The pop-up concept has become so instilled in the retail landscape now that the opening of a new one in Shoreditch isn’t really much of a surprise – or anywhere in London, for that matter – but sometimes, just a few manage to stand out for all the right reasons. I AND ME is one of them.
After a road trip across Japan last autumn, Jessica Gebhart – who formerly played in an integral part in the successful denim range at high street giant, Topshop – picked up inspiration that we would later see come to life in the AW16 collection of her brand, which launched in 2014. Titled ONE THING WELL, the collection of predominantly denim pieces gained unlikely inspiration from Japanese architecture and life seen from bullet train windows and museums.
“The Lee Ufan museum and Tadao Ando buildings on Naoshima island took my breath away,” explained Gebhart as we met her in the small store on Redchurch Street. “I've never felt so inspired by space before; the materials, the light, shadows, the air, so white and grey and sun bleached, smooth yet raw. Ando’s architectural style inspired the fabric and design of the garments.”
ONE THING WELL embraces considered details and sharp silhouettes to accentuate a direct, driven aesthetic designed to make each piece timeless and signature. The collection is also entirely unisex, which seems quite implausible at first, but the lookbook images put end to any speculation.
As well as the impressive collection of Japanese Selvedge denim jeans, jackets and shirts – our favourite being the raw denim slim leg jeans – premium Italian Merino wool in a charcoal pinstripe and cotton joggers and a sweat have a tactility that really benefits from having a physical store. They feel amazing. The brand’s Essential T reads, in Japanese, ‘TO ME AND I’ – an unintentional play on words when translating I AND ME from English to Japanese.
The space occupies a tiny unit on Redchurch Street, bespoke splattered concrete effect rails – designed and made by Joel Muggleton of Listen Studio – atop its wooden floors carrying the product. The collaboration with Listen also resulted in a lifestyle partnership on a series of concrete-effect resin vessels act to accentuate the space and the collection’s roots.
We sat down with Gehbart to get to know the hands and brains behind the brand. Turning shop girl for the next month, she is on hand in-store too, to explain the makings of the incredibly diverse and accomplished collection that every man and woman needs to know about.
How do you feel attitudes have changed around genderless fashion in recent years?
I think that attitudes have changed around genderless everything in recent years. The fashion industry has been a great voice for this but you can also see influences in the music industry. Creative arts are an amazing platform for political and modern statements. We express ourselves through our arts and this is always a very effective way to have your voice heard.
With the ONE THING WELL collection, you have very much gone with that approach, offering one style of the perfect jeans for both sexes and a very limited and considered collection. Do you feel the market is saturated with too many options?
Absolutely, yes. It is definitely quality over quantity for I AND ME. We offer smaller runs of premium garments. Our customers like that they can shop a more considered offering, it feels exclusive and you can justify the purchase easier.
How long did it take to perfect the offering and launch I AND ME?
Launching my own brand was always my dream so I had been working on I AND ME for a long time before I launched the brand with the first ‘Off Season’ collection in March '15. It took a while to get to the point where I was happy with the concept, branding, manufacturing etc. I AND ME is evolving as we grow and we are enjoying finding new inspirations along the way.
What have been the popular pieces with men?
The Italian Waffle Jersey Tracksuit and Essential T have been amazingly popular with men. Also the jeans. I think the slim leg silhouette has really suited a lot of men, it is comfortable but still defines their shape.
Why does everyone need a pair of your slim jeans?
I AND ME only offers the most premium denim. The Japanese mill that has produced the fabric catches such beautiful indigo casts and that is what has caught our eye. Selvedge denim is of course very special and along with the very versatile slim leg shape, our jeans really tick all of the boxes.
With such a strong focus on details, fabrication etc. was it important for you to have a physical store so that people can see/feel/try on the clothes?
Yes! Customers really fall in love with the clothes when they can feel and try on the product. No matter how great your online content is, being able to talk face to face with people is so valuable. A physical store is great for raising the brands awareness. It’s a very fun process.
Coming from a background working for a massive retail brand, was that experience important in shaping what I AND ME is?
I learnt a huge amount from working in a fast fashion high street brand. From product development to range planning and all the contacts I have made, I wouldn’t be able to be running I AND ME without it. Having said that, it is certainly nice to slow things down and think more conceptually.
Tell us about the pop up, what can we expect?
It is our second pop-up and we are open for a bit longer this time. We have a beautifully curated collection of our very best product and also our lifestyle collaborations. You can expect to leave with some sort of treat for you and your loved ones too.
Words by Mikael Jack
Photography of Jessica Gebhart by Adam Weatherley