The Rodnik Band has come a long way from 2003, when it was two blokes selling scarves made from Russian goats hair. Today, the brand is a boisterous multi-disciplinary art project, joyously helmed by one of its original co-founders, philosophy graduate Philip Colbert. From gorilla fashion shows to Duchamp-inspired urinal dresses, punk-pop infuses everything Colbert does, appealing to the likes of Cara Delevingne, Anna Della Russo and Rita Ora, who commissioned Colbert to design costumes for her 2013 world tour, along the way. Collaborations are the label’s backbone:; Colbert has designed capsule collections with Snoopy including a Rolex Datejust watch, a Smart Car and dresses for Absolut’s ‘Andy Warhol Limited Edition’ bottle. Most recently, Colbert teamed up with online retailer made.com to launch Rodnik pop art furniture including the infamous ‘shark’ chair.
Bel: Liquorice allsorts, fried eggs, lobsters: how do you pick your motifs?
Philip: I’m interested in Duchamps because he’s a forefather of conceptual art, in terms of throwing a spanner into our concepts of what art is. I like taking that philosophy into the brand so I find symbols I can abstract and communicate. Symbols can be visually simple but also satirical. Our Liquorice Allsorts print looks like an abstract composition with an aesthetic value of its own – but Liquorice Allsorts are also an everyday sweet. I like that high low mix. And, for me, humour has always got to be there. That’s the way of shaking the cage …
Bel: You started within the traditional fashion cycle and then you opted out …
Phillip: Fashion is a hamster wheel. I’ve been in it for a while now and I’ve seen the ups and the downs. You see these kids, they believe in the dream. They exhaust themselves for six years, putting on shows, and then they’re pushed out. To make it in fashion, you have to produce big volumes – and then you need all these infrastructures in place. You can’t survive a downturn. Young brands struggle because the fundamental business is so difficult. Beyond the initial magic of creating that hype, it ceases to be that creative after a while.
Bel: I spoke to one design team who said they spend most of their time running the business …
Phillip: That’s’s production. It’s ridiculous. If fine artists had similar mechanics, they’d be destroyed.
Bel: How do you make business work?
Phillip: I’ll make exclusive collections for particular retailers. Stores like Colette and Dover Street like one-offs at any time so I think of that as an image-based, not-for-money activity as volumes are too small. The real business are the collaborations, like the furniture range which is a licensing contrast so I get royalties. The furniture has been an amazing development because it’s shown how the brand can translate. It’s a business that keeps building – without the cash flow problems. We’re developing a lot of these projects because it’s a great way to keep growing but keep the focus on design. Since I changed to that model, we’ve become way more profitable and more efficient.
Bel: How do the collaborations come about?
Philip: Snoopy approached me because they’d seen my humorous stuff. Because they’re a licensing business, they’re always looking for re-positioning and creative direction with their assets. The range has sold really well. It’s still selling, in Colette and Dover Street Market, Urban Outfitters. Beano came to us through Snoopy. Beano is great because it’s very British and very irreverent. I like that spirit of putting a finger up to the establishment.
Bel: The Rodnik Band is an actual band. What part does the music play?
Phillip: I wanted to present the clothes in a different way and I wanted to make a sound to go with the aesthetic. Kate Nash performed her Rodnik Snoopy song at the launch at Selfridges. I’m not musical at all. It’s partly the punk sensibility of doing something purely for the concept.
Bel: You’ve had some interesting launches.
Phillip: We had a lot of fun with Absolut. We got the band together and had a week in Vienna pretending to be this band. The Smart Car launch was very funny. We drove the car onto the runway during the band performance. I was driving and I had terrible images of ploughing into the front row.
Bel: Snoopy, Peanuts, Warhol – you work with a lot of popular icons …
Phillip: For me, the icon is an amazing way of reaching more people. An icon can grab someone walking down a street. And I like the idea of fusing those graphics in the context of fashion.
Bel: The Rodnik Band is turning into a lifestyle brand.
Phillip: If you look at brands like Ralph Lauren, the genius isn’t one polo shirt. It’s tapping into a lifestyle concept; once you establish a lifestyle concept, the brand is very powerful. I’d like to create my own pop art world. Projects like the Smart Car, the furniture, the clothes and the art work can create a world of craziness.
Bel: What part does fashion represent?
Philip: Fashion is absurd when it takes itself too seriously but it can be a way of revolting against convention. Originally, I had this view that fashion was fickle and shallow and that, to be wise, you had to avoid fashion. I didn’t appreciate the value of the aesthetic. Then, when I used to live on Golborne Road, there was an amazing guy from Africa who would dress in different colours. He looked like a Rothko painting, because he was so coordinated. It was all these amazing colour blocks and he put it together in such a way and I realised every time I saw this guy, he was like a ray of sunshine. The value of self-expression and using one’s appearance to play on perceptions is such a powerful tool. Clothing is an amazing vehicle for that: the way you create responses to things. The penny dropped in that department. That’s escapism. That’s bringing art into everyday life.