A Very Modern Man

Beginning as a maker of models for architects and TV commercials, the tangential career of Tim Soar has been the result of what he humbly terms “moonlighting”. Soar teamed up with the graphic designer Neville Brody to launch the interiors project POST Design in the 1980s and subsequently worked as a graphic designer, moonlighting as a DJ because, in his own words, “it was a hobby that I really enjoyed and getting paid for it was brilliant”. Soar then went on to set up the music consultancy firm CONCRETE MUSIC, responsible for creating the sounds heard thrusting into several of London’s designer hotels, most notably Ian Schrager’s two London projects, St Martin’s Lane and Sanderson, and the Great Eastern hotel in the City.

Today, as Soar sits in the garden of his south Hackney flat, he is a designer – a designer at the forefront of London’s current menswear moment with few qualms about his latest role. “There is a steep learning curve in fashion,” Soar says, “and of all the disciplines I have done, fashion is the hardest because of the technical aspects involved in it. The fact that it is so cynical too – it is brutal!” The feted association music has with fashion makes Soar’s latest move all the more logical.

“Well, I was doing a lot of work with designers who were wanting catwalk music and I had always been really interested in fashion. This idea of doing a fashion label became stronger and stronger by association almost – by association with all of the other people I was working with, who were in fashion.”

As a young boy growing up in Sussex, Soar’s earliest creative memory was his obsession with Airfix modelling. The skills he then learned have carried him through countless avenues of creative commotion. But Soar sees his transition from model maker to graphic designer to DJ to music consultant as an evolution that formed the backbone of his current career as a designer of arcane menswear.

During a time when the stylish appear to be playing extras in a sartorial theatre production, wearing a homogenised costume of plaid shirts and skinny jeans, Soar is reacting the only way he knows how. “It’s fucking hard to go down the route of trying to compete in this whole plane of style without the backing. I don’t think it’s possible for a small designer to be all things to all people.” Soar’s vision relates back to his early days in London, moving to Camden Town in 1978, during the post-punk movement: “You’d missed the real punk nihilism of ‘burn everything’ and got the really interesting bit, so I moved into the music scene naturally. It was a bit less black and white than early punk; post punk was more nuanced. The music of that time was jazz, it was world music, it was electronic, it was early hip-hop – all these different things were suddenly mashing together ... it was the start of the culture we have now where any influence is valid if you deem it to be.”

The influences Soar draws on today have developed from the relationship between the definite and the intangible. Having lived in London at a time when interesting images and photographs were harder to come by, Soar recalls: “You could get images in NME or on the albums you bought and then i-D came about, but now we are at the end point of history where i-D began, which was showing what people looked like on the street. Now everyone is doing that.” The fact that pictures and information are so readily available to today’s blogosphere generation is key to Soar’s design aesthetic. “Paradoxically, because there is so much around, you have to be extremely focused on what you want to say,” Soar explains. “The Tim Soar world is about trying to convey a certain emotion; it’s about having the analogy between esoteric and familiar.”

When working as a music consultant to hoteliers, Soar remains to some extent removed from the process, as ideas tend to be developed over time. With fashion, however, Soar works much harder to make his message understood. “Consultancy is never about making your statement of intent known right away and that is what fashion is about – presenting your statement of intent at a particular time. When I’m DJing, it’s great because you can draw people in that really don’t understand esoteric music and carry them along, so they will go with it next to people who do understand it. That is directly parallel to what I try and do with my fashion, which is to have this esoteric element that is still very approachable and is not wilfully odd. It’s important to be approachable and be esoteric and forward thinking...but treading that fine line is the challenge.”

Although the concept of being approachable is hugely personal, Soar is quick to recognise where his clothes fit in among today’s level playing field of style and the stylish. “I have to sell a particular focused image, which is why I’ve initially worried about generating the image over the sales of my brand. People need to understand the vision among the scene of homogenisation.” But Soar teases that his clothes – from spring/summer 2009’s Hawaiian-print suits to this season’s latex single-breasted jackets – are approachable. “Of course my idea of approachable might be clearly different from someone on the high street, but you have to have a resonance that everyone can understand in some way and whether they embrace it or not, I think it is important that things resonate with everyone. Today men are much happier to engage in fashion. Even if they cannot quite understand it, they will still consider it.”

“For me, clothes and fashion are interchangeable, but what I find really engaging about clothes is the way they allow you to present yourself in a different way and I play with that all of the time.” As is appropriate for such a multifaceted designer/creative, Soar’s own costume changes frequently. “Well, clothes are incredibly powerful in your everyday life and I don’t understand people that don’t want to engage with that,” he says.

Soar’s collections with their esoteric and familiar nuances have created a uniform for a new man, who is able to appreciate investigative craftsmanship and is willing to take the odd sartorial risk. Motivated by a vision inherited from the Japanese designers he coveted when he first became aware of design in the early 1980s – “It was Comme, Yohji and Issey, and then Gaultier was really big in the mid to late 80s.” – the point of interest for Soar was not just the clothing, the fabrics, the button detailing, but the creative prophecy these designers alluded to. He concludes: “They felt like they had some intellectual package or baggage with them. Whether it was deliberate or not, who knows. But that’s what it felt like. I would like to have that with my collections but that really isn’t for me to say.”

As published in B MAGAZINE #1 A/W 2009/10

Tim Soar photographed by Aitken Jolly
Tim Soar A/W 2009/10 photographed by Willem Jaspert