Zoot Magazine had the pleasure to meet for an interview with Laura May, womenswear designer and Drew Down, founder and art director of Insight51…
Founded twelve years ago as a surf brand, Insight51 still focuses today on sports but with strong influences from street art, urban culture and music too. Mixed with a bit of rebellion and colour, the Australian brand is becoming widely exported, as it is now on sale in 28 countries. Laura and Drew talk about the brand concept, their influences and the friendship behind the brand in a cool and refreshing way that takes us on a unique trip into their cultural lifestyle.
Zoot Magazine: How did your position in INSIGHT change your perception of fashion since you started as a designer?
Laura May: Well, I think INSIGHT was a whole new kind of market for me, in fact, it is essentially a surf wear label and it was born from surf, skate, art and youth culture, where as beforehand I came from very much a high fashion background (Laura studied fashion design at Central Saint Martins and worked at Vera Wang before she got signed by Insight). It was a big lesson for me because I had to understand these new markets, so I tried, at the same time, to lean upon the beach, I tried to live the lifestyle and from that I learnt a lot but I have to say it’s been quite easy to adapt to the label because I’m essentially designing stuff I wanna wear, my friends wanna wear and, you know, here there’s the whole beach culture and we live in Sydney, so it’s quite natural for us, therefore I wouldn’t say my perception of fashion has changed a lot.
Zoot Magazine: We like your denim treatments a lot. Will you continue with the surprising and washing treatments?
Laura May: Definitely the denim collection is getting stronger and stronger, I’m working really closely with Drew – he is the founder of the company – and Drew is based in Hong Kong. We work very close with him on all our wash and denim treatments and we’re starting to experiment more and more each season. If you look at the collection, art is such an important thing for us, I mean, across the main denim collections what we’ve noticed is that pigment dyes and pigment printing makes hot denim styles and we’re really just trying to achieve all these authentic trashy looks with cool dying and bleaching. We´re just trying to have fun with it, we wanna be taken seriously as a denim label but at the same time, art is what drives us so, we’re just trying to combine authentic denim principles along with art, that’s kind of the way we’ve been working around the collections.
Zoot Magazine: What can we expect for the next season?
Laura May: For Autumn/Winter 2011, I just created a full holiday collection. We basically got a kind of punk influence going through it so personally I adore it, its my favourite collection so far! We continued the holiday trend throughout and added a little bit of dirty trailer trash style and had a little fun with it. In terms of prints and stuff we’ve got neon checks and stripes and really tough denim with shear linings and beautiful new chunky knits coming through and also many Moho hairs and crushed velvets. We’ve been experimenting with luxury fabrics and then kind of pairing it back with trash denim.
Zoot Magazine: What inspires you to create a new collection?
Laura May: Usually music, because it’s such a huge starting point for me. For this collection I was listening to Sonic Youth, The Clash, Sex Pistols, bands that have all that punk influence. I also spent about three months in London, so the city’s big punk movement was also a big inspiration to me. Usually it’s a mixture of music and what we take from our trips. Before each season we usually go to Bangkok and we do all these vintage market fairs, and then I’ll just go to Tokyo to see what is happening on the streets and it´s great to come back to these collections with such great inspiration. I also get a lot of amazing books and with that and what I´ve been seeing on the streets , I come back and kind of piece it all together and then the artistic direction naturally evolves from there. Finally, of course, trends are the big influence.
Zoot Magazine: If we check your iPod what kind of music will we find?
Laura May: A little bit of everything. I like a bit of old school, I do love my Janis Joplin, my Jimmy Hendrix and my Johny Cash but then, like I said, I’ve been listening to a lot of stuff like Sonic Youth, Sex Pistols and, of course, I love my folk music.
Zoot Magazine: How did you come up with the name INSIGHT
Drew Down: Basically we came up with a list of names and we all went through it and we ended up liking the name INSIGHT. Actually the name is Insight 51, it’s the result of five friends coming together.
Zoot Magazine: We love your collaboration with artists. Which ones can we expect for 2011?
Drew Down: Right now, we have a collection called “Garage Art” where we try to locate artists from countries all around the world, obviously mostly from Europe but also we tried to get some others from the USA, Asia, Australia or even South America. It’s not a particular artist for each season, it’s a group of artists that we get to know by searching online or just by reading a magazine. When we get the feeling that an artist reveals a similar energy to ours we just contact them, explain our project and see if they like the idea.
Zoot Magazine: How and when did you start the company?
Drew Down: At first we started INSIGHT because we’re all surfers. The thing is we all lived in the city, so basically what we wanted was to go the the beach and then when we’d finish surfing, we’d come back not feeling like surfers. So the idea was to come up with a concept for a brand that you could wear on the beach and come back to the city and still feel comfortable, not feeling like I was wearing something loud or something that was very surf oriented. And I think here in Portugal you can do the same thing. For example, a guy can go to the beach and surf, then come back to the city to meet his girlfriend in the cafe or go hang out somewhere wearing the same clothes and still feel comfortable. So that’s the concept, we try to bring the urban trend to the beach and make the brand crossover to another level, clothes that cannot define exactly who you are. Sometimes people can look at you and think “I know exactly what kind of person you are” and when you wear a brand like INSIGHT they won’t instantly fit you in a stereotype, it won’t be easy to define if you’re really a surfer or an urban kind of artist.
Zoot Magazine: Are you concerned about ecological issues/the environment when you produce clothes?
Drew Down: Sure we are! But I can assure you it’s not easy in this market to create a brand that’s ahead ecologically. We try to use a bit of organic fabrics and in our worktops we use recycled plastic – they are basically 49% recycled plastic and 51% cotton. Whenever’s possible we use it but, on the other hand, every time we try to put on the market pieces with those fabrics, the price range increases and the consumer finds it very expensive. We put tags so people are aware of it, but some of them choose not to buy due to the high price.
Zoot Magazine: In Portugal we have a great surf culture. How do you see your brand position in Portugal?
Drew Down: INSIGHT has never been about the destination, it’s all about the journey. It’s just five friends, coming together, trying to create something that we all feel really strong about and trying to keep evolving and developing with it, at the same time trying to make people more aware of it, and of the art through all the graphics on the designs. We never had this big plan to come out and be the brand on top of the world, it’s all about a journey, friendship and mostly having a good time. When you come to a place like Portugal, you kind of have the same feeling. It’s my fifth time here and I love it, the coast is beautiful and when you do something as simple as going to Peniche to surf with a friend in the winter, you get the same feeling, you look around the empty beach, you feel the cold and the water is amazing, it’s a really special feeling.
Zoot Magazine: If we check your iPod what kind of music we will find?
Drew Down: I’m sure everyone says the same thing, right? Let me see… right now I’m listening to this indie musician, Adam Green, and it’s inspiring. Sometimes we can just go back in time and find inspiration like we did, for instance, with bands like Joy Division, but the refreshing thing is that you can go back and forth and listen to anything to get inspired.
PORTRAITS BY THOMAS PROBOSCH
“UNTITLED” CAMPAIGN 2011 COURTESY INSIGHT