Guy Berryman is officially making a move to Amsterdam, the land of Iris Van Herpen and Viktor & Rolf. Best known as the bassist of Coldplay, the Scotsman has been channelling his energy into his passion project for close to four years now – creating timeless clothing that reflects his love for vintage military uniforms and denim through his independent label, Applied Art Forms. The Dutch capital is a natural place to anchor the brand, given its vibrant creative scene and its reputation as Europe’s Denim City.
“I think of myself as being like a clothesmaker rather than a fashion designer,” said Berryman in a sit-down interview at Dover Street Market Singapore (DSMS), where the label has been stocked since Jan 16 this year. He was chatting with us after playing two nights as part of Coldplay’s Music Of The Spheres world tour at the National Stadium, which ends on Jan 31.
Guy Berryman launched his label Applied Art Forms in 2020. The brand is exclusively stocked at Dover Street Market Singapore.
Customers can expect impeccably crafted garments, featuring a simplified utilitarian aesthetic reminiscent of workwear enthusiasts’ uniforms. Additionally, there is a selection of jewellery from the A Vanitas collection, a collaboration between Berryman and London jeweller Hannah Martin, along with DSMS exclusive Love Is The Drug T-shirt in an all-black colourway. Everything is intentionally curated to be small and limited, avoiding unnecessary hype.
“I think that was one of the reasons why I built the brand, and when I started the brand, I almost felt like I wasn’t even allowed to think like this. Because I felt like if you wanted to start a fashion brand, you would have to go to Paris, you would have to do Fashion Weeks, you would have to do catwalk shows. And that kind of really stopped me from doing it for a while because I really am not interested in playing that fashion game.”
Ahead, we dive into a conversation with the man for his point of view on fashion.
The exclusive colourway for the Love Is The Drug T-shirt, made for Dover Street Market Singapore.
Firstly, you must have watched the recent Fashion Week shows. What captured your attention?
“I don’t closely follow fashion weeks. While I’ve attended a few, my focus is on being in the studio, designing, and crafting timeless clothes. The catwalk shows and their creations, with all the glitz, feel like a different world to me. I’m not fully into the seasonal or fashion trends; rather, I’m passionate about making clothes meant to be worn forever.”
Tell us a bit more about your design studio.
“So, there are only five of us in Applied Art Forms, making it a very small team. Our design studio, showroom, office, and stockroom are all in one space on a small island just outside of Amsterdam. We operate a robust intern program, with three local fashion student interns at all times, learning and assisting.
We launched the brand in 2020 after several years of development, starting in 2017. For me, it’s a creative outlet outside of music. Before being in a band, I studied engineering and architecture, nurturing a passion for design and manufacturing. In 2017, I reached a point where I wanted to reconnect with those early disciplines and, combined with years of collecting garments, it led to the launch of Applied Art Forms in 2020.”
Where are your designs made?
“We manufacture many of our garments in Japan, including all denim and pants. The cotton used for T-shirts, jerseys, hoodies, crewnecks, and other cotton materials comes from Portugal, known for its excellent cotton production. Additionally, we produce some woven shirts in Portugal. Our outerwear is mainly crafted in a small factory in the Netherlands. Each production run is small, typically around a hundred pieces per colourway, allowing us to create unique and limited runs. We often number our garments, such as ‘one of 30 pieces.’ For customisation, we may handcraft modifications upon arrival, altering details such as silk screening, button styles, and using patches made from old military stencils. All silk screening is done in our studio in Amsterdam.”
This parka, crafted from Japanese cotton, is based on a 1940s design – specifically, a U.S. Navy gunner’s smock from that era. It was originally worn by the gunner of a ship.
Why Amsterdam though?
“Well, I have a connection to Amsterdam because my partner Keisha is Dutch. So, I used to spend a lot of time travelling with her to visit family, and I fell in love with Amsterdam. I think it’s one of the best cities in the world to live in. It’s beautiful, has a fantastic culture, a great music scene, and a wonderful food scene. There are lots of creative people there. The more time I spent in Amsterdam, the more I fell in love with the city. That’s how I ended up setting up the design studio there. We made the decision a few months ago to live in Amsterdam full-time.”
Do people recognise you when you’re walking down the streets?
“No, I don’t get recognised very often. I think Chris would have a hard time walking around anywhere. But for me, and this is the way I love it, I can pretty much walk around anywhere and do my thing.”
Is the design team fully Dutch?
“Everyone’s Dutch, except me.”
So you’re brushing up on your Dutch?
“I am. But the trouble in Holland is everyone speaks such perfect English. So, you know, when you’re trying to do something very difficult like learn Dutch, it’s made even harder by the fact that everybody wants to just speak to you in English. But I’m determined to try.”
Being an avid photographer, some of Berryman’s shots have been featured as artworks on Applied Art Forms’ garments. One of them showcases a rose he photographed in his kitchen.
How do your archives and affinity for vintage and military clothing influence Applied Art Forms?
“I believe you can examine all the details, and there will be a reference point in the archive for where everything originated. To me, everything in my archive has a purpose. I am particularly drawn to utilitarian clothing because, as someone interested in design in a broader sense, I lean towards the principle of form follows function. Designing something for pure function, without unnecessary stylisation, is appealing. Dieter Rams, who designed for Braun in the 1950s and 60s, crafted beautiful audio equipment by simplifying it to the most minimal details. This philosophy resonated with me, and as I delved into collecting vintage workwear and military clothing, I noticed the same approach – everything served a purpose, with no extraneous elements. That’s why I’m drawn to those styles.”
Pharrell once said he considers himself more of a creative director than a fashion designer at Louis Vuitton. We get a sense that you feel the same way. Why do you think musicians make such great creative visionaries?
“Well, I think to be a musician or a recording artist, you know, you have to think about your image all the time, and I feel like you spend more time than the average person thinking about garments, thinking about clothing. Pharrell is a very stylish guy; he’s always looked great throughout the years. He has a lot of ideas about clothing, how to wear clothing, and how he wants to present himself. He exudes confidence. So, it’s understandable why someone like LVMH would pick him to lead the next generation or phase of LVMH after (the passing of) Virgil Abloh.
The Applied Art Forms studio in Amsterdam is where all of the brand’s silk screening is done.
Strangely, I feel more connected to Virgil than I do to Pharrell’s sense of style. I feel like I share the engineering and design background that Virgil also had. In fact, I feel more like a designer than a creative director in my role. I started the brand to allow myself to design and make garments, but very quickly you realise that when you launch and run a fashion label, so much of your time is spent doing everything other than designing. The latter just kind of gets reduced to a very small fraction of your time, which is something I’m trying to change. I want to spend much more time in the design studio and less time on marketing or having discussions on how to fix distribution. Running a fashion label is a very complex business.”
And you have a very small team, so it’s multiplied.
“Exactly. We have a very small team, so all of us on the team have to wear many different hats. We all need to cover a lot of ground. But the plan is to keep it kind of small. I don’t really want this label to turn into a huge mega brand because what’s important to me is that we make very high-quality garments. And I think when you start getting bigger and bigger – as you can see with what’s happened in the past with other brands – the bigger you get, then you start getting all these discussions about the business and the profitability and all of that stuff. That’s when I feel like something which perhaps once was great can start becoming not so great. So for me, all that’s important is the business runs in a way that allows me to continue enjoying designing and creating.”
The Love Is The Drug T-shirt, designed by Guy Berryman two years ago for a Valentine’s Day special, has become a crowd favourite. “It was supposed to last just for a few weeks, and when we stopped making it, we kept getting emails asking for them, so we kept on making it,” he said.
Do you consider this when determining your scale of production?
“We launch a small collection of new pieces every season: spring, summer, autumn, and winter. There’s always newness in every new collection, but that newness always gets added to existing styles. Some styles, like our cargo pants or our T-shirts, we continue to produce and offer all year round. We have a very big modular parka system, a complex jacket with different liners and colours that you can wear in various ways. When it runs out of stock, we just order more and keep it as an evergreen style.
I feel like fashion is strange in the sense that if you sit down and design something, it’s expected to only have a lifespan of a few months before it has to be sold off, and you have to come up with something new. The fashion world at the moment requires newness all the time. I approach fashion design more from an industrial designer’s point of view than a fashion designer. If I’m really proud of a jacket or a pair of pants that we’ve made, I want to keep making it. I don’t want to tear up the design and rework it just for the sake of introducing something new every few months. It seems like a slightly crazy concept.”
Even if that means getting an offer to collaborate with a big brand?
“I mean, never say never, right? But at the moment, I think it’s just really important that we stay in our lane and remain focused on the kind of clothes we want to wear and make. There are so many collaborations nowadays that none of them feel particularly exciting anymore. I think the age of collaboration has reached its peak fever pitch. Before, it was quite novel when two very separate brands came together to make something, and it felt like, ‘Okay, that’s new and that’s exciting.’ However, with everyone spending their time on Instagram and social media, it seems like there’s a new collaboration every day, and I don’t know how excited I ever really feel about that.
Guy Berryman met London jewellery designer Hannah Martin (right) during a chance encounter at the airport. The duo has since collaborated on a jewellery collection called A Vanitas, which is based on the themes of a 16th-century Dutch painting style called Vanitas.
Speaking of collaborations, I have recently launched a jewellery capsule in collaboration with a London-based designer named Hannah Martin (known for 18K gold body piercing jewellery). The reason for our collaboration stems from a chance encounter at an airport where she recognised my earrings. She asked how long I’d had them, and though I found the question peculiar, I replied, ‘I’m sorry, I’ve had them for so long, I don’t remember.’ She revealed to me, ‘I made that.’ It was strange because I had purchased and worn the earrings in 2006, almost 20 years ago.
I mentioned, ‘It’s funny because I’ve been looking for somebody to help me make some silver pieces, but maybe we should stay in touch, and, you know, maybe we can do something together.’ She agreed, and that collaboration came about as a unique coincidence, as if the universe was talking or something extraordinary was happening, which excited me about the collaboration. It’s not a collaboration in the sense that we’re both benefiting from each other’s audiences, as we are both small brands. Instead, it was a pure coincidence and a passionate collaboration that resulted in the creation of rings, bracelets, and other pieces.”
The A Vanitas jewellery collection by Applied Art Forms and Hannah Martin possesses a punk sensibility.
Which is tougher to create: music or fashion?
“I believe fashion, as a business, is harder. Perhaps it’s easier to create than music. Making music takes a longer time; getting a song or an album from the beginning to the end can take many months or even years. On the other hand, if we’re creating a jacket or a shirt, we can reach a signed-off prototype within two or three rounds of sampling, making it a relatively straightforward process. Nevertheless, fashion is an exceptionally challenging industry.”
In Singapore, there seems to be a revival of vintage clothing or at least a growing trend. Why do you think that is?
“I believe it’s because vintage clothing exudes a certain authenticity. It was originally designed with a specific purpose in mind. When I design, my goal is to capture and distil something that feels authentic –clothing you’d want to wear every day, not just for special occasions. It’s not about following any style trend. This type of clothing is timeless, and perhaps people are beginning to realize and appreciate that.”
Videography Athirah Annissa Video Editing Pang Jia Wei