words Chris Zacharia
A quiet revolution is changing menswear in Britain. Driven by the demand for ethically-sourced fabrics and responsible manufacturing, a new type of label is emerging. Favouring the quality of the materials over slick branding, assembling their products in Britain rather than Bangladesh, a gradual shake-up of the way we buy clothing is taking place.
Yet consumers haven’t just become more morally conscious. Just as the clothing should arrive with a clear labelling of its origin, it should also have a sense of identity, a genuine sense of character. With so many high street retailers churning out identical menswear – can you really tell the difference between H&M and GAP? – increasingly discerning customers are digging a little deeper. You don’t have to look too far to find clothing rich with the detail of individuality.
One such plucky newcomer is Chocky Hendreth. On the surface, it resembles so many of these new labels. Founded by childhood friends Joe Bullmore and Ben Norville, their attention to detail is evident, as you’d expect from two mates who are nurturing their own label from scratch. Their latest addition to the Chocky Hendreth line, a range of Oxford shirts, exemplifies this devotion to locality. “We source our cotton from a weaver in South London, buy our buttons from a tiny workshop in Brick Lane and assemble the whole thing on a factory floor in Aldgate” says Ben. “Everything about our shirts is made in England. Even our labels are stitched in the Midlands”.
But there’s a crucial difference. Chocky Hendreth might be the only brand in the UK to be inspired by, and named after, an imaginary friend. As in, the type you might’ve conjured up as a five-year-old struggling to cope at school, a purely imaginative creation of speculative fancy. Most imaginary friends fade away as the years pass; how did Chocky Hendreth manage to become a brand?
“Growing up as boys together, the two of us shared an imaginary friend” Joe explains. “His name was Chocky Hendreth…when we came to name our clothing venture, his was the obvious choice”. Quite beyond the obvious difficulties of sharing an imaginary friend, Chocky caused trouble, becoming an irascible simile for boyish pranks. “He was a precocious little character” Ben muses, “Chubby yet knowing, bumbling but wise beyond his years, and in our eyes, utterly heroic. Chocky Hendreth would plunder the hotel pantry, captain the third XI, take the under-13s sports day by storm”.
So far, so strange. But there’s an interesting development here. We’re reaching the point where an imaginary childhood friend is more relevant and stimulating to people than a carefully-honed brand. So much of menswear branding is predicated around a kind of brooding seriousness, a sub-James Bond alpha-male aloofness, with each garment becoming a wearable metaphor for self-importance. Luxury clothing brands rely upon this humourless posturing to reassure you of their power as status symbols. In a world soon to be dominated by lol-ing Millenials, with their distaste for elitism, it seems inevitable that fashion houses and high-street retailers will have to learn to communicate in a more relevant and entertaining way.
Not that Chocky Hendreth is merely some kind of joke-label. A glance at their Oxford shirts reveals a firm grasp on the current climate – athletic, Ivy-League inspiration, a broad-casual fit, and gently-worn Oxford twill unite to create an impression of affluence, of youth spaciously lived. Attention to detail is consistent throughout; the buttons, claims Joe, “are stonewashed for exactly fifty-five minutes” yielding a gently worn finish. This isn’t one of those gimmicky brands relying on nothing more than a catchy ‘concept’. There’s quality to be enjoyed here. It’s just that it’s able to laugh at itself, to take a joke, to admit for a brief moment that fashion can be a bit ridiculous sometimes.
Perhaps that’s what makes Chocky Hendreth appealing. Successful fusions of the fun and the fashionable are hard to find, but this new label marries the sincerity of responsible manufacturing and classic cuts to a playfulness which never strays into mere ostentation. Befitting an imaginary figure, the legend of Chocky is woven through the brand in an understated, subtle way, as an in-joke rather than a bawdy punchline. Chocky’s school name-tag is lovingly stitched on the inner plackets, keeping him hidden from sight but still present for the good times, an inner-child within the smart-casual finery of adulthood. These shirts are clearly aimed at twenty-somethings, when the final rays of immaturity are swallowed up by the dominant totality of your job, your rent, your life. And maybe that’s what we all want – to carry a little vestige of our youth around with us, even if it’s in a shirt rather than a chubby young hellion running riot. “We see him less and less these days” Joe admits, “But we still speak fondly of our friend Chocky”.
‘Chocky Hendreth – Devilishly inspired by an imaginary friend’ – article by Chris Zacharia