Photography / Editorial / Print

Unfolded Magazine were invited to the launch of Earl of Bedlam, an amazing compendium, an eccentric miscellany, of things strange and stylish that divert from the banal, coupled with their own menswear such as you won't find anywhere else. We took time out from savouring the vast arrays of visuals they have incorporated into their delightful shop and spoke to Mark and Caroline, the Earl and Lady C of Bedlam, about their work, life and all things 'Bedlamatic'.

How did you both start Earl of Bedlam?

Mark and I were working for a different fashion company, with me helping out from the West Coast of America and Mark designing from the South of France. We realised we had a passion for creativity (and each other!) and wanted to put our energies into a project we felt we could call our own. Mark has a great mental barn of ideas and we both believe that dressing up and making an effort is the compliment you pay to not just yourself but everyone you meet throughout your day. It's not about screaming at the top of your lungs, trying to get noticed, but taking discreet trouble to stand out from the crowd.
The Earl of Bedlam name came from the English aristocracy, since the world associates them with a certain standard of dress, a Saville Row, Jermyn street-standard of quality fabrics, attire, craftsmanship and finish. Up the road from us is the Imperial War Museum, which used to be the Bethlehem Lunatic Asylum. Over time the word elided into "Bedlam".

The Victoria & Albert Museum website had adopted you as their 'fashion foolhards' - how did this partnership come into fruition?

We proposed to give them a real life account - a "docu-blog" - of what it takes to start up a fashion company from nothing, climbing up one rung at a time. Andrea Carr there was taken with it and gave us a punt. It has been a great boost to be associated with them as there is enormous prestige attached to the V&A in any sense. And now they have such a strong fashion profile and commitment to showcasing designers, witnessed by the enormously successful exhibitions they have curated in recent years around fashion.

The padded wall in the shop, partly obscured by our recently inherited piano (that would be tuned as best it could and played to fabulous effect by Andrew Roachford at the party), is an obvious reference to the lunatic asylum. In a way we are a tribute to what is now one museum (the Imperial War) and have been adopted by another. We've had a few visitors come in and confess they have been resident in the Bethlehem of current days, down in Kent.

Could you describe your AW2011 collection?

It was our very first collection, the tshirts, with images screen printed also on knitwear - cashmere and merino wool - were born from Mark's first love, t-shirt printing. The images are of "Bedlam through the Ages". For the present day, we have the boy soldier of Africa with a Kalashnikov as big as he is; for the Twentieth century, Earl Kitchener with a tattered bandaged finger. He led young men to death in the First World War. The Eighteenth century has an image of jolly peasants, enjoying a drunken whirl before being carried of by syphilis or the plague. On the tailoring side, the pinstripe suit, the showstopper piece, was admired by Vivienne Westwood at her son's fashion show, The Child of the Jago. Mark was wearing it and Vivienne came over to ask who made the suit which was a special moment. We also have knitwear, sketched by us and knitted by a Rastafarian lady called Lesley. The 'Rasta jumper' still has the ends of yarn. We wanted to keep those, to represent her, as it is important that anyone who works for us leaves an essence of themselves in the piece. 

You say fabric is important to you, where do you source your raw materials?

We are completely committed to the mills in the North of England, so fabrics and material are completely sourced in the UK. Fabrics made by English craftspeople are very expensive which is one of the reasons why the mills are in trouble. Designers who can afford them are for example Gucci, Prada and Ermenegildo Zegna (one of the priciest Italian designers in the world). The rolls of fabric we use are woven to the highest standard and extremely limited. You would never bump into anyone wearing that same cloth. On the other hand, we are also committed to showcasing quality vintage and recycling fabrics and pieces in our own style. 

Would you say social documentary is important?

It's very important to us - historical reference. I think it's true to say that whether it is music, fashion or anything artistic; a concept or idea has been derived or plucked from somewhere in the past. History provides you with a fantastically rich store of reference and visuals. Our company logo is Bedlam's vacant cell, ready and waiting for its next occupant. Hogarth did a famous etching of a selection of the inmates.

How are the dynamics of working together?

Living together and working together is never dull. It's intense and passionate: whether we are working in harmony or screaming at each other, you can't have energy without heat. Mark does the drawings and I make the stories to go with them. But the whole idea of Bedlam is that there are no rules, forms emerge from the seething stew of ideas and debate.

So creativity comes out of chaos?

Chaos and confusion is what we are all about. 

How long have you been screen printing?

Mark: About 20 years, the machines are on site. Today we were frantically trying to complete an order for a stockist in New York in the lower east-side, who only sells English menswear. Having the shop helps us promote our work and lets people have a place to come and sit where we can present our clothing to them.

Almost like buying into the brand ethos?

Totally, yeah, although chaos and confusion is an informal description, 'so stupidly stylish, it's insane' is a tagline. I would say it's thought through and not random chaos.

Interview and Photographs: Nardip Singh


As featured in Unfolded Magazine Issue 03


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