Photo: Drake’s, London.
Out on Haberdasher Street in East London, just a stone’s throw from London’s silk weaving roots in Spitalfields, lies the factory and headquarters for Drake’s. Founded in 1977 by Michael Drake, the company has been handcrafting ties, pocket squares, shirts, scarves, and shawls for the finest boutiques around the world.
Now, on the company’s 40th anniversary, British photographer Kevin Davies goes behind the seams. In a new series of environmental still lifes made at Drake’s, Davies gives us an unprecedented look inside the creative process, showing us the complex craftsmanship of the handmade object—just as he did with his magnificent study of milliner Philip Treacy, Davies, whose work in a similar vein is sprinkled throughout the incredible new book London Uprising: Fifty Fashion Designers, One City (Phaidon), speaks with Crave about his work.
I love that you’re photographing inside fashion houses, and giving people a true sense of the art and the craft that goes into the work. What draws you to people who create clothing and accessories by hand?
Kevin Davies: My interest began when I met Philip Treacy in 1991. Walking into his Elizabeth Street studio for the first time was like passing through a portal into another world. I felt inspired to capture anything and everything: the process, atmosphere, people, even Mr. Pig. the dog.
Philip was happy to work away so there weren’t really any restrictions. Although there were deadlines, time seemed suspended…how long it took to create a hat was maybe not the criteria. Everything was made by hand and watching Philip cut feathers using his eye and thumb to guide the scissors was extraordinary. Each one looked perfect and identical but of course each one was slightly different. It felt like someone had left the back door ajar and I had snuck in. As a photographer I always feel it is a privilege to shoot inside an artist’s studio.
Please talk about Drake’s. How did you connect with them? What impressed you most about their work?
Kevin Davies: My colleague and friend Matthew starting working there. He had approached them when he was just sixteen years old! He asked me to come and see their factory. Beside the beauty and quality of what they produced there was an honesty and integrity. This became more apparent when they outlined a long-term relationship and a brief that was pretty open.
We usually see fashion in its finished state. Rarely do we get a glimpse inside the atelier. How do you think the photograph complements the creative process, and gives us a new way of understanding their work?
Kevin Davies: I imagine to most people haute couture is associated with incredible craftsmanship, fabrics, details, and labor but to see how those garments are created would still inform. To the uninitiated, photographing the process of making a tie with a “slip stitch” (one continuous stitch from top to bottom) by hand would give greater insight and appreciation of the craftsmanship.
I love that you describe these photographs as environmental still life—could you speak more about that? What distinguishes it from the more general realm of documentary photography?
Kevin Davies: Studios and factories are visual places and already have an existing atmosphere. I like the reality and looking for the personal things, like the thimbles made out plasters left on the mat at the end of the day.
I guess placing a tie or pocket square in the environment alters the reality but creates a balance between something “set up” and real. I hope there is a beauty in the images that reflects the quality of the fabric, patterns, designs and craftsmanship.
What are the challenges of creating environmental still life? What are the ideas and experiences you would like to convey?
Kevin Davies: Hopefully the images show a pause or a moment in between the various processes of making a handmade garment. It can be challenging to capture a process that someone has done for many years and does it so fast! Fortunately I can spend several days at a time at Drake’s so the people are used to me “hanging around.”
All Photos: © Kevin Davies. Represented by Zphotographic Ltd.
Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Whitewall, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Jocks and Nerds, and L’Oeil de la Photographie. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.