24 May 2023

Ahead of the launch of Puma & Second Best's collaboration and pop-up store in Soho, END. sat down with Second Best's Sam Monaghan to delve into the brand's world of dualities, chaos and composure.

Bound by dualities and binaries, Second Best lives in the liminal space between polar opposites. Established by designer, artist and founder Samuel Monaghan, the Peckham-based brand may have been established formally in 2017, but the seeds of its concept had been planted for many years prior to that.

Born in Northumberland, Monaghan's creative output with Second Best is guided by a myriad of varying factors and influences - from hardcore punk to industrial design, nothing is off limits to the British designer. Cultivating product offerings through a process of collection, each piece is informed by Monaghan's continual process of photography, scanning and writing to create a mixture of wearable and non-wearable pieces. Inspired by the difference between the light and dark in life, Second Best's garments feature cut and sew, graphic prints, hand dyes and hand painted elements to rework and rebuild pieces. Operating under the ideology that Second Best is never finished, Monaghan refuses to reach for the unattainable goal of perfection, instead opting to revel in creation that remains complete with a human touch.

Collaborating with Puma for the first time, Second Best share their distinctive take on the Clyde sneaker. A favourite of Monaghan's since his early teenage years - where he received his first pair after seeing bands such as Deftones and Korn adopt the silhouette as a core element of their style - the Clyde offered an opportunity to identify oneself with an outside influence. Combining the memories of his original pairs, Monaghan's twist on the Clyde incorporates Second Best's signature aesthetic vision across the iconic silhouette, melding chaos and composure throughout its concept alongside the "Dancing Demons".

Sitting down with Monaghan ahead of the Puma x Second Best pop-up store in Soho on 26th May, END. discussed Second Best's multi-faceted approach, their world of dualities and the upcoming collaboration with Puma.

Established in 2017, what originally compelled you to begin your journey with Second Best?

A fair few factors contributed to the decision. I had been thinking about doing a brand for years and would loosely keep track of thoughts and ideas. I had the name Second Best on ice for a long time for whatever I decided to make my own. I felt unchallenged and bored by what I was doing in jobs for others. At the time I was styling mainly and realised how unhappy I was with how little making and design I was doing. I wanted to work in my own way and not be constrained by another framework and ultimately I am the type of person that is only going to get the best out of myself under that level of pressure. I guess I figured that because I had worked numerous positions in the industry I knew more than I did and I was ready to start a business, which was on some level naive but more importantly the fastest and most intense learning experience I’ve had.

Borne from a combination of a DIY mentality and an education in industrial design, how do these two somewhat opposing facets of your background influence one another?

I don’t think I see them as opposing. Ultimately to me they both have processes that end with a finished product, idea or whatever. A DIY mentality is just being stubborn and optimistic enough to make something work within your means to try and expand those means and Industrial design at its core is problem solving, so I think they can be very complementary. I choose industrial design as it seemed like the most wide open option and thought I could make it my own, focusing on fashion and culture.  I soon learned that this would come with its problems but also success through the limitations it posed - having to try and force the structured uni projects into points of my interest. The real fun came in the later years when I got to write my own briefs. Plenty of the tutors didn’t seem to get what I was about and looking back, maybe I should have just stuck with fashion haha.

Balancing the chaotic and the composed, Second Best looks to challenge our inner irregularities and celebrates the incongruous. What comes first in your design process – chaos or composure?

Chaos. I can be quite scatty and don’t really sit down and write a brief or be like ‘so these garments are inspired by…’ Second Best is like a trail of breadcrumbs really, it’s just one long process with outputs happening every so often. I am constantly collecting photos, scans, stuff, notes or whatever that capture my attention. Ideas come often and just get sketched or written down. The composure comes as a review, when I’m itching to make something of the previous findings. That’s why I started making zines again. Through making them it brings clarity and I see see themes I may have not fully realised at the time, whether it be a colour or whatever. They also help others see what entertains the same brain behind the clothing. It’s important to acknowledge how far an idea needs to go, whether it is for something a full collection or if it’s a quicker, one-off thing.

Inspired and driven by your own personal interests, how do you filter your inspirations and channel them into your work with Second Best?

To follow on from the above answer, this is why I decided to start using the working title ‘Merchandising Of Memories’, which is then released in volumes. Firstly, that is all anything really is at this point. We build memories or thoughts to work from, or look to the memories and acts of others before us as inspiration. It also allows me to do whatever I want really.

The ethos behind Second Best seems to offer a remedy to the fast-paced and wasteful practices of the modern fashion milieu – was it always an intention of yours to try to refocus the cyclical nature of fashion through your own personal relationship with it?

For me that aspect came from having to pivot to exist within my means. Starting Second Best I ran before I could walk, which made for an expensive lesson. I don’t like giving up so had to think what I could afford to do. This is where the reworked denim and hand painting came in. I have always and will always love denim for its relevance in what, to me, are the best movements and style points in history. The world is full of it and I didn’t need to make more to achieve what I wanted, which fortunately became something I have begun to become known for. It’s something I always want to keep doing as a more small-scale special thing. The other reason is time, it’s something I could do whilst working other jobs, I only went full-time on the brand this year.

Second Best looks to champion the incomplete and the imperfect – what is it that compels you about creating with imperfection in mind?

It’s honest not polished. For a long time we have had the false ideas of perfection and the ideal self pushed down our throats and I don’t want that anywhere near my work. It’s unhealthy and creates an unfriendly hierarchy that is uncomfortable for a lot of people. Even in school one of my projects was titled ‘Beauty in the imperfections’ or something like that. Duality is the core theme of my work and championing imperfection is the best way to highlight this - it’s where the real personality comes from for me. The idea is that ‘Second Best is never finished’ is what all this is about. A good friend of mine Daryl, who works on the brand with me, described it as building a house and never putting the roof on. That comment will never leave me, it’s like never getting too comfortable or hung up on it having to be the best as that is when the good shit happens.

Based in Peckham but originally hailing from a small village in Northumberland, how has your Northern up-bringing influenced your creative outlook?

Not having everything there on a plate I reckon. Having to really dig and test things out to find what you were into. I spent a lot of time in Newcastle as well, which had plenty of record shops, places to buy magazines and a couple good clothes shops. It’s not like I was raised in a forest haha. I owe a lot to my Dad, he was forever making, doing and fixing. He was my biggest supporter when I got into art aged 11.

You received your first pair of Puma Clyde’s at the age of 13 - what was it about the Clyde that originally appealed to you at this stage?

It was seeing the bands I loved wear them in magazines or on Music TV, so I naturally wanted to base the way I appeared with the same taste.

Applying your distinctive unfinished aesthetic to the model, what inspired your approach to collaborating on the Clyde?

It’s a homage to those that made me want to wear them whilst fitting into the Second Best world. Embellishing an existing framework with small details - the Clyde is beautiful in it’s simplicity, which is why it fit so many great styles. I wanted to create a shoe that would seamlessly fit 2003 and 2023.

writerChris Owen