The name ‘Proudlock’ is instantly recognised among fans of the hit E4 reality television show, Made in Chelsea, and is thus commonly associated with factors that the show brings; fastidious fashion choices, ostentation and exuberantly expensive taste. Often, however, behind the Chelsea socialite façade lies a plethora of raw talent, creativity and a passion for the finer things in life – and no one embodies all of these qualities better than Oliver Proudlock.
Since joining the Made in Chelsea cast in its second season, Proudlock’s individualistic personal style has caught the eye of many a fashionista across the country. Enamoured with his sleek and edgy confidence, his bold statement glasses and his trademark crucifix jewellery, the old Etonian’s fans regard him as one of the show’s best assets for one reason: he juxtaposes cool with classy, modern with vintage and artist with businessman like no other cast member on the show. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that a proud Proudlock set up his own clothing brand in 2011: Serge DeNimes.
Upon hearing the name, Serge DeNimes, a large proportion of the population will stop and wonder, “Who is Serge?” Interestingly, ‘Serge’ it is in fact no one, and is simply a combination of words with vital meaning in the history of denim. ‘Serge’ was originally the name of the sturdy fabric used in the making of denim, with Nîmes being the fabric’s hometown. Serge de Nîmes thus becomes the shorter ‘Serge DeNimes’, and violà; a brand is born.
With his mother, Lena, often referred to as the “Queen of Denim” as a result of her own work as a designer, it is safe to say that fashion runs in Proudlock’s blood. Serge’s first collection featured an infusion of talent from both mother and son, consisting of high-quality statement tees coupled with bold, vintage images from Lena’s own personal photography collection of the Rio de Janeiro carnival back in 1978. Evidently, the relationship between genes and jeans is an important aspect of Proudlock’s upbringing, and something which he wishes to develop further in the future with the expansion of Serge DeNimes.
As a graduate in Fine Art from Newcastle University and demonstrating a genetic fervor for fashion, Proudlock’s creative vision behind Serge DeNimes’ new collection boasts enormous potential. Here, The Flaneur’s Chiara Thomas speaks to Oliver Proudlock on the evolution of the Serge DeNimes brand, the inspiration behind his designs and why it is so important to distance himself from Made in Chelsea when it comes to fashion…
Hi Oliver, thanks for speaking to us. After graduating in Fine Art from Newcastle University, who/what inspired you to turn your attention to more graphic artwork and fashion design?
For me art and fashion come hand-in-hand, I have always been into fashion, and Serge DeNimes has been a very natural progression for me into the fashion world. I wanted to establish the brand by creating one product that I am familiar with and doing it to the best of my ability. Having previously printed my art onto tees for exhibitions and friends in the past, tees seemed like the best place to start. I plan to slowly evolve the brand from tees into a wide range of products.
Your t-shirt designs can be compared to those of similar fashion brands such as Doghouse and Boy London. What is it that makes Serge DeNimes stand out among its competitors?
I think it is very hard in today’s market to create anything artistic that people don’t relate to other brands or artists. We are of course always inspired and affected by our surroundings. However for me when designing I try as much as possible to create something that is on trend as well as stand out as being unique. The main thing for me is to create tees of the highest quality. Aside from the design, for me it is very much about the cut and fabric quality of a tee, therefore I strive to combine this key aspect with unique designs.
Your padlock design tee bears your family crest, and the images of the Rio de Janeiro carnival in 1978 are your mother’s photography. Why was it important to you to keep Serge DeNimes a family affair?
For me a lot of my inspiration when it comes to fashion and art comes from my mum. She is a very talented photographer and for her it is all about style. In terms of using her Rio images for the first collection, it was very much about the images themselves. Since visiting Rio carnival when I was 18, I fell in love with the place and the energy evolved around this infamous cultural celebration. I have always been in love with the images and for the first range I wanted to use images that would stand out, as well as reflect something that I am very passionate about. Then in terms of the Padlock Tee, this is in fact one of our logos. I wanted to create a logo that had a very personal link, and therefore what better than my family crest.
You have previously stated that you want to be taken seriously for your work at Serge DeNimes, and so people must separate Oliver Proudlock the designer from ‘Proudlock’ the TV star. Why do you feel that maintaining this distance is necessary?
I guess I feel that the two our very different projects of mine. They do of course overlap, and I am grateful for the platform that the show has offered, but I very much want to keep the two separate. I started Serge DeNimes before I began filming on Made in Chelsea, and therefore I feel it has its own presence. At the moment I am better known as Proudlock from Made In Chelsea, however when the show finishes I hope that I can then push my image as a fashion designer and I hope one day that I will be more known as Oliver Proudlock The Artist and Designer.
Your products are manufactured in Portugal. Why did you choose a factory in Porto and what is it about their product quality that you felt was right for Serge DeNimes?
I chose Porto in Portugal, as it is a place that I am very familiar with. I have been going there every summer since I was 13. I have friends who are in the manufacturing business out there and therefore have always been aware of the amazing quality of production. I have a close contact that has great relationships with factories out there, which has helped me meet the right one. Having searched for a long time I noticed it is hard to find a factory which can create amazing quality tees as well as prints. The factory we use is amazing, and they create everything in house from the cotton, the stitching, dyeing and finally the printing. Serge is all about the quality of the print as well as the tee itself, and therefore this factory was perfect.
If you could collaborate with any other brand in the world for an exclusive collection, which would you choose and why?
I would love to one day collaborate with Nike to create limited edition denim trainers. I have always been into my trainers, and have a big Nike collection.
How do you manage to balance your time between filming for one of the nation’s biggest TV shows and running your own fashion brand? Which do you prefer?
I do have to juggle quite a bit, and at times I find it a bit stressful, but it is good as it keeps me on my toes and constantly busy. For me it is hard to choose which I prefer as they are so different, but as I mentioned before, Serge DeNimes comes first. I am so happy to be a part of both and I feel very blessed.
Your fellow Made in Chelsea cast member, Caggie Dunlop, has also turned to fashion by creating a brand, ISWAI, which also sells a range of unique tees. Is there any (light-hearted) competition between the two of you?
(Laughs) No, although she is doing tees and maybe plans to go into denim, I think our designs are very different. I am very proud of Cags, she has great style, and I have no doubt ISWAI will go far. However, although she denies it, I do like to think that I slightly inspired her.
The ‘boy running’ tee from your first collection is the most successful Serge DeNimes product to date. Why do you think this is, and will it be reappearing in the new collection as a result of its popularity?
Good question. I’m not entirely sure; I guess the image itself is quite uplifting and maybe less imposing than the other Rio images. I think it is also the colour ways, which work so nicely against the chalk white cotton. Yes, we will be continuing this design into the next collection, along with the Clowns, Girl Smoking and the Padlock Tee.
Which three celebrities would you most love to see rocking Serge DeNimes and why?
Lil Wayne, because I love his music and his unique style.
Johnny Depp, because he is a personal style icon of mine.
Rihanna, because she is a huge female style icon. I am a big fan of hers and I love her individuality.
The Serge DeNimes website states that “Serge DeNimes will be experimenting with denim along with other fabrics, aspiring to be an ever-evolving brand.” In what ways has the new Serge DeNimes collection evolved from the last?
We won’t be touching on denim until 2013, however the new collection is much bigger than the last. We have continued with the Rio range, bringing in new images, as well as designing a cross range, a celeb range, and a few logos tees. We have spent a long time developing this collection, and I am so excited for everyone to see.
Where do you see the Serge DeNimes brand in five years time, and what is the label’s ultimate goal?