ESQnA With Guy Berryman of Coldplay and Applied Art Forms

You may know Guy Berryman as Coldplay’s bassist. But did you also know he has a fashion line called Applied Art Forms? During the band’s six-night residency in Singapore, Berryman took time out from his schedule to talk to us at Dover Street Market
Published: 27 March 2024

ESQUIRE: Coldplay is in town for the next few days. Have you adjusted to the time zone?

GUY BERRYMAN: Not quite. Getting there. We were in Manila prior and were stuck in crazy Manila traffic. I’ve never seen anything like it. Have you been there?

ESQ: Once. A long time ago. You’ll need to frame your appointments around how bad the traffic is. But having the concert held across several days must be great for you.

GB: So many people want to buy tickets, which is amazing. So, if we only do one show, a lot of people will be pissed-off. From a business point of view, it’s better to be in one spot for many shows because it saves on all the transportation and setup costs.

ESQ: I’d assume that it’s enough time to get acclimatised.

GB: It’s nice not having to move. I like coming to a place, unpacking my stuff in a hotel room and staying there for a week as opposed to flying into a city, doing a show and flying to the next place, y’know? That’s way harder.

ESQ: You have outfits that you have collected over the years. What is that one piece that you’re amazed by?

GB: I’ve got so many garments that I’m completely in love with. Quite often, they’re 50 or 70 years old, something like that. There’s one jacket that I have, which is a Royal Air Force Ventile parka from the 1950s that I think is just one of the greatest pieces of menswear ever designed.

ESQ: Why is that?

GB: It’s hard to say initially... but it’s the details, really. The Ventile fabric, the fit, the lining... what’s particularly nice about the jacket is that it’s 70 years old. It’s faded and got little holes in it; there’s a certain patina to it that brands try to recreate with their products. These days, you can buy new jeans that are full of holes, that’s been faded... it’s all fake. What I love about the [Royal Air Force] jacket is the way it looks, it’s old and really beautiful. I wear vintage pieces all the time. I love them because they look a certain way that you can only get from a vintage piece.

ESQ: Do you think, in this day and age, that it’s easier to buy vintage pieces or harder due to fast fashion?

GB: I’m somebody who buys mostly old clothes. When I go to a different city, I don’t head to the luxury retail experiences. I go for the flea markets, the antique shops and the charity outlets. That’s where I’d find the things that I like. I do shop from Dover Street Market but I’ve no issue with wearing secondhand clothes at all.

ESQ: Was your T-shirt, “Love is the Drug” inspired by one of Roxy Music’s songs of the same name?

GB: Actually, that was just a coincidence. The phrase has nothing to do with Roxy Music. So, we do all of our own screenprinting by hand at our [Applied Art Forms] studio. Somebody in the team said since Valentine’s Day is coming up, we should make a special Valentine’s Day T-shirt. I was thinking about what can we do that isn’t super cheesy like a heart or the kind of typical imagery associated with Valentine’s Day. I kinda thought that “love is the drug”. It kinda had that slightly edgier feel to it. I wrote “Love is the drug” on a piece of cardboard with a pink marker. I let the paint run down a little so that it looked cool. We photographed it, screenprinted about, I think, 50 T-shirts and put it up for sale the next day. When it was sold out, we kept getting e-mails from people wanting to buy it. After a while, we kept printing and making more of them. Then, Chris [Martin] wore it, which led to more people wanting it. So, here we are two years later still with “Love is the Drug”. (shows a T-shirt from the rack) We have a version only for Singapore. This is a black on black T-shirt. But, yeah, “Love is the Drug” has nothing to do with Roxy Music.

ESQ: Has Roxy Music contacted you about the phrase though?

GB: No they didn’t. I mean, I don’t know what the IP rules on this are like. I’m not sure. Actually, the phrase I meant to write was “Love is a Drug” and I wrote it wrong. The “just say yes” portion of it has to do with this 1980s anti-drug campaign in the UK... no, wait, it was an American campaign to stop kids from taking drugs and the campaign slogan was “just say no”. So when I wrote, “Love is the Drug”. I changed and added “just say yes” to it. So, that’s how it came about.

ESQ: Will you do more slogan T-shirts?

GB: For me, my real passion for the brand is outerwear jackets. So whenever we launch a new collection, it’s always built around my ideas for the jackets that I want to make. Most of the time I just wear plain T-shirts... that’s just how I like to style myself. But, of course, graphic T-shirts are what the public wants so we always offer a few different graphic T-shirts. Some are sometimes photographic-based. We do a lot of handwriting or stencilling. “Love is the Drug” is a nice phrase and I don’t think I’m going to introduce another kind of slogan anytime soon.

ESQ: You have a studio in Amsterdam. What does that do for you, creatively as an artist?

GB: My partner, Keishia [Gerrits] is Dutch and so I was spending more and more time over there visiting her family. I fell in love with Amsterdam. It’s just such a wonderful city and it made sense to move there. I’m now a full-time resident of Amsterdam. As a city, culturally, it’s very diverse. The centre of the city looks the same now as it did hundreds of years ago. I always think that it’s very beautiful. But there are a lot of creatives in Amsterdam. Many talented people, like musicians and designers. There are incredible restaurant tours there. The city changed a lot even in the last five years since I’ve been there.

ESQ: Hannah Martin is your partner for your jewellery line, A Vanitas and your meeting with her was serendipitous. Do you like collaborating with other people?

GB: I do. Collaboration is such a big thing these days. I feel almost every day you’re looking on social media or whatever and you’re presented with news of a new collaborative product. When the idea of collaborations first started happening, it was interesting but now I kinda see it for what it is... which is just a big marketing exercise. where big brands are saying, you take some of our customers and we take some of yours. That’s what collaboration these days are like. But the collaboration between Hannah and I was not about that. It was just this very chance meeting. We’re two small brands so our collaboration isn’t gonna move the dial for either of our businesses. Our partnership came about with a focus just purely on the product and the designs that we came up with.

ESQ: What’s next on the collaboration front?

GB: The most sensible collaboration would be with a footwear brand. Applied Art Forms don’t do footwear. For a small brand like us to go into footwear is quite challenging because the minimums on shoes are very high and you have a range of sizes for them. What would make more sense for us, is partnering with an established like-minded footwear brand for shoes. That would probably be my next logical step for any kind of collaboration.

ESQ: You mentioned there was a steep learning curve when you first created Applied Art Forms. Is it easier now? Or do you still find it challenging to sustain it?

GB: No, I love it. I’m very passionate, very driven about design. I’m always full of ideas so it is never an issue to realise them. I mean, we did launch the brand at the start of the pandemic; I was living in the UK at the time and the studio was in Amsterdam. So when the lockdown happened suddenly, I couldn’t go to the studio to work. Very quickly, we had to come up with a new way of working, which was, as you know, would be Zoom calls.

I’d be at home talking through the screen with the team in Amsterdam. We’d have an open Zoom meeting for half a day. If a prototype came in, they would hold it up and try it on. I’d look at them saying, no, the shoulders need to be wider, that needs to be longer, y’know? It’s not ideal but it works. Now, I’m on tour and it allows me to come to places like Singapore and speak to you. That’s helpful for the brand. But I can jump in on a Zoom meeting any time because we have the remote working method really dialled in. Eventually, when I move to Amsterdam, it’ll be fantastic because then I can cycle to the studio every morning and be together with the team. This would be much more productive.

ESQ: What about scalability? How do you navigate that and try to stay true to what you’re doing?

GB: We’re always going to stay true to what we’re doing. Of course, we needed to grow and we needed to scale a bit but I definitely don’t want to turn [Applied Art Forms] into a huge mega brand. It’s always about product quality. It’s about building a community around the brand who understands where I’m coming from. And for me, that’s all it needs to be.

ESQ: We’re curious. Your jewellery line with Hannah is about the memento mori trope (“remember that you’ll die so do all you can in this limited lifetime”). Whereas Applied Art Forms is about the longevity of clothes. What does time mean to you?

GB: It all stems down to trying to leave your mark on the world. If you make something which isn’t very good, or if it doesn’t last a long time, it will disappear. I guess it’s kinda the same way when you make music: you’re trying to make songs that will have an impression on the world. And it’ll still be playing after you’re done. For instance, (points to a jacket) that denim chore jacket there... it’s a beautiful Japanese selvedge denim and this is fantastic in the way it’s put together. Somebody like me could go to a vintage store and find this jacket because it lasted that long. But not only that, it will look so beautiful. It will have faded and there might be some holes in it but it’s going to look beautiful. I always want to make meaningful things whether that be music or clothes or jewellery. It has to be something which will stand the test of time.

Photography: Jaya Khidir

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