Lui Nemeth and Andrew Grune spend most of their days in a tiny railway arch underneath Haggerston station in East London. The space, which is half the size of most Berlin kitchens, is home to PRIMITIVE LONDON, a fashion and art collective showcasing underground Japanese and British designers. The two are currently preparing for a one week pop-up shop in Berlin, running from October 7-14th at VOO.
I met up with them to talk about the history of the shop and their plans for Berlin.
So neither of you are from the UK. How did you meet and end up in London?
AG: It was just a chance meeting. We were both at a New Year’s Eve party in 2009. Lui was home from London, where she was studying Fine Arts at Central St. Martins. I’m Australian, but was living in Japan. My Japanese Visa ran out around the same time, and Lui and I had just gotten together, so it was an easy decision to move to London
And what about the idea to open the shop?
AG: I wanted to open my own shop when I came to London, but I thought it might be dangerous to do with someone else. But then Lui found a space in the railway railway arch and we went for it anyway.
LN: We opened the shop in February of this year. I had always wanted to have my own space in London to show my own work and the work of my friends, without having to ask a gallery if we could show.
So you started as a gallery?
AG: Yes, but we always had the intention to turn it into a shop.
LN: But we also didn’t want to create a traditional boutique or fashion store. We both have an interest in fashion, but Andrew has a music background, and I came more from art. We hoped to combine all these things into one space.
What’s the thought process behind the designers you choose to stock?
AG: We sell a mix of underground Japanese and London designers. Almost all the designers we sell are people we know, although that’s beginning to change.
LN: We were especially interested in bringing some of the Japanese designs to London. We’re the only place outside of Asia that stocks any of our designers. The Japanese underground fashion scene is quite strong but abroad no one is able to see the clothes, except maybe in Fruits Magazine. Most of the designers’ websites are still in Japanese, so it’s difficult for them to get exposure abroad.
How do they sell their clothes then?
LN: They sell directly to the shops or through people they know. Japan is really behind in internet promotion. Shops rarely have websites, for instance.
AG: You would think they’d be more on it. Some use Twitter or have a blog, but that’s all in Japanese so it never really leaves Japan.
And the London designers you carry?
AG: They’re also mostly friends. But they’re also working in a more underground way than most London designers.
LN: If you want to have a fashion label in London, there’s such a strict system of how you have to work. You need to have a PR agent, and you have to show at fashion week. We wanted to create something which was outside of this system.
AG: There wasn’t really anywhere in London which showcased young designers in this way. Even the shops which sell young designers are all very business-minded.
LN: Because we’re so small, we can afford to be laid-back about who we stock and how we work. We don’t have investors or backers, so we have complete freedom. Which is why we can just close the shop and take everything to Berlin for the week.
So what are your plans for the pop-up shop at VOO?
LN: We just thought it would be interesting to move around with the shop. We have one planned for Tokyo as well in March.
AG: We’d like to be a traveling entity and not pigeonhole ourselves into being just a shop or just a gallery. For Berlin we just wanted to go and experiment and translate what we’ve been doing. We always work very closely with our designers, which isn’t something that most shops do. All of our London designers are coming with us to Berlin, and they’ll all be helping create the pop-up space together. Everyone is involved in the decision-making process. We always say that Primitive is a blank canvas, so the designers we work with can put some colour on it.
Some of the pieces you carry are pretty extreme. How do you think this will go over in Berlin?
AG: Not all of the pieces we stock would be considered wearable, but we care more about exhibiting our designers’ work. Of course we want the clothes to sell, but we don’t expect everything to sell. Even our designers realize their designs aren’t everyday clothes.
LN: Even if a shop does buy an eccentric designer, they’ll normally buy the more conservative pieces that they know will sell. If designers only made wearable clothes, fashion would become so boring.
People in Japan don’t seem to be afraid of expressing themselves in very extreme ways though.
LN: There’s a huge difference between how people dress in Asia and in Europe. Some of the pieces we stock are seen as unwearable here in London, but in Tokyo people would wear them. In Europe people seem to take fashion much more seriously. They’re afraid that they’ll lose their personality if they wear something too loud. But in Japan you can wear a Cassette Playa look one day, and the next you can wear head-to-toe Ann Demeuelemeester.
AG: I don’t want to categorize things into either art or fashion, but some of the pieces we carry move much more into the art territory. We’re surprised at some of things that do sell though.
PRIMITIVE’s opening event for their Berlin Pop-Up Shop will be at 8pm on Friday, October 7th at VOO.