Where the runway meets the street

We spoke with C.E founders Toby and SK8thing (fittingly over email) to learn more about the past, present and future of the promising young label.

In today’s world technology is king. We spend nearly every waking hour plugged into one device or another. We are a connected generation who are consuming and producing information at an alarming rate. This has brought incredible new opportunity to countless people but is also completely reshaping society. It’s still too soon to see what the future truly holds, but on many levels things are just as frightening as they are exciting. In fashion production we are now moving towards wearable tech devices that are both functional and aesthetically pleasing. Scientists are constantly developing new fabrics that are stronger, lighter, better than their predecessors, while at the same time we have groups of craftsmen dedicated to preserving the artisanal ways of old.

And then there’s C.E (cav empt). The Tokyo-based brand with a London influence presents itself as a uniquely self-aware entity in the fashion landscape. Founders Toby and Sk8thing have ostensibly found a way to at once tap into the currently cultural zeitgeist while creating classic and timeless garments that speak to the interests of the modern day streetwear enthusiast. Referencing a range of now-vintage .com boom era imagery, C.E mixes iconic Japanese streetwear garments with an ideology that reminds us of our precarious and perhaps dangerous relationship with the digital. Though our minds and lives may now live in the cloud, the physical world is still a place where we must continue to exist.

Many C.E graphics steer towards vintage tech imagery. Can you tell us about the importance of that iconography to you and the brand? 

It can be hard to picture the present. Technology is so important to people and it changes so quickly—I think that’s one place you can recognize the present with a little shock. Even slightly old technology looks totally bizarre when you look at it now. Nostalgia is a fantasy of the past—the present can feel less magical, but we’re trying to work on that.

Do you feel the craftsmanship in garment making has been lost to machines in some ways?

Not really, just to economics. Sewing machines are hardly new technology, but a global system depending on huge factories filled with workers using them in countries with a much lower cost of living than the end market is more recent. Craftsmanship is not something that really makes sense in the context of what the majority of people are looking for from clothes. To the extent that it remains it is something exotic for those who can afford to pay for it.

You’ve featured British musicians such as Zomby or D Double E and had one of (was it the first?) your first showings at London trade show Jacket Required, yet the brand is Japanese-based. Tell us about how the two differing locales of London and Tokyo play into the brand as a whole. 

I am from London and THG is from Tokyo. Each of those places is important to us both. As far as London goes THG’s always had his own vision of it as a mystical place that’s important as a generator of youth culture—it is a mostly symbolic place for him. I think that creating an image of what’s going on in London based on what you can access while living in Tokyo is an analogy of how we work in general. The brand is a kind of an ideal reality, too. Putting together music and clothes is an obvious part of that.

How do you view the Japanese fashion scene today? Do you feel the youth is more focused on their online persona than the streets?

It might be the case that the Japanese thing of a wide range of people being so into clothes is a trend of the past, not some fixed feature of our culture. Lots of people of all ages are still really into clothes here, but there was a big spike of interest at a certain point and that didn’t pass down to the next generation on the same level.

People didn’t have any online persona to think about back then so that is something new. I think you could say that people’s perception of how much they can afford to spend on clothes has changed now that everyone also has to spend so much on their phones, etc. I think expensive clothes are generally less desirable to youth than they were in the past, so in that way, yes.

It’s not really possible for small independent businesses to make quality clothes at cheap prices… That creates a favorable situation for the big corporates and, in comparison, everything else is marginalized.

Do you feel C.E is representative of the current Japanese fashion scene?

We hope not!

What did you learn working on BAPE and Billionaire Boys Club that you brought to C.E? 

So much. The best part of that experience was to be in a group of people just doing what felt right to them and seeing it be accepted and appreciated, even by people on the other side of the world.

In a previous interview, Toby mentioned that opening the BAPE NY store was integral in integrating the brand into the U.S. market by sort of establishing a reception desk to America. How do you approach overseas markets with C.E?

We’re trying to make stuff as accessible as we can—without changing what it is. It’s not easy. Tokyo is quite isolated, which can be good and bad.

Are there plans to open C.E retail at home or abroad? What would these shops look like?

We’d like to at some point. It would be an opportunity to make an interesting space. The ideas for what that might be change every time we think about it. We’d like to concentrate more on our online store at the moment. That’s important to us as a way of communicating what we’re doing.

Video is an important method of communicating C.E and nods towards the ‘90s and early 2000s in terms of aesthetic—a sort of period associated with optimism in technological progression. Do you feel the internet was better back then?

No, the internet’s clearly better now because it’s bigger—that seems to be what it wants. We aren’t nostalgic. Right now, more than ever, we are surrounded by ever greater numbers of images from various points in the past all flashing up without much context. When or where something was made is less important. It’s interesting to try to look at some of the stuff that’s mundane now from the perspective of when that would still have been science fiction—just another way to feel the present.

The spread of information is so rapid; anything good does not remain a secret for long. I.e. back in the day a BAPE logo was the sign of a like mind, but today “cool” travels so fast—these symbols are much harder to place. What are your thoughts on this statement?

I think we might overestimate how many people are aware of something because of the way social media likes to quantify. It’s easier to analyze trends now. It’s a bit of an illusion that people access a lot more information now, but there’s so much noise and false information too. There’s more marketing and marketing is more efficient. Things get buried very quickly in the pile and it’s surprisingly hard to search for stuff that’s a little old.

But, the idea of ownership of information has got weaker. Copies are as good as the original as far as information is concerned. As soon as it’s out there it belongs to anyone who wants it.

How important is the internet for the business side of C.E? Can you imagine the days where offices didn’t even have computers?

I don’t think many people—in the developed world at least—manage to do any business without using the internet constantly. People used to spend a lot of time on the phone back then. Faxes. Everything happened a lot more slowly. Personal connections were probably more valuable.

Do you pay attention to what people are saying online about the brand?

Only the good stuff.

You’ve worked with Oliver Payne on both graphics and film, what drew you to his work?

He’s a friend and the main thing about working with anyone is that you can communicate with them. Oliver has a totally inspiring way of looking at things. He can make you see something that’s kind of faded into the background in a totally new way. We aspire to do the same.

Do you have personal interest in video games?

I used to love them but had to stop years ago, because I get obsessed and it takes up a lot of time. THG is saying that he wants them all, but he hasn’t been keeping up, either.

Do you have interest in Bitcoin? Can you see C.E dealing in crypto-currency at any point?

I read a lot about it a couple of years ago—I thought was an interesting story. The identity of the original programmer is secret, etc. I only wish I’d bought some when they were cheap.

We’re one year away from 2015. Do you think we’ll see hover boards by then and if so, will you be riding one?

No. If they ever happen, of course.

Music is an important influence on the label. What are some favorites of late?

We’re constantly excited by new music… It can be new to the world or new to us—the internet makes the difference smaller. But it changes. This is an everyday thing for us—listening, finding new tunes—so it’s hard to pick preferences. But, Actress’s new album is good.

How do you feel about today’s musical environment with regards to music streaming/downloading and services such as Spotify?

Music seems indispensable in modern life, which is something we’re pleased about as music people. It’s good that music has managed to remain the key content on all of these devices we depend upon. How that gets to people doesn’t seem like a big thing… We still buy records, and we download songs.

To enjoy the entire editorial be sure to pick up issue eight of Highsnobiety magazine at our online store.

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