AnOther delves into the new collaboration between the late designer’s brand and the artist Dave Baby – an homage to the House of Beauty and Culture and the mid-80s homespun aesthetic
From 1986 to 1989, tucked away in Dalston – then a poor, neglected pocket of east London, a far cry from the moneyed middle-class enclave it has become – stood the House of Beauty and Culture.
It was both shop and studio: the shop floor was studded with old pennies and it was an often-chaotic display of cluttered maximalism. There were no official opening hours: would-be customers recall pounding on the door hoping someone might answer.
The House of Beauty and Culture was the headquarters of a craft collective including shoe designer John Moore, stylist and designer Judy Blame, artist and model Dave Baby and designer Christopher Nemeth – a post-punk anti-establishment group who foraged in bins and gutters salvaging other people’s rubbish and turning it into avant-garde riches. This was when ‘repurposing’, ‘preloved’ or ‘upcycled’ were not mainstream ideas – but the work created in and for the House of Beauty and Culture was in deliberate opposition to mass production.
Nemeth’s designs typically offered a raw aesthetic: trousers and jackets handcrafted from post sacks and featuring exposed seams and needlework. He had studied painting at Camberwell but taught himself pattern cutting and sewing. And while his pieces were initially sold at Kensington Market, they ultimately found their way onto the pages of magazines such as i-D and Tatler.
The House of Beauty and Culture is no more, but its ethos lives on. The new Christopher Nemeth and Dave Baby collaboration is comprised of jackets, trousers, hats and T-shirts – something of an homage to the mid-80s homespun aesthetic, only this collection will be sold at the salubrious Dover Street Market and in the Nemeth Store in Tokyo.
Nemeth, who had relocated to Japan in the 80s, passed away in 2010 aged just 51 and so it is his daughters and wife who have taken the helm on his behalf. “We always create our new pieces by looking at the archive,” explains Lui Nemeth, one of Christopher’s two daughters. “The general idea behind this collaboration originated from a linen jacket which Dave and my father worked on together at the beginning of the 80s, which has a sprayed stencil vine motif that we thought could be interesting to develop in a new manner, so we contacted Dave to ask if he could do some stencil work on our pieces.”
It was something that instantly appealed to Baby. “I did a collaboration with Chris back in the day before he went to Japan, even,” he recalls. “I just used car paint in those days and spray painted stencils onto some of his patterns before h had sewn them up. I wanted to do something in a similar vein. And so Lui and I talked about doing another collection.”
The process seems to have been remarkably straightforward, which in itself is how Nemeth liked to work. “We remained true to the way in which he used to do collaborations with his friends,” says Lui. “We provided the clothes as a base, and essentially let Dave apply his stencils in the way he felt like. It is closer to an exchange of letters really. We do not interfere so much with each other creatively.
The new collection is made from Nemeth’s old patterns: “He had loads of patterns that had never been made up,” explains Baby, who has a direct manner that is at once pragmatic and unpretentious. “They were cut out sent to me, I decorated them, I suppose, with the stencils, sent them back and they sewed them up.”
When asked what his hopes are for the collection, Baby’s reply is typically short and not entirely unexpected: “I’m not into marketing.” His motivation is simply, “We wanted to do it so we did it, me and my friend’s children carrying on his thing.”
The demon – one of Baby’s central motifs throughout his career – does feature in the new collection but, he has, he says “toned it down a bit”. However, his original jacket is hanging in Nemeth shop at Dover Street Market.
Lui’s favourite piece from the new collection is the 701 jacket: “It’s a very early design that he used to make with post sacks, and I think that Dave’s stencils suit it well.”
The collection was shot at Baby’s place in Stockwell by photographer Zanne Chaudhry – with Baby as one of the models. Chaudhry met Baby when they both modelled at a Fashion in Motion show at the V&A in 2017. “We talked a lot and I bombarded him with HOBAC questions and Christopher Nemeth questions,” recalls Chaudhry, who was later introduced to Nemeth’s daughters by Baby.
Why did they shoot at Baby’s house? “Dave’s house emulated the energy of HOBAC which was a very ad hoc space,” says Chaudhry who calls it Dave’s Cave. “It’s this incredible place with stuff mounted on top of each other and dust sculptures. I’d never been anywhere like that before.”
The shoot took place in March 2020, just before the UK went into lockdown. “We shot sporadically with old and new pieces and wanted to encapsulate Dave’s world,” says Chaudhry, who enjoyed working with Dave because it was a more organic process than “creating mood boards and doing references”.
“Going off feeling is a more interesting collaborative experience rather than thinking of 100 different aspects of how to do something,” he adds.
Despite the collection’s roots being buried deep in 1980s Dalston, Chaudhry is reluctant to call the collaboration or the images of it an homage. “It’s a new take,” he says. “His daughters and their mum have done an incredible job of keeping the brand alive.”
When asked what her father would have made of the new collection, Lui’s response is, much like the Nemeth aesthetic – definitive and without ornament or sentimentality: “I think he would have liked it.”
Christopher Nemeth and Dave Baby collaboration will be available at Dover Street Market London and the Nemeth Store in Tokyo.