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Men in Black: Beat Poet

We live our lives in black, but it doesn’t mean we have to be boring. Luckily, local designers Edward von Bertouch and James Johnson of Beat Poet are making sure of that. With each collection, the label combines a structured, tailored aesthetic with a sharp minimalism in a way that makes something about their designs inimitable. There is an energy in their collections that transcends the local space, giving their garments an international feel without compromising wearability in our unique climate. If there is a brand basic in a young Sydney man’s wardrobe, it's Beat Poet. With the seasonal shift in fashion from sweaty to chic, it seemed timely to catch up with the guys that are responsible for decking out the dashing beaus of our fair city.

Tell me how you got into designing?
Ed: I was increasingly interested in design and the business of fashion throughout my undergraduate degree at Sydney University. It was probably a chance to meet and talk with the late Mark Keighery that cemented my fascination with the industry and prompted me to enroll in the Melbourne School of Fashion following graduation.

James: I studied art in high school and went straight to design school when I finished that. The plan was to become a graphic designer and collaborate on a few cross-disciplinary side projects from time to time but I quickly got bored with the limitations of that path.

Was fashion always the only path for you, and if so, how did you know?
Ed: Not necessarily - it was more the concept of creating something of value through ideas that appealed to me as opposed to fashion itself. So I suppose the creative industry was the only path for me, something I knew after spending a couple of years at university studying more traditional vocations. While I enjoyed them, they didn't hold the same potential as
fashion and other creative pursuits.

James: When I was growing up, I resented 'fashion' and couldn't believe that my sister would waste her birthdays asking for clothes as presents. Living is Sydney where beach/street culture dominates, it's not surprising that I didn't look to fashion for inspiration. I know that for a long time I felt as most men do, that clothes have to be comfortable and anonymous
in a sense, for the emphasis of life is what you do, not how you look. But then I realised that life is too short not to put your stamp on everything that surrounds you. Nothing should be compromised, everything you do, own, wear, listen to etc.. should be an extension of your world and your vision. Clothes really are the furniture of the mind. When I came to this
conclusion, suddenly clothes took on a new importance and through punk's DIY approach as well as a growing awareness of the 'new wave' of menswear in Europe, I realised the massive undercurrent of tradition and evolution in menswear that gives it an authenticity beyond the fickleness of 'fashion' which I still distrust.

What is your earliest memory of taking an interest in fashion?
Ed: When I was 5 or 6 I vehemently refused to wear anything corduroy (or "stripy pants", as I called them). I already knew it was my least favourite fabric, most likely due to my association of it with conservative and most-likely elderly wearers.... I still don't like it.

James: When I was a kid I was always designing things and demanding that my dad make them for me. There were countless series of toys being made as well as masks, puppets and costumes. I would rarely spend a day out of costume when I was a kid. I especially liked dressing in a suit and carrying a briefcase, pretending I was going to work with dad. I liked to
demand the impossible because I always believed that if you really wanted to make something you could find a way through tinkering and re-designing.

What was the initial idea behind Beat Poet? Where did the name come from?
'Beat Poet' is a blank slate. We liked the dynamism of the two words both visually and phonetically, the broken symmetry and the action. We stumbled across the two words in the flyer for a fantastic minimalist musical that we saw called the Black Rider, co-written by William Burroughs and based on the old Faust story. We relate to the intuitive experimental approach of the Beats but they have nothing to do with the brand. The brand was a project based on our needs at the time for simple, modern menswear at an accessible price-point that avoids explicit branding and is based on meticulous cuts. A very product-first based approach with honest pricing.

Who is the Beat Poet man?
Someone who has his own self-evolved style and ignores trends. He only parts with his hard-earned money if he truly relates to the garment and the brand. He aims only to please himself.

Tell us about your Zero Form collection? What inspired it?
The collection is inspired by the manifesto of Russian painter Kaizimir Malevich, who wanted to see art return to its essence of pure geometry and separate from the 'real' world; we are trying do the same with the garments. The winter range is further inspired by zen and architecture.

Tell me about the location for your AW10 look book? Did you feel that the location mirrored your designs?
The winter range was very much about concrete, Brutalist architecture and zen simplicity. The tension between structured and unstructured order and collapse is present in the range. We wanted to use a Brutalist building as a backdrop for this as they are monumental structures based on hard geometry and an uncompromising raw concrete finish. At the same time, the
natural environment leaves its mark on the weathered concrete and the surface itself bears the wood-grain of the formwork. In this way the structure is both modern and in tune with nature, an ideal backdrop for this range.

What place does colour have in your ideal wardrobe?
James: I believe the only colours that should be present in modern menswear wardrobe are neutral colours. The focus should always be on cut, fabric and texture, in that order. Colour is an unnecessary and distracting element. It has its place in art, not on the body. I feel the same about graphic prints; save them for the gallery.

Ed: I tend to wear more colour than James does (as you'll pick up from James' answer!), although I like to confine it to accessories and shirting.

What has been your most memorable moment since the label’s inception? How did this moment change the way that you work?
Ed: For me, the most memorable moment was our first individual show at Rosemount Australian Fashion Week at the beginning of last year. It was a last-minute decision to be involved, and it was the first time that I've experienced a large group of people willing and ready to help create whatever it was that we envisioned. After spending a good few years
struggling with makers and patterns to achieve exactly what we were after, this was the polar opposite experience. It's impact on the day-to-day running of Beat Poet was minimal, however it breathed a new energy and optimism into the label.

What does Sydney fashion mean to you? How is it reflected in your designs?
Ed: The most relevant aspect in Sydney or Australian fashion to Beat Poet is the comfort of the garments - although this is probably something men seek in fashion globally. It's particularly important here due to our hotter climate though, so we are always seeking to offset a well-cut garment with the appropriate fabric and feel for the season. Sydney fashion is still far too casual in appearance for me though, and I hope that more Sydney men will realise that you can still dress sharply without sacrificing comfort - a soft, linen blazer in a modern cut, for example, is a perfect option in summer over the usual t-shirt or button-up.

James: Sydney fashion for me is all about isolation. I relate to the designers in Antwerp who have developed their own take on an international style through the peace and quiet and reflection that comes from being geographically and culturally separated from the design

Edward von Bertouch and James St Johnson

words: Zac Bayly


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