40 Years of Punk: Sir Tom Baker × Converse

Wonderland meets classic British tailor, Sir Tom Baker to talk about his Converse collaboration.

Doing it the old school way, Tom Baker learned classical tailoring whilst working his way up the ranks at Saville Row and ended up constructing bespoke suits for the creative elite ever since 1996 when he opened up his shop on D’Arblay Street in Soho. Each suit he makes is cut, sewn and impeccably finished by hand. His style is dapper and English with a punk edge, making him the go-to guy for Brit-rock elite such as Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, Noel Fielding, Liam Howlett and Keith Flint of the Prodigy as well as Glen Matlock of the Sex Pistols. It would be a good time to mention that he too looks like he could be one of this set with bleached hair, a silver earring and a sharply fitting suit.

In celebration of 40 years of punk style, Converse, the American sneaker brand synonymous with alternative culture, have asked Sir Tom Baker to collaborate with them on a collection of shoes. He’s taken their iconic CTAS ‘70s and flipped them back to front, featuring the lacing at the heel and butt-stitching down the length of the foot, adding to others a mohair toe-cap and premium leather laces. These are Chucks that have been modified so you can wear them on a dress-up occasion – preferably with sleek tailoring.

You’ve been tailoring for Britain’s creative-elite for decades – great characters, such as John Cooper-Clarke, Robert Plant for his son’s wedding… Can you tell us the most interesting, strange or memorable job that you were commissioned to do?

There have been a few, including an alteration to Barry Manilows John Lennon style cap backstage at the 02. A call to my mobile from Steve Jones (Sex Pistols) inquiring about clothes on Glenn Matlocks recommendation. He got told to get lost because I thought it was a hoax! But the best one is the jacket I made for a drag queen dancer from shower curtain material (remember the ones with the fish on them?) He went to Ibiza for a competition and got so dehydrated with this thing on that he fainted on stage. Poor sod…

Your shop has been based in Soho since 1996 – how have you seen Soho change?

It is very much that usual thing, the style is the same only the fashions have slightly changed. By that I mean there is still plenty of seedy stuff if you look for it (I’m happy to recommend!). So all this moaning and groaning about how it is changing is rather tedious. It has actually got a hell of a lot more going for it now in general and I am happy for it to evolve because otherwise areas just stagnate. So, still plenty of action – it just simply depends on how you view it.

Hurrah to that! Do you think people’s dress sense has changed for the better or worse over the years?

I think there has been a polarization in style in general, the two sides being
an American type interference – trainers, sweat pants, duvet jackets, general laziness, sartorial malaise and crappy dress down Friday culture! On the other hand you have got a whole generation of snappy dressers, often of the younger generation which is great. They want to look dapper and sharp. I find this most reassuring and like the importance being attached to footwear, definition of good cut, shirt styles and accessories as well as millinery. Equally you are getting new ideas mixed in with the formal look which I find creative and individualistic. It’s OK to mix the odd bit of casual in a formal look, as long as the formal look is the dominating force.

Who or what did you have in mind when you were designing the shoe collection?

No one really. You don’t want your imagination to freeze over predicting who your audience will be. I set about concentrating on something I truly believed in and felt incorporated great design and spirit. If you succeed with this it will automatically find its target audience by the sheer strength of its content. The Converse brand history is obviously pretty amazing. It is interesting that such a simple concept has survived the test of time. I found it fascinating to be limited by certain design criteria (they have a strict DNA) when designing for them as this forced me to really work within a design perimeter. I always find this type of restriction brings out the best in my imagination and obliges me to be extremely specific as to where to position certain design flourishes. It’s a fascinating process and cannot be hurried. I call this process ‘distilling the whiskey’.

Do you have a preference to working with tailoring or designing?

I love it all. It’s a creative merry go round. You work on making the finished garment and then suddenly you want to start making new patterns and styles. Once you have made the new patterns you want to test them to see if your design ideas are solid. You then change things around a bit because you are not convinced of certain aspects. You then smell the prize, you keep chasing it and then bingo you arrest it! Bang, you’re nicked! And onto the catwalk it goes… The secret is to stay stimulated, challenged and excited. This automatically translates into your design and is sensed by the public at large. It is at this point that you have a healthy commercial circumstance as the public will buy into this secret energy.

What’s your working process like when you get a commission, or if you’re working on a collection?

I work with a team for the most part, but obviously have periods of complete privacy and isolation where important criteria lurking around my subconscious are allowed to come to the fore. I then apply these ideas accordingly with the help of my team. I am also very open minded and only dictatorial on occasion. I am very specific and precise when it comes to bespoke commissions as this is a serious matter involving a big responsibility and the delivery of the exact product the customer expects. There is no room for complacency or error in any shape or form. As for designing collections, my number one priority is to have fun. A happy team makes for a successful show. Everyone it treated equally and has a say in proceedings. We are all equal here!

Lastly, how would you style the shoe?

It looks best in my opinion worn with a skinny jean and a large dose of attitude. Both a punky bomber jacket or a formal tailored jacket will look good with this shoe. I aimed for versatility in its usage when I designed it – as formal or punky as you choose.

Lizzy Nicholson
40 Years of Punk: Sir Tom Baker x Converse

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