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IN CONVERSATION | CHRISTOPHER RAEBURN X TOM KAY

Grabbing a few precious minutes of Christopher Raeburn’s time before the onslaught of September’s London Fashion Week, we brought him and Finisterre founder Tom Kay together one more time to reflect on their unique collaboration. From creative freedom to their shared obsession with sea birds, to fighting side by side to turn the tide on the industry’s attitude to sustainability, there’s no doubt their coming together has left a lasting impression.

How did you first come across each other’s brands?

CHRIS: I’d known about Finisterre simply because you always look out for those pioneers within the industry. When I graduated from the Royal College, I became aware of Finisterre quite early on because of the way that they operated, having such a clear purpose. Their environment and people focus caught my early interest and, to be honest, inspiration and excitement.

TOM: About six or seven years after starting Finisterre, Chris was emerging as a leading designer and we became particularly aware of his work around sustainability, with his ‘Remade, Reduced, Recycled’ ethos. He was in our minds as one of the first designers of his type to really embrace that approach; similar to how I started the business – focusing on sustainability, innovation and sourcing fabrics differently. So a similar awareness had been there in parallel, but different worlds.

Values aside, what did you make of each other’s design aesthetics?

TOM: Chris’s aesthetic has a real attention to detail; something he’s become famous for, won awards for, and that really put him where he is. Working with him is an exciting new place to take Finisterre.

CHRIS: I’m always interested in the functionality of garments and the reason for being within a design process. The first thing I did with Finisterre was to get down to Cornwall, get in the sea, understand what this brand was all about. And then actually designing the range together – it’s never easy, but it was a really considered and relatively straightforward process. Working with the super talented design team at Finisterre, everything just made sense from the beginning. That’s always a good sign.

“Sustainability was definitely up there, but there were also so many other cool things in terms of Finisterre just being a brilliant British brand. A brand I really respect, a brand that we can learn from, and a brand we were able to bring our creativity to.”
– Christopher Raeburn

 What was the big draw to make this happen?

CHRIS: Sustainability was definitely up there, but there were also so many other cool things in terms of Finisterre just being a brilliant British brand. A brand I really respect, a brand that’s building up retails in a really credible way, a brand that we can learn from and importantly a brand we were able to bring our creativity to.

It’s an endorsement of Finisterre, and ultimately Tom, that we were allowed such freedom to be able to build the range that we’re presenting at the moment. That’s actually quite a rare thing. Other companies can be very prescriptive about what their collaboration is going to look like, but this was a really open conversation to begin with, and then we narrowed down the items that really made sense for both brands.

TOM: I think the spirit from which the collaboration is approached in the first place is really important. As Chris said, he came down here, immersed himself literally in the brand and the sea. And you know that if they’re up for getting that involved and really committing to the intention of the collaboration, it’s coming from a good place, in good faith. It felt like it was a good fit from the start.

How did the collaboration actually come about? 

CHRIS: I met through one of Finisterre’s very talented designers, Chris Vandrill, at a fabric fair called Performance Days in Munich, which is about innovative fabrics coming through the industry. We got talking and then he introduced me to Tom.

TOM: It was very natural, the way it evolved. I went to Chris’ studio in London, which was amazing to see. It’s a really great place for his brand and his business to be, and it fits what he does. I think he felt that when he came down to Wheal Kitty too. So there’s a good level of authenticity in both brands. We’re both pretty open and transparent and honest as brands too, so there was a real free flow of ideas; never any egos involved, never any scenarios. 

You’re from different worlds in terms of fashion – what was it like seeing those worlds collide?

TOM: Being at London Fashion Week was crazy, and going behind the scenes with Chris. I’d been to fashion shows before, but never London Fashion Week. Sitting there in a bank of seats with rows of cameras, and seeing how it all works was amazing. It’s probably one of the last places I imagined being when I started Finisterre – but also a testament to Chris and how, with his team, the collaboration moved forwards. I felt we could be there as a brand with Chris, and our shared values. We wouldn’t have been there with anyone else.

“Being at London Fashion Week was crazy, and going behind the scenes with Chris. It’s probably one of the last places I imagined being when I started Finisterre. But I felt we could be there as a brand with Chris, and our shared values. We wouldn’t have been there with anyone else.”
– Tom Kay

CHRIS: I grew up in Kent so I’m a 'countrier' by nature. Any opportunity to escape London, I’m always excited. But going to Wheal Kitty and being so immersed in Finisterre was a real honour. What I experienced there was just beautiful; we were really lucky with the weather, really lucky with the surf, really lucky with having amazing tours of the space. I think the energy that Finisterre has down there is pretty unique. It’s always nice to leave from a trip feeling more relaxed than when you arrived; that’s pretty rare on a business trip. When I got back to London I was pretty jealous. But I know I probably had rose-tinted glasses – I’m sure they’re not surfing all the time!

TOM: The surfing is part of it, but it’s the relationship that we have with the sea – on a personal level and a brand level. And the feeling you get when you come out of the sea, go for a walk on the cliffs, see the sea birds and feel so close to nature. That relationship with the sea is different every day. I was really keen for Chris to feel that.

“It’s the relationship that we have with the sea – on a personal level and a brand level. And the feeling you get when you come out of the sea, go for a walk on the cliffs, see the sea birds and feel so close to nature. I was really keen for Chris to feel that.”
– Tom Kay

Outside of work and the collaboration, did you discover any shared interests?

CHRIS: It turns out we’re both obsessed with birdlife! Tom, I went through our quite elongated conversations around birdlife and I owe you some images!

TOM: I’m always talking about the birds and the sea birds down here; the fulmars, the gannets – there’s a really interesting sea bird population. To the layman they might blend into one, but every little bird’s got its tale. We talked a lot about sea birds, and obviously you’ll find the albatross throughout the collection. We worked quite hard with Chris’s team to get the silhouette right, so it’s unmistakably an albatross. All of the myths and the stories that go with that bird are quite powerful and they’re a good emblem, I suppose, of the collaboration.



Chris, before you started working together on concepts, was there anything in particular that you wanted to do in terms of the garments?

CHRIS: I wanted to push the design language of Finisterre forward a little bit – to be doing things they wouldn’t be doing themselves. That’s really important; what a true partnership does. I wanted to do something that would be unexpected for London Fashion Week as well. Because for us to be collaborating with a cold-water surf brand, that’s quite a leap. But for me it’s grounded in functionality and style. The reality of really good products where everything really made sense.

“I wanted to do something that would be unexpected for London Fashion Week. Because for us to be collaborating with a cold-water surf brand, that’s quite a leap. But for me it’s grounded in functionality and style. The reality of really good products where everything really made sense.”
– Christopher Raeburn

When I look across the range I’m really proud of the fact that even some of the more experimental pieces that we thought might be more for the catwalk – for example, there’s a beautiful insulated trouser – some of the more conceptual pieces actually have been adopted, they’re going to be in the retail stores and they’ve really helped us to style and build the collection. So I’m really proud of the way we’ve been able to maintain all of the origins of what we were hoping to achieve.

How did the design process work?

CHRIS: I had some ideas on silhouettes and detailing, and particularly on the importance of this being both men’s and womenswear. And then it was working really closely with the team, particularly on the merchandise and the product development. Working with Finisterre’s experience around amazing, responsibly-sourced materials that they’re already working with in the main range, and how we could build and elevate some of those. I think it’s incredible that Finisterre has gained B-Corp certification. So to be able to harness all of that expertise and all of that good work that’s already happened and then, bring some of our own aesthetic... That’s what it’s all about. And I’d like to think then it was just a very respectful conversation about how the collection could evolve and make sense to both brands.

TOM: There was a real element of taking us to new places, learning a lot from Chris and his team about design. There’s some handwriting from Chris’s eye that you can see in there, and some from ours. But ultimately it’s taking us to new places. There’s a big element of creative trust. It was truly exciting to see the collection on the Lightship on the Thames when we launched it to the press; it really came to life – many months of hard work. It took us places we wouldn’t have got to on our own.

Chris, was there a particular Finisterre innovation that sparked your imagination?

CHRIS: I’m a big fan of the fully waterproof membrane fabrics: the truly functional garments that Finisterre have had in their range previously. The womenswear outerwear pieces are beautifully seam-sealed – a lightweight jacket that can then work with an inner quilted liner to make it both warm, completely waterproof, and then reflective seam-sealed, fully functional and hopefully very, very cool as well. And then in the men’s collection having the fully waterproof outer in the blue with the black reflective, that works with this insulated trouser – I absolutely love them.

What about you, Tom, with Raeburn?

TOM: Some of the detailing that Chris has put into the range, particularly around the quilting, is absolutely beautiful – it’s a very crisp, very sharp aesthetic that pushes us on to new places.

What are your lasting impressions and reflections on this collaboration?

CHRIS: We’ve worked on a lot of different partnerships over the years and some have been really painful to get across the line. This wasn’t like that at all. It’s been a really natural evolution where everything’s just stacked up. I tend to find that good people attract one other anyway, and I hope we’ve made sense together.

TOM: This was one of the milestones on our journey that I’ll never forget. And taking time to appreciate them with those involved is very important. So we’ve had three or four times in the last year that we’ve sat down and had a beer one-on-one, and just appreciated what was going on. Last week when we were on the Lightship I felt very proud of the whole thing.

How far do you think we are from zero waste fashion, or at least a more sustainable industry?

CHRIS: I think we’re still a long way away as an industry, but there are a lot of green shoots. When I think about closing that loop, the range of individuals, brands and designers working towards this topic, it’s by working collectively that we’re going to make a difference. Finisterre being B-Corp certified is an incredible step forward. But the sad truth is there’s a massive part of the fashion industry that, at the moment, doesn’t care. It’s for the innovators and the pioneers to really push things forward. And that’s what we’re trying to do. So I have high hopes, but in reality it’s challenging.

What do you both hope this collaboration can achieve in raising further awareness on sustainability issues?

TOM: I think it’s taking Finisterre to spaces it’s never been taken before. New customers, new communities or new places where people can get the shared values of the collaboration – and an understanding around the work that both Christopher and Finisterre have been doing around sustainability. It’s an ongoing education, meeting people and telling them that there are alternatives and better businesses out there. If that’s brought to life in this beautiful product, in this beautiful collection, that’d be a good thing.

PERSONAL FAVOURITES

We asked Tom and Chris to pick a favourite piece from the collaboration:

TOM: The men’s and women’s quilted bombers.
“The attention to detail on the quilting – on the arms and on the back – is absolutely beautiful. Finisterre has made those sorts of products before, but this takes it to a new place. So I’m personally very excited about those; you’ve got the fabrics, the manufacturing and some of our heritage and history, with Chris’ attention to detail, design and quilting aesthetic really coming to life.”

CHRIS: The women’s parka and the men’s mid-length fully waterproof pieces.
“The outerwear geek in me resurges; I think these pieces are absolutely awesome. The fact that we’ve done denim made here in the UK is pretty amazing, and the fully waterproof bag is pretty cool as well. But definitely those two pieces would be my highlight.”

IMAGES BY CHARLIE RUSSELL AND ABBI HUGHES

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