Sean Brown, Designer
He’s no music producer, but Sean Brown has mastered the art of the remix. The sartorial remix, that is. The Toronto-based designer burst onto everyone’s radar last year with a line of varsity jackets that challenged the accepted notion that the timeless garment didn’t require any altering. (The trademark single leather sleeve looks like heresy, yes, but stylish-as-hell heresy.) Via his brand NEEDS/WANTS, the 28-year-old makes his mark by manipulating the details of traditional pieces while still preserving the integrity of their age-old designs. Maybe Brown’s never heard the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Or maybe he has, but just doesn’t give a damn.
Can you remember what first pulled you toward your passion?
I would say curiosity. And my dad being an entrepreneur. He was a Jamaican immigrant who was very bold in his approach to just getting what he wanted. Seeing that gave me the idea that you could do anything. And then, during my last year of elementary school, clothing started to matter a whole lot—both for your social group and which girls you could get. I didn’t care about anything else but having the best threads. That summer, Mark Ecko, Karl Kani and all that stuff was coming out. But I started wanting stuff I didn’t see. I thought, ‘Why can’t I get this in that colour or this cut?’ That got me curious. I started sketching clothes and that led to me starting a line in high school. I went to fashion school for a year but I didn’t like the traditional industry format. Again, my dad’s entrepreneurial spirit led me to just thinking, ‘Yo, I could just change the rules and do this on my own.’
What sets you apart from others in your field?
I think we are taking real reference points from culture and trying to make beautiful things for real people. We believe in style in all forms and mediums. We believe in great photography and quality clothing, but we won’t conform to what people can’t relate to or what’s not really happening in culture. Like, we did a shoot at an underpass where one kid had dreads and one had a bandana, but they were wearing the flannels and it was this beautiful portrait. Still, they were inner-city kids and that’s what’s really happening right now. We’re a brand that cares about the street aspect of where we come from, but we also care about menswear, we care about linens. Then it gets confusing: is it streetwear or menswear? The truth of the matter is it’s high-end street culture. It’s educated but it’s from the street. Those two things can coexist. The guy who wears suits can still know some of the greatest rap albums. And the kids with dreads and gold chains can still tell you where to dine when you go to Paris.
Some critics argue “nothing is original and everything is a remix.” Do you agree?
Wholeheartedly. But how you appropriate it and present it is where the difference can be found. That’s why sample records can sometimes be better than the original, you know? But you still need the reference from the original to know it’s a really great record. It’s like how P. Diddy’s “Can’t Hold Me Down” was taken from Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message.” The Flash version was from when hip-hop started out, whereas Diddy appropriated it for where culture was at that time. He put this commercial spin on it where everyone knew it was a sample, but he breathed new life into it. So are varsity jackets new? By no means have we created any kind of new jacket. But taking a different colour palette and stripping them of their logo? I would say that’s a fresh rendition of what people are normally used to. In that sense, that would be our contribution. We wouldn’t know to do that if there wasn’t already a classic template there we could manipulate and modernize.
Sharp & Timberland