The Denim in the Details with Val Kristopher

Britain's don of deconstruction, Val Kristopher sits down with END. to talk colliding cultures, understanding art, and why customisation is the new design.

The Denim in the Details with Val Kristopher - Val Kristopher interviewed in his Manchester studio.
Combining an experimental approach with a distinctive cut-and-paste sensibility, Val Kristopher is a streetwear designer built for a new age of industry.

Often referred to as 'that denim guy,' Kristopher thrives at the intersection of customisation and design; a fearsome but necessary amalgam in an era where reusing, repurposing, and recycling are the new normal as we push towards a circular economy.

Self-funding his brand from deconstructed/reconstructed denim samples and one-of-one Nike customs, Val Kristopher is now a respected name amid a new generation of DIY British designers, tearing up the rule book and sketching a new blueprint for success on their own terms.

Having cultivated a unique aesthetic proposition for his eponymous label, pushing the boundaries of his craft to apply his destructive DNA to a fully-fledged cut-and-sew line for SS20, Kristopher is taking the next step in his design career. Sitting down in his Manchester studio, END. catches up with Val Kristopher to talk designing for the future and why Elon Musk is his favourite artist.

The Denim in the Details with Val Kristopher - fabric bolts in the Val Kristopher studio.
The Denim in the Details with Val Kristopher - Val Kristopher setting up shoot space in his Manchester studio.
Deconstructed denim lays the foundation for Val Kristopher – why did working with denim make sense to you as the base material for the brand?

Denim for me has always been my favourite canvas to work on. From the way a certain denim reacts to certain dyes to the way it rips and ages, it has unique properties that most other fabrics don’t have. All in all it’s just fun to work with and the possibilities are endless.

The line has since expanded to include a range of cut-and-sew pieces and accessories – all underpinned with your deconstructed signature – what’s the story behind the destruction?

I’m from Manchester, England and we have to wear a uniform going to school. To begin with, your blazers and trousers would always be about 2 sizes bigger than you actually needed because you would end up “growing into them." I would do modifications to my blazer and trousers to make them more fitted - that's where it all began. It started spiralling into other clothing such as tapering denim or even swapping the brim on a baseball cap - deconstructing garments became making new clothes for myself. The raw, deconstructed look that came to be the Val Kristopher signature came from my art background; I was never really 'good' at art in a school context. Everything I did - whether on canvas or fabric - never looked perfect, but it always looked cool.

The Denim in the Details with Val Kristopher - industrial sewing machine in the Val Kristopher studio
The Denim in the Details with Val Kristopher - Val Kristopher design meeting
There’s a through-line of leaving things unfinished which runs across the products and the visual identity at Val Kristopher – who are some of the designers who have inspired you to embrace a work-in-progress aesthetic versus the drive toward polish and perfection we see from a lot of brands?

I'm inspired by many painters, music artists and fashion designers, but a name that will always spring to mind is Maison Margiela.

Tell us a bit about your background – how did you come to form Val Kristopher? Had you always intended to work in menswear?

My path to becoming a designer was a weird one. As a child I actually wanted to be a basketball player, having watched Kobe on TV and surrounding myself with American culture. I swore I would make it to the big leagues. It got to the point where I found basketball training becoming more of a chore, so I left. Art took over from there, as it was the only thing I was good at. I never knew I’d start my own brand. I had a little mini collection made as a side project and showcased it online, people were really hyped for it and then the rest is history. I think doing menswear came naturally because I was mainly designing clothes that I would wear myself. Womenswear is interesting to me and definitely something I want to experiment with in the future.

The Denim in the Details with Val Kristopher - custom Nike sneakers in the Val Kristopher studio
The Denim in the Details with Val Kristopher - custom Nike sneakers in the Val Kristopher studio
I’ve heard you say previously that you consider business an art form and that some of your favourite artists are Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk which I think is an interesting perspective. Can you tell us a bit more about what you mean by that?

Even though I've pursued art, I never understood art at a young age. I never understood why painting is a painting or why people would be so infatuated with a sculpture or drawing. This led me to consider other things as “art”. Creating something that people get consumed in without them knowing why. To create something that is so different but so very relevant for the time fascinates me; examples being Elon Musk with Paypal, Tesla, SpaceX and Jeff Bezos with Amazon. It's very psychological which interests me. 

You grew up in the UK with interests that were primarily US-focused - drawn to basketball and hip-hop while your peers were following football and brit-pop/rock - do you think going against the grain from a young age has informed your mindset as a designer?

Honestly I don’t think I was going against the grain, I was just always curious. I was born in the Philippines and American culture is very prevalent over there. I moved to the UK when I was 10. I guess I've just always been surrounded by loads of different cultures. It definitely shaped the way I think in terms of being a consumer in different types of regions of the world. Over the years I have developed an interest in learning the history of different cultures as it all tends to inspire my work.

The Denim in the Details with Val Kristopher - Val Kristopher design meeting
The Denim in the Details with Val Kristopher - Val Kristopher sewing at window in his studio
You work a lot with reworked vintage pieces, and you deconstruct and reconstruct a lot of your own sneakers – particularly focusing on Jordan’s and AF1s – do you think the lines between customising and designing are blurring?

I think the lines blurred a long time ago. I think most designers are customising garments nowadays. If you are not inventing a new fabric or new technology, you are just customising past inventions.

From product to graphics to editorial imagery there’s a clear sense of purpose and direction from the brand, how would you describe the story you’re telling at Val Kristopher?

The aesthetic of the brand is an expression of my emotions. Whether people choose to take my work at face value or they dive deep into the feeling/story, I leave it to the audience. That's what I like about my community, they all interpret my work in their own ways and find a story within themselves to relate to the brand.

|photographerNathan Pang