Color Theory: An Interview With Artist Wes Robinson

Wes Robinson is one of those inherent creative types, and we’re fortunate that the object of his interest just happens to be Ivy style. A synesthete, Robinson wields his condition like a secret weapon, and, combined with his talent for brushwork, creates delightful little portraits of some well-dressed fellows. Though that is hardly the extent of his talent. I recently reached out to Robinson and he was happy to be interviewed for — BRAD EWIN

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IS: Let’s get started with a little about yourself.

WR: Primarily I’d call myself a colour theorist with synaesthesia. That’s really at the core of what I do, and on top of that sits my fabric design and illustration work. My background stems from working in menswear retail, as well as a period of interning and then working for an established textile designer in the UK. I set up on my own about 2 years ago.

IS: Where did your interest in Ivy style come from?

WR: Around 2006-2007 I became really interested in UK manufacturing and heritage brands. I was working for a company that was contracted to make Ralph Lauren furniture for the European market, and I became exposed to the world that Ralph had created. I was handling and working with all these beautiful luxury cloths from UK mills and that was when the romance of it all hit me. This was before starting a family of my own, so like many young people with disposable income, I spent far too much money on clothes, when I probably should have been saving for a deposit for a house. I was obsessed with Mackintosh jackets, traditional UK footwear companies, and luxury accessories. This interest quickly meandered into Ivy league style and now, latterly, prep and the contemporary take on that lineage of clothes.

IS: You’ve posted a phenomenal amount of content on Instagram over the years, and I can see a broad evolution through it. What do you use Instagram to achieve? And how has that goal changed over the years?

WR: Instagram is a double-edged sword, really. It’s given me a different career beyond just staying as an in-house designer, but it’s hard to ignore that it’s also a cynically-designed, addictive advertising software, so I try to avoid that trap of it. Quite candidly, I use Instagram as a way to get feedback on my work. I’ll experiment with colour combinations that stem from my synesthesia, which causes me to see music as colours and shapes. But Instagram’s also helped me start some very genuine friendships with people both online and in the real world. You’ll typically see my fabric designs and menswear illustrations published on my account, and it was from this area of my work that I got approached by brands like GANT, J. Press, and Drake’s, and it just blew up from there. The reason I think my content is quite broad is because I’ve not really concentrated on anything other than colour application, which naturally allows me to work in a broad way instead of just doing one thing. I suppose the focus is to get colours to perform well together. It’s also in my nature to be interested in a thousand things at once, and the idea of repeating the same thing over and over again in order to perpetuate a living fills me with the fear of god, to be honest. I need variety, learning, and discovery to remain interested in what I do. Saying that, you will see a lot of the same motifs from me. Typically yellow sailing jackets, blue baseball caps, and designs for madras fabric.

IS: Where do you get your inspiration from for outfits and drawings?

WR: Initially, just my own interest in clothes. I’d normally sketch outfits I was putting together, or imagining what other pieces I could acquire to complete a look. Then I became inspired by a lot of the people that started interacting with me on Instagram. Whether it was a vintage dealer like Gauthier Borsarello (@gauthierborsarello), a creative director like Tom Leeper (@tomleeper), or a professional clothes horse like Anthony Madsen-Sylvester (@toneloki), I was having my interest piqued in new directions. Then there are the countless hobbyists and collectors who contributed to that as well. I have too many specific inspirations to mention, but some of the main guys for me have been Kevis Manzi (@kevismanzi), @tuna_salad_on_white, Dick Clark (@dickinatie, whose collection of Ralph Lauren is ridiculous), Darren Johnston (@darrenj201), @oldsoulmodernworld, Paul Harding (@hardingscorner), Drew Poling (@drew.poling), and Rogan Walker (@abritishjacket), who appears to find all the vintage stuff you wish you could find for yourself. These are the people whose passion for clothes really excites and inspires me, and lets me see new ways of approaching things outside of the “industry”. Then, of course, there is the world of art and undoubtedly my main two influences are Fairfield Porter’s paintings of Maine, and David Hockney. I get as much from Hockney’s outfits as I do his paintings. He’s obviously an advocate of the look, and also shares the same type of synaesthesia as me, which I guess attracts me to his work too. And there’s also Warhol’s “Raggedy Andy” phase, when he could only afford one suit.

IS: Which current preppy brands are producing your favourite stuff?

WR: J. Press Originals and their J. Press & Sons store in Tokyo. Just insane takes on the very well-defined traditional look we all love, that really shows off the imagination and craftsmanship of menswear in Japan. I also like Drake’s’ take on prepdom through the lens of traditional UK menswear. Their products are incredible, and I think that, along with his staff, Michael Hill is a genius to rival anyone, including Uncle Ralph. We can’t forget the upsetter and rowdy teenager in the room that is Rowing Blazers. I love the understanding of history and knowledge that Jack brings to that brand. I’m equally obsessed with old sporting colours, and the influence of hip hop and skate culture is the kind of cross-pollination that is sometimes needed to perpetuate peoples’ interest in the traditional. And that’s something I can also relate to. Also, with Chris Bastin having returned to GANT as Art Director and digging deep into their vintage archive, I look forward to seeing what he comes up with.

IS: Which historic brands and pieces do you love?

WR: Like anyone I get giddy at a mid-fifites, Brooks Brothers, flap patch pocket, 3/2 sports jacket in herringbone tweed. But for me personally, there have been a few particular items that I’ve always coveted, and they typically appear to be from the rugged end of the spectrum. LL Bean duck boot moccasins, for one. They’re an ideal shoe when you live in the middle of nowhere and have to burn wood to heat your house. I’ve also got about three J.C. Higgins hunting jackets, ranging from the 1940s to the 1960s, and various takes on the 60/40 parka from Woolrich and L.L.Bean. But a Sierra Designs one still eludes me. Aside from this, I also collect Ralph Lauren. Not really the Lo Life stuff, but more the classic takes on camp collar shirts, classic-fit khakis, ties, outerwear, and knitwear. I trawl vintage shops and eBay constantly for old Ralph.

IS: What are your favorite preppy pieces in your wardrobe right now?

WR: My collection of Ralph madras shorts. God bless him for filling the world with madras shorts. Come April I typically live in shorts until it’s no longer safe to do so without the risk of something dropping off. My current favorite pairs are some 6-inch patch madras and some 9-inch high-waisted, double-pleated ones which make my look like I’m in that Modern Jazz Quartet cover with Jimmy Giuffre. My soft suede Sperry topsiders never leave my feet, and my yellow RL fireman jacket never leaves my back. Although, given its color, I do often have flying insects trying to pollinate me.

IS: What’s your least favorite aspect of preppy style?

WR: Thankfully this part is not really entrenched in UK culture, but in the US that whole “college bro” thing is a major turn off from the preppy look. Like with a lot of clothing, I think it’s often best interpreted by the artist, the writer, or the otherwise creative individual. Rarely does the industrialist or sports personality bring anything to the party.

IS: How are you handling the coronavirus lockdown? What is your routine like?

WR: I have a young son and work from home, so other than standing 2 meters away from anything that breathes, not a great deal has changed. The industry has taken a huge hit and a lot of projects have been put on ice, but hopefully we can all ride it out. A lot of love and effort goes into the brands we love, and it’d be a shame for this downturn to mean those teams of people have to call an end to things. Other than that, my thoughts outside of my immediate bubble are on all the people that have continued to work through the crisis. Whether that be medical staff, or people collecting trollies at the supermarket. A lot of us have been able to largely protect ourselves, while others have to put themselves in harm’s way. And a lot of those people don’t get adequate financial compensation for that risk, or the recognition and support they deserve.

8 Comments on "Color Theory: An Interview With Artist Wes Robinson"

  1. Rene Lebenthal | September 8, 2020 at 12:07 pm |

    I follow him now for some time and have to say he is a real fun source of inspiration. Especially when it comes to colours…

  2. If you’re going to wear critter pants, then the rest of your outfit should be neutrals. I mean it’s an unwritten rule that men should limit themselves to ONE accent piece per outfit.

  3. PocketSquare | September 8, 2020 at 4:28 pm |

    Appears to be a pretty well versed young artist. Seems to practice what he preaches. I wouldn’t mind getting my hands on one of his prints. He should be making money creating album cover illustration for popular bands like Belle & Sebastian.

  4. “…in the US that whole “college bro” thing is a major turn off from the preppy look. Like with a lot of clothing, I think it’s often best interpreted by the artist, the writer, or the otherwise creative individual. Rarely does the industrialist or sports personality bring anything to the party.”

    ^This, a thousand times over.

  5. The “college bro” comment– I agree completely. It’s pretty awful.

    A great interview, and I would suggest a few items for Mr. Robinson’s consideration as he expands his Americana-ish collection:

    – original Duxbak (made in U.S.A.) waterfowl hunting coats
    – vintage Bausch and Lomb Ray Ban aviators
    – vintage “N734” oxblood Weejuns–they’re still out there
    – old Hamilton military watches circa mid-century
    – vintage Bills Khakis circa early 90s. (they were better)
    – McGeorge shetland sweaters
    – vintage Irish Poplin neckwear

  6. PacketSquare
    What’s an album?

  7. Very interesting and his interest in color really shows. I’d like to see what he has done or would do with classic tennis and rugby outfits. Maybe some clothes in winter shades too.

  8. Whiskeydent, good question. Here are definitions from the Dictionary. Hope this helps 🙂

    a record or set of records containing several musical selections, a complete play or opera, etc.:
    Her album of folk songs will be out next month.

    the package or container for such a record or records:
    The album has a pocket for each record.

    a collection of audio recordings released together as a collected work:
    The digital release of their debut album sold more copies than expected.

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