International model Oliver Cheshire, who over the past 15 years has fronted campaigns for the likes of as Calvin Klein, Dolce and Gabbana, Versace and Marks & Spencer, is launching his very first own collection called CHÉ, focusing on resort-wear. The website, chestudios.co.uk, is set to go live this Thursday, 16 May.
The collection features a fresh take on men’s swim shorts and shirts that combine clean lines and relaxed styling with Savile Row influences. Having previously received numerous offers to put his name to collaborations and collections, Cheshire thought it best to just do it himself – along with friend and business partner, Toby Watkins, with design input from Saville Row alumnus, Mehm Ali. Needless to say, Cheshire also models his own creations, alongside fellow models and friends Jacey Elthalion, Sasha M’Baye and Sam Webb.
As a fashion model, do you feel like you are in a uniquely favourable position to launch your own fashion brand?
I work at the forefront of fashion and I’m seeing trends develop way before the general public, so fortunately yes! I have been dressed by, and worked with, some of the world’s most creative people for the last 15 years. It’s pretty much all I’ve known since the age of 16. Menswear has also been a huge passion of mine way before my modelling career began, so designing is something I’ve always wanted to move into eventually. I was cutting up clothes as a young kid and customising everything from my jeans to my school uniform.
What have you learnt about the fashion business from being a successful model?
I’ve learnt it’s a tough one, that’s for sure, and very hard to be successful in, but it’s like any business. If you take your time, surround yourself with a like-minded team, and have a genuine passion for what you are doing, then you stand a good chance of success. You also never know until you try.
What has inspired you to launch your own line?
I’ve been inspired by working with incredible designers and industry leaders over the years, but also by my friends who each have their own unique sense of style. I like to think I have a good understanding of what they, and others guys my age, want to wear. So really this is a range I designed with them in mind and it is fitting that some of my best friends were alongside me in the campaign shoot. This has been a dream of mine for years. I started making mood boards and sketches for this years ago. I wouldn’t want to spend my time working on anything else and I already have inspiration for the next collection.
Why have you chosen resort-wear as your focus?
When we set out to start CHÉ we all agreed that we wanted to do one thing well. I think the men’s resort-wear market is due a shake-up and there are only a handful brands out there doing it very well. This collection is different to what is out there at the moment and it feels effortless and elegant with a sporty edge. We have worked tirelessly on the fit, which is essential for resort wear. It’s a great starting point for me as I’ve worked with and worn a lot of resort wear over my time as a model. It helps that you get to shoot in hot countries, which is obviously more enticing than knitwear!
How do you intend to develop the offer for autumn/winter 2019?
Although CHÉ is a British brand, the resort wear will be available on our website all year round for those in search of winter sun internationally. We want the brand to grow organically and we have a clear vision of what we are trying to achieve. My inspiration for the first campaign came from vintage 70’s and 80’s photography, and we wanted to re-imagine some of those effortlessly stylish vintage pieces for the modern day. That may be by using a new and sustainable technical fabric, or by adding in contemporary colour palettes, or refitting for a slimmer silhouette. We will of course look to expand into new product categories that are more winter friendly eventually, but again our focus was always on doing one thing well before we look to develop new product. That’s the beauty of being a studio brand not tightly pinned down to seasons.
What are the plans to grow the offer going forward?
Once the website is live, we are planning to spend a lot of time listening to customer feedback and understanding their needs. We will certainly look to increase the range of colours on offer and we already have some exciting new swimwear and shirting concepts in the pipeline. Prints will also become more important to us.
Why did you call it CHÉ?
Ché is my little brother’s name, and it also happens to be the first three letters of my surname. Also, when I was growing up, my dad always had lots of Ché Guevara posters on the wall, so it seemed the perfect fit.
How did the new fashion brand come about and who are your partners?
I have wanted to start a brand for years and, although there have been offers to collaborate or put my name to other brands, I have always wanted to work on something independently. I specifically didn’t want it to be seen as a celebrity brand – it needed depth and focus, and I always wanted the product to sell on its own merit. So I partnered with my friend, Toby Watkins, who is a clothing supplier by trade and has helped me manage the production and fulfilment from sketch to delivery. Essentially, we have built this company the hard way. We have worked together on everything from initial concept, to the development of the garments and the look and feel of the brand. His family business has been producing clothing for over forty years, so having that depth of technical knowledge and sourcing network at our fingertips has been a real springboard for the business, and it is something that most new set-ups don’t have access to.
Who is actually designing the collection?
I’m designing the collection and initiating the first development samples. We have also partnered with an amazing Savile Row trained designer called Mehm Ali who has an incredible eye for detail and advises us on the more technical aspects of the product. He helps us ensure that the garments are fully functional, that the colourways work together within the collection, and that the shapes and cuts are perfect. He’s really helped me learn the key stages of the design process. Toby’s pattern room makes the samples here in the UK and it all comes to fruition. I couldn’t believe it when I had the first piece of CHÉ in my hands!
What’s special about the collection and what are the key pieces?
We have used premium fabrics and trims throughout the collection, and we have tried to source them sustainably where possible. For example, the swimwear is made using ECONYL® which is an innovative nylon yarn produced entirely from recovered fishnets and other nylon waste recovered from oceans and landfills. The colour combinations are rich and bold but wearable too. You can see there is a sportswear influence over the collection, but we wanted this to be in vintage style. “The Baller” swim short is one of my favourite pieces and it was inspired by some vintage NBA team photographs I loved.
Who is the target market and who do you think it will particularly appeal to?
I want the brand to be luxurious but also accessible to the everyday man and we are keen to reflect this in our price points. I think it will appeal to the well-travelled, style conscious man who wants something slightly different to the current offering. It is the kind of collection that would look at home in so many different environments, whether that be diving off a super yacht on the French Riviera or going for a cheeky dip at Brockwell Lido.
What are the price points and what level of retailer are you targeting to stock it?
Our swimwear ranges from £85 to £110, and the shirts are £75. At the moment we are going to be exclusively selling through our own website and social channels because we wanted to control the entire customer experience ourselves. We will eventually consider wholesale opportunities when the time is right. But this direct approach has given us true freedom, creatively, to start the business on our own terms. It’s going to be sold solely from chestudios.co.uk at the moment. With all the platforms out there that can drive traffic to your own site, it seemed the perfect way to start.
Are you just using yourself to model the line, or have you also drafted in some model friends?
Some of my good friends also feature in the campaign. The shoot was such good fun and felt like a three-day road trip. We wanted to capture the spirit of adventure and camaraderie that you get from going away as a group of friends. I wanted people to see these images and feel as though they were on holiday with us.
Was it always your dream, while modelling for other brands, to one day have your own?
For sure. It’s been a very enjoyable process doing this and it’s a great creative output that I was missing. I can see myself doing this for years to come.
Oliver Cheshire will be In Conversation with TheIndustry.fashion on 24 September 2019 at W London – Leicester Square, where he will be discussing his career so far and his ambitions for CHÉ at this exclusive cocktail event. Book your tickets here.