OCTOBER 2021
From RISD’s 2021 class of graduates, James Oliver Langley’s design language involves exploring proportions to create radically simple garments, incorporating elements of nostalgia gleaned from his personal life.

DTY: So James, how did you end up pursuing fashion design?

JL: It was kind of an interesting course, but I suppose it played out in a pretty straightforward way now that I think about it in hindsight. I was born in England, and I moved to Portland, Oregon, when I was about 10. I was heavily influenced by a lot of art and design that I was surrounded by at the time — a lot of my friends’ parents worked at Nike and I was always hearing about the different work that they were doing.

I was always really into art, but I hadn’t really thought of it as something that I could pursue for a career path until my early years of high school. After talking with some of my friends’ parents and some teachers, it just started to make a lot of sense for me to pursue art more seriously. I ended up going to the RISD pre-college program; that was when I decided that it was definitely something that was for me. I was originally pretty interested in making shoes, and then I developed an interest in graphic design, and then it all kind of just merged into my love for clothes. And since then, that’s all I’ve been doing — and all I really think about.

DTY: And what compelled you to pursue menswear design and not the lucrative field of womenswear?

JL: I think for me, menswear definitely made the most sense because I was always kind of inspired by what I have in my own wardrobe. And I’ve always wanted to create a new genre of menswear, I suppose. I’m trying to revive this idea of tailoring in a more contemporary sense. I also think that I’ve been heavily influenced by photos of my dad from when he was growing up, and all the different outfits that he wore that were predominantly made for him by his mother (my grandmother). So it just made sense for me to end up in the menswear field.

DTY: There’s a recurring theme of family that is especially exhibited on your Instagram profile. Would you say that your primary source of inspiration are your dad and your grandmother? How does that factor into your design process?

JL: Absolutely. I think over the past three years or so, without me even really realizing it, I’ve ended up drawing a really heavy amount of inspiration from pictures of my family —  both my mom’s side and my dad’s side — from when they were growing up. I’ve always wanted to create something that’s meaningful and special to me. And when I see these photos of my dad growing up and all of these clothes that his mum made for him, it really resonates with me. And I’ve kind of wanted to be able to evoke that same feeling through my work for other people to feel that way. It just made sense for me to end up in the menswear field.

DTY: And what would you say your creative process is like, from start to finish?

JL: My creative process is very, very heavily based on research. I spend a lot of time looking at pictures of my parents and all of their siblings from their childhood. A lot of those are either of them doing something active outside or of them in those traditional school uniforms. And I think that most of my references come from either traditional menswear sportswear or utilitarian uniforms. Blending those three things together throughout the process of research and pulling from different places to combine and create something that is familiar (yet unmistakably new) is a large part of my process. After doing a lot of that research, I typically then spend time working with different fabrics, making different Muslin samples of pieces and trying them on myself. That’s definitely what I’ve been doing the most these days; because of COVID-19, I haven’t really been able to have my models come in.

A lot of it, I think, has to do with proportion for me. It’s a large part of my work — seeing how different garments lie on the body. That’s also something that I pull from my research a lot: trying to find different kinds of new, creative ways of having something that seems relatively simple to somebody else, look much more fresh and new.

DTY: A lot of your work also incorporates repurposed fabric or recycled fabric. Is this a conscious creative choice? Or is it just a byproduct of being a student?

JL: I think it’s definitely a conscious creative decision. Specifically, in some of the pieces that I’ve made recently — like the jacket that was inspired by my grandparents’ sofa. I wanted to repurpose a sofa that otherwise wouldn’t necessarily have much life left to it, and turn it into something that could be cherished and respected in future years.

Another thing that jumps out to me and my memory of recent things that I’ve made, is when I was at home when the first outbreak of COVID-19 happened in the United States. I was a bit strapped for fabric when I was at home and I was in the tailoring course of my degree, so I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I’d been planning on using lots of different walls that were these tartan walls that I had sourced in New York, but I wasn’t going to be able to get a hold of them anymore. So instead, I decided to just work with what I had at home. I had these painting drop cloths (my parents have just been repainting one of the rooms in our house). And I really loved the hand of the fabric and thought that I could do something to it to turn it into something totally new. So it’s definitely a large part of the creative process for me.

DTY: Your work is described as offering something new every time. So what does originality mean to you? How do you maintain  authenticity in this digital age?

JL: I think for me, a large part of it comes through in the design process. And that’s why I’ve been trying to be a lot more transparent about my process through my Instagram account, and show the steps that go into making the garments that I create. Doing my research, looking at old family photos and combining them with what has already been made, like a jacket or a pair of pants, and then turning them into something that is more meaningful to me specially. A lot of my time is spent looking at historical garments. I frequently go to the RISD museum to look at old pieces and curated collections of apparel.

DTY: And what are the challenges you would say you face in being original?

JL: I think for me, a large part of it comes through in the design process. And that’s why I’ve been trying to be a lot more transparent about my process through my Instagram account, and show the steps that go into making the garments that I create. Doing my research, looking at old family photos and combining them with what has already been made, like a jacket or a pair of pants, and then turning them into something that is more meaningful to me specially. A lot of my time is spent looking at historical garments. I frequently go to the RISD museum to look at old pieces and curated collections of apparel.

DTY: Is there a specific category of menswear you enjoy working or are drawn to?

JL: I’m drawn to pretty traditional tailoring, and outerwear. In the collection that I’m designing for my senior thesis, I’m trying to combine my love for 1970s sportswear and sports uniforms, and more traditional utilitarian menswear, and tailoring that into a new genre of wearable, men’s tailored garments that aren’t necessarily your traditional suit — taking that idea of tailoring and applying it in terms of construction and quality into something more common, like a denim jacket or a pair of jeans.

DTY: Excited to see it. Anything else that you want to add to what’s next for you? Where do you see yourself headed?

JL: In terms of my brand, as a whole, I’m definitely thinking of continuing to develop it, and not necessarily produce anything on a large scale anytime soon. I think that there’s a lot of things that I need to iron out in terms of my own feelings towards the industry, and how I want to go about presenting my work in the future. But I’ll definitely be making some pieces by myself, fully manufactured, probably after I finish my thesis collection. And then I want to keep growing and learning and maybe work at a slightly larger company and see what I can take from that.

DTY: So James, how did you end up pursuing fashion design?

JL: It was kind of an interesting course, but I suppose it played out in a pretty straightforward way now that I think about it in hindsight. I was born in England, and I moved to Portland, Oregon, when I was about 10. I was heavily influenced by a lot of art and design that I was surrounded by at the time — a lot of my friends’ parents worked at Nike and I was always hearing about the different work that they were doing.

I was always really into art, but I hadn’t really thought of it as something that I could pursue for a career path until my early years of high school. After talking with some of my friends’ parents and some teachers, it just started to make a lot of sense for me to pursue art more seriously. I ended up going to the RISD pre-college program; that was when I decided that it was definitely something that was for me. I was originally pretty interested in making shoes, and then I developed an interest in graphic design, and then it all kind of just merged into my love for clothes. And since then, that’s all I’ve been doing — and all I really think about.

DTY: And what compelled you to pursue menswear design and not the lucrative field of womenswear?

JL: I think for me, menswear definitely made the most sense because I was always kind of inspired by what I have in my own wardrobe. And I’ve always wanted to create a new genre of menswear, I suppose. I’m trying to revive this idea of tailoring in a more contemporary sense. I also think that I’ve been heavily influenced by photos of my dad from when he was growing up, and all the different outfits that he wore that were predominantly made for him by his mother (my grandmother). So it just made sense for me to end up in the menswear field.

DTY: There’s a recurring theme of family that is especially exhibited on your Instagram profile. Would you say that your primary source of inspiration are your dad and your grandmother? How does that factor into your design process?

JL: Absolutely. I think over the past three years or so, without me even really realizing it, I’ve ended up drawing a really heavy amount of inspiration from pictures of my family —  both my mom’s side and my dad’s side — from when they were growing up. I’ve always wanted to create something that’s meaningful and special to me. And when I see these photos of my dad growing up and all of these clothes that his mum made for him, it really resonates with me. And I’ve kind of wanted to be able to evoke that same feeling through my work for other people to feel that way. It just made sense for me to end up in the menswear field.

DTY: And what would you say your creative process is like, from start to finish?

JL: My creative process is very, very heavily based on research. I spend a lot of time looking at pictures of my parents and all of their siblings from their childhood. A lot of those are either of them doing something active outside or of them in those traditional school uniforms. And I think that most of my references come from either traditional menswear sportswear or utilitarian uniforms. Blending those three things together throughout the process of research and pulling from different places to combine and create something that is familiar (yet unmistakably new) is a large part of my process. After doing a lot of that research, I typically then spend time working with different fabrics, making different Muslin samples of pieces and trying them on myself. That’s definitely what I’ve been doing the most these days; because of COVID-19, I haven’t really been able to have my models come in.

A lot of it, I think, has to do with proportion for me. It’s a large part of my work — seeing how different garments lie on the body. That’s also something that I pull from my research a lot: trying to find different kinds of new, creative ways of having something that seems relatively simple to somebody else, look much more fresh and new.

DTY: A lot of your work also incorporates repurposed fabric or recycled fabric. Is this a conscious creative choice? Or is it just a byproduct of being a student?

JL: I think it’s definitely a conscious creative decision. Specifically, in some of the pieces that I’ve made recently — like the jacket that was inspired by my grandparents’ sofa. I wanted to repurpose a sofa that otherwise wouldn’t necessarily have much life left to it, and turn it into something that could be cherished and respected in future years.

Another thing that jumps out to me and my memory of recent things that I’ve made, is when I was at home when the first outbreak of COVID-19 happened in the United States. I was a bit strapped for fabric when I was at home and I was in the tailoring course of my degree, so I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I’d been planning on using lots of different walls that were these tartan walls that I had sourced in New York, but I wasn’t going to be able to get a hold of them anymore. So instead, I decided to just work with what I had at home. I had these painting drop cloths (my parents have just been repainting one of the rooms in our house). And I really loved the hand of the fabric and thought that I could do something to it to turn it into something totally new. So it’s definitely a large part of the creative process for me.

DTY: Your work is described as offering something new every time. So what does originality mean to you? How do you maintain  authenticity in this digital age?

JL: I think for me, a large part of it comes through in the design process. And that’s why I’ve been trying to be a lot more transparent about my process through my Instagram account, and show the steps that go into making the garments that I create. Doing my research, looking at old family photos and combining them with what has already been made, like a jacket or a pair of pants, and then turning them into something that is more meaningful to me specially. A lot of my time is spent looking at historical garments. I frequently go to the RISD museum to look at old pieces and curated collections of apparel.

DTY: And what are the challenges you would say you face in being original?

JL: I think for me, a large part of it comes through in the design process. And that’s why I’ve been trying to be a lot more transparent about my process through my Instagram account, and show the steps that go into making the garments that I create. Doing my research, looking at old family photos and combining them with what has already been made, like a jacket or a pair of pants, and then turning them into something that is more meaningful to me specially. A lot of my time is spent looking at historical garments. I frequently go to the RISD museum to look at old pieces and curated collections of apparel.

DTY: Is there a specific category of menswear you enjoy working or are drawn to?

JL: I’m drawn to pretty traditional tailoring, and outerwear. In the collection that I’m designing for my senior thesis, I’m trying to combine my love for 1970s sportswear and sports uniforms, and more traditional utilitarian menswear, and tailoring that into a new genre of wearable, men’s tailored garments that aren’t necessarily your traditional suit — taking that idea of tailoring and applying it in terms of construction and quality into something more common, like a denim jacket or a pair of jeans.

DTY: Excited to see it. Anything else that you want to add to what’s next for you? Where do you see yourself headed?

JL: In terms of my brand, as a whole, I’m definitely thinking of continuing to develop it, and not necessarily produce anything on a large scale anytime soon. I think that there’s a lot of things that I need to iron out in terms of my own feelings towards the industry, and how I want to go about presenting my work in the future. But I’ll definitely be making some pieces by myself, fully manufactured, probably after I finish my thesis collection. And then I want to keep growing and learning and maybe work at a slightly larger company and see what I can take from that.