White t-shirt stories are…
A series of candid conversations with creatives, uncovering their values and style.
Michael Owen is...
Michael Owen is founder of high-end British fashion label AWR, a brand owned by Michael and actor/writer Ralf Little. North UK based designer Michael launched clothing brand Always Wear Red on Valentines Day 2016. He was advised by fashion-family icon Zoë Rocha in the early days. Zoë is the eldest daughter of John Rocha and older sister of British fashion royalty, Simone Rocha.
We chatted about Michael's four AWR Collections and Michael explained how a single belief drives everything that Always Wear Red does.
Q & A's:
RM: Where did the idea for AWR come from?
MO: AWR was born from my own personal insecurities, not what you would expect from a brand that exists to inspire confidence. We’ve all felt vulnerable, self conscious and introverted. I believe that confidence comes from within and that confidence can be created. The AWR mission is to inspire the most confident version of you by the way our amazing British clothing makes you feel. Being confident is feeling confident. And following on from that, we’re challenging everyone to be confident enough to do what they love to do. People hold back because they’re worried what other people think. That’s not right. We really do want people to do what they were born to do.
RM: So how do the AWR Collections inspire confidence in the wearer?
MO: It’s because you're wearing something unbeatable. We knit in Scotland from less than 9% of the world’s cashmere because 91% is just not good enough. The fibres are too short. And the bridle leather used to make our belts in London is thicker than you’ve ever seen. The belt buckles are forged in the UK from solid brass or solid pewter. It’s all very laborious – a belt takes 12 weeks to make – but it’ll outlast the wearer. The belt is amazing and makes you feel amazing. Everything is Limited Edition so you’re often one of only 9 people to ever own certain things that we do and because some of our London based makers have made for Mick Jagger, Kate Moss and even Marilyn Monroe, the stories behind our collections are unbeatable too. That’s where the confidence comes from. It’s a quiet confidence. Because you know you bought best.
RM: And your personal style; how do you describe that?
MO: Hotch-potch. A mishmash. I’ll wear our Collections – normally a BLOODLINE Belt or a PURE Skinny Scarf and always CANDY Socks. Once you’ve worn CANDY socks that’s it, there’s no going back. I’ll wear one of your Tees as they can’t be beaten but also a pair of old knackered jeans or trainers and an expensive jacket. My approach to style is quite contrary. I prefer your long sleeved Tees by the way. The slim fitting ones. They’re great for me.
RM: Responsible fashion means something different to everyone, what does it mean to you?
MO: Looking the maker in the eye. Checking they care as much as you do. I've met every maker we use. Being based in Newcastle upon Tyne I have no excuse. Our makers are in Scotland, Yorkshire and London. And we are big on the "Buy Less, Buy Better" approach. I've always been like that, craving superb pieces that I want to have around all my life. I don’t use the word fashion because our customers don’t need to be told what to wear. They know their own minds. Oscar Wilde summed it up rather well when he said, "Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.” I agree.
RM: What one piece of fashion advice would you like to give to our customers?
MO: Start with classic, aim for statement. A biker jacket, a parka, a great pair of blue jeans, a fabulous LBD, a fitted black suit, a cool white t-shirt, a pair of DM’s… These are all classics and make a great foundation. ‘Classic to Statement’ means pushing the boundaries. A billowing blood red hank with a black suit can be enough. Or a huge, blood red AWR Big Wing 100% cashmere scarf bunched around your neck when you’re wearing just a T-Shirt looks really unusual – but really cool too. Almost Elizabethan because the scarf looks like a ruff.
And always ask not only where your clothing was made, but ask why it was made where it was made. If it was to maximise the profitability of the brand, don’t buy it.
RM: And you have four Stand Alone Collections inside the AWR brand. Why is that?
MO: Gosh I am not sure. I get bored easily; maybe that’s it!
PURE is our Signature Collection. Red or black scarves, hats and sweaters knitted from the world's best 100% pure materials. For people that adore confident and simple design made beautifully well.
Always Wear Red Pure Collection
CANDY collides our signature blood red with four standout colours. Classy, clashy overlong scarves and socks and 100% cashmere sweaters. This collection is for confident people that want eccentric, bold design and luxury too. So many brands think that using the world’s best cashmere is enough, and their design is just so boring. Ours isn’t.
Always Wear Red Candy Collection
IN BLOOM is blood red cherry blossom embellishing beautifully pure 100% organic cotton t-shirts and Merino wool sweaters. This is the perfect classic-to-statement range. Dumping the shirt and tie at a business event to wear a hand embroidered long sleeved t-shirt or sweater is a confident thing to do. And we love that.
Always Wear Red Bloom Collection.
BLOODLINE. Our confident, hedonistic leather Collection, each piece a real talking point that will last forever. We are reinventing classic belts, luggage, bags and carriers.
Always Wear Red Bloodline Collection
The real reason we have four collections is that whilst confidence is the clear connector across all of them, confidence is a personal thing. People want to express confidence in their own way. CANDY shouts confidence, BLOODLINE whispers confidence. Whatever suits.
RM: And what about the future? What’s now and next for AWR?
MO: We launched on Valentines Day 2016 so we are still very young. PURE is quite a chunky Collection, BLOODLINE and CANDY are early stage and IN BLOOM launches in the first half of 2018.
We are designing BLOODLINE Bags at the moment, all with blood red waxed linen stitching and a single, secret red compartment. They’re amazing. IN BLOOM is stunning; developed with Hand and Lock in London, an embroiderer that many consider to be the world’s best plus a young and up and coming designer and embroiderer based in the North of the UK called Melanie Kyles.
We have a Limited Edition run of lambswool baby beanies that we are giving away in winter 2018; that’s just a bit of fun really. They are not buyable so have no price attached to them. The first 20 people to buy anything in winter 2017/18 will be gifted a bright red 100% lambswool beanie.
And in the longer term? Keeping conversations with customers going is the most important thing I think. It’s the best way to learn. That and just doing our own thing. We are different and better – and that will never change.