Catching up with Natural Selection Founder John Park
John Park founded Natural Selection in 2009. Since then, the seasonal collection of clean, high-quality selvedge denim has evolved into a full menswear offering. With a super smart SS15 collection and their inaugural flagship about to open in London later this month, we caught up with John to find out more.
Tell us about the SS15 collection. What’s new?
As the second RTW collection that was put together under a seasonal concept, I wanted to explore and extend the design DNA and visual language that was laid down for AW14. Namely the clean geometry and linearity with certain detailing that is the brand’s calling card.
I think SS15 really defines more clearly what Natural Selection London is and gives it more uniqueness. The range is bigger, brighter and fresher. It is also a little more playful.
What inspired you this season?
Having chosen Art Deco architecture and the imposing lines that concept conjures up, I wanted something warmer, friendlier, and summery. I also wanted to soften the absolutism of the linearity. I collected some pieces from the Cornish school of painting – the abstract seascapes with the cool colour palette brought out the stones and blues, which became the focal point. I think the collection captures that Britishness and elegance quite well.
Japanese selvedge denim is the brand’s bread and butter. In your opinion, why is Japanese selvedge so revered?
It was the core of the brand at the beginning and the cornerstone of our philosophy of “no compromise”. Whilst we see ourselves as more of a lifestyle brand than a denim brand, that philosophy is exactly why we used Japanese denim, in both selvedge and non-selvedge. The Japanese have a no compromise attitude to quality and high fidelity replication of artisanal processes. Commercial agendas don’t cloud their actions. If it did, I don’t think selvedge denim would have come back, as when they were doing it in the 80s and early 90s, I don’t think anyone thought the demand would be very high. They did it because the old American fabrics were beautiful and had character.
I read that your academic background as a mathematician and Charles Darwin’s concept of constant evolution inspired the initial idea to start the brand. How so?
I received my masters in Mathematics, yes, but I don’t think it had an influence on why I started the brand. It does however, speak to how I think and my attitude to things, which is to be rigorous, yet allow lateral leaps in ideas. I think intellectual rigour is something that is so ingrained in me that I question every thing, especially myself and what I do. I think it is the opposite of most designers who have very strong self-belief and look forward only. I am confident in my abilities but I always look to improve things and hope to learn from mistakes real or imagined.
The concept of evolution and iterative design made for a neat fit in concept and the brand was started on Darwin’s anniversary. London was a-buzz with the celebration of one of the greatest of British minds.
What triggered the recent expansion into a full menswear line?
When you have a product that is clean and classic like a pair of jeans, it is hard to communicate a brand’s DNA through that product alone. I felt to define the Natural Selection man, I had to clothe him head to toe.
When did you know Natural Selection had ‘made it’?
I don’t think I will ever feel that. I think you have to evolve constantly to compete or you will face extinction. Pardon the pun.
When is the London flagship due to open? Can you tell us about the concept behind the store design?
It is set to open this month. I am very excited. The concept was to have a clean slate for the clothes to stand out in, but be welcoming and luxurious without feeling too residential or too abstract. I can’t say more than that.
Beyond the London flagship opening, what’s your dream scenario for Natural Selection?
Other than obvious desire for global growth and more stores, longer term I would love people to pass the clothes they buy on. Whether a hand-me-down or a purchase from a vintage store, I would like the brand to stand the test of time and for people to associate and remember for beautiful quality and balance, no matter what the ebbs and flows of trends are.