, an accessory. But it was a real standout piece – an incredible bit of design. At the time, our office was next door to Alexander McQueen’s, and he saw it and asked if he could use it for his catwalk show. There are so many moments. It’s impossible to choose one, but our first collection means so much to me. It set our path and felt genuinely exciting and visionary.
What do the next 25 years look like for YMC?
FM: Wow, a 50-year celebration! I hope I’m around for that. My glass tends to be half full, so I’m always pretty positive about the future of YMC. But, of course, it’s pretty naïve of me to think it won’t come without challenges. I’m hoping, as humans, we’ve learnt a lot about ourselves during this pandemic, and only good will come of this.
JC: Right now, I’m working on living in the present. After this unprecedented last 12 months, for me, it’s about taking one step at a time.
Finally, to help celebrate YMC’s 25th anniversary, we’d love you to complete the phrase “You Must Create …”.
JC: “… an extraordinary life”.