Cutting it – with Aaron Ray Dowie
Samurai swords and cage fights? – all in a day’s work…
Bespoke fashion designer Aaron Ray Dowie has travelled his own path since graduating at Nottingham and Trent School of Art in 2006. When I tagged him at his South London home, he was designing a suit for Ricci Harnett to wear at the Cannes Film festival – where the actor’s latest movie Breath will be previewing. Aaron has also recently finished a sexy trench coat for Page Three stunner Keeley Hazel.
When he first works with a client like Ricci, Aaron starts off by asking about favourite movies, music, and what other men’s dress styles his client most admires. He will then sketch up some initial ideas based on their conversation and make a 3D representation.
Ricci has been really laid back about the whole process and allowed Aaron to do what ever he wanted to do – although he did ask to include some special features, such as his initials, within the finished design. So Aaron decided it would be a nice touch to embroider these through the end of each pocket – to reinforce them – using the same stitch as the suit fabric. This became a hidden detail which won’t be seen unless closely observed. In addition to this special touch, Aaron also uses knot tying techniques instead of button holes.
This Zen-like approach to tailoring comes from Aaron’s love of martial arts – he is a keen martial arts expert with a particular interest in Samurai – having once taught Samurai swordsmanship. He says that the Samurai code of honour and Zen-like attitude is in-keeping with the “gentleman’s approach”. According to Aaron, it is observing things in more detail that is crucial both in martial arts and in tailoring – the master “shows you how to do something once, then it’s repetition to make it perfect … if you lose your concentration in martial arts you get hit, you can’t afford a break in concentration”. This dedication enlightens Aaron’s approach to fashion design and it was a precept confirmed when serving his tailoring apprenticeship on Saville Row – where he was amazed to learn that a lot of his colleagues were also martial arts practitioners. “Some of the chaps at Oswald Botang are keen martial artists, they like to see that you have studied in this area because it shows you have disipline” he tells me. Since then, Aaron has worked for Charlie Alan, “one of the nicest tailors I have come across” and Gieves and Hawkes – eventually going on to be head of ‘made to measure’ for Crombie, where he learnt “the trade of cutting and how fabrics work on the body, postures and shapes”. As a result of all this training, when Aaron does a fitting he can now look at someone and know their chest size, waist size and inside/outside leg measurements along with how much their shoulders will drop by and if they have got a forward head position.
Aaron’s initial creations were tailored in a layered way – inspired by his beloved Samurai movies, he would overlay Japanese mythological characters onto his designs and recut the seam line to fall in the same direction as their classical outfits. Aaron has always derived a lot of inspiration from movies – his favourite is Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia – and he has developed a whole collection based on the Hollywood cowboy western Tomb Stone, with “a cut tailored cowboy jacket approach”.
Aaron knows all about hard work and graft, paying his way through Nottingham and Trent college by designing bespoke suits and taking part in ‘underground’ cage fight bouts… “no weight restrictions” he says, so he fought everyone from bouncers to martial artists and anyone bonkers enough to do it. In his time in the cage he never once broke a bone, although he suffered an impressive collection of dislocated ankles, elbows and knees.
In keeping with these interests, Aaron proudly strips off his tailored shirt to show me his tattoos. These fabulous artworks cover his upper body and are self-designed – he awards himself a new one each time he wins a black belt, for which he currently holds three – for Aikedo, Jujitsu and Iaido. Needless to say, all Aaron’s tattoos are inspired by woodcuts of the great Japanese artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) who dominated 19th century Japanese printmaking and whose work is currently being exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.
In his 25 years Aaron has come a long way – from winning ‘Audi Young Designer of the Year’ award at the age of age 16, to taking part in his second Alternative London Fashion Week (ALFW) where he won the ‘Best Mens Wear’ award in 2008. He finds ALFW extremely helpful and has received a lot of press coverage as well as meeting many new buyers. “Its all free and the organisers are so helpful, especially Maggie Pinhorn – she is one of the few people in fashion that is genuine and says it like it is” he tells me. As a result of ALFW, his current collection is constantly booked for shoots and as I was leaving Aaron gave me a glimpse of sketches for his new-season collection ‘look-book’… the master Samurai’s cutting edge is as sharp as ever!
Ⓒ Wayne Tippetts 2009