Keith Gray is Founder and Creative Director of Lawsuit. He has worked with the likes of Tomato, KesselsKramer and Wieden + Kennedy, with brands that include Nike, Honda, Diesel, Jaguar Land Rover, Selfridges, Adidas, Puma and Vexed Generation. He has been personally requested by Kanye West to work on Yeezy, Willy Chavaria, Vice President of Design at Calvin Klein and Sir Alex Ferguson to work on Nike Manchester United kit launches.
In this episode of the MenswearStyle Podcast we interview Keith Gray, Founder of Lawsuit about his extensive fashion and graphic design background, working with some of the biggest and most exclusive brands around. Our host Peter Brooker and Keith talk about lecturing at Central Saint Martins, winning Creative Review's Creative Futures scheme, working with Kanye West, being the victim of an horrific attack, what inspired the launch of the Lawsuit brand, the difference between social and fashion trends, and future physical store plans.
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Hello and welcome to another episode of the menswear style podcast. I'm your host Pete Brooker. Today I am talking to the founder and creative director of lawsuit clothing, Keith grey, and Keith he's worked with the likes of tomato kesselskramer and Wheeldon and Kennedy. Were brands that include nyck Honda diesel, Jaguar Land Rover, Selfridges added s Puma and Beck's generation. He has been personally requested by Kanye West to work on easy really Chevrier vice president design at Calvin Klein answer Alex Ferguson to work on Nike Manchester United kit launches very excited to bring you this interview. You can find out more about lawsuit over at the website lawsuit clothing.com And here to tell you more about that and himself in his own words is Keith grey. I'm yeah, as you say creative director of lawsuit I've kind of worked in fashion for a number of years after I studied graphic design at Central Saint Martins college like sort of way back in the late 90s and kind know after that I'd sort of work quite closely with like the cult political fashion brand next generation and I used to design like T shirt graphics for them as well as just everything from stickers and but I can't you know I've sort of like done from graphic design to art direction I've done a lot of stuff with kind of ad agencies but also working for a lot of sportswear brands like Nike and Yeezy and it's kind of everything from actually apparel graphics right through to kind of fashion communication and talk to me about sent mines college I'm always quite fascinated about that place like what year are we talking and what was it like when you were there? It was quite it was like really funny because I do go back quite often a lecturer at ual as it's called now an umbrella. I mean, Kings Cross granary square is very much like a shopping centre now and I mean, it's kind of a little bit is quite funny because it's, well, I'm going to use the word state of the British education system. Whenever I go back there and lecture and it's kinda like the pair course there now I was actually she was in my year and stuff um, and you know, it's kind of we were actually before they moved to granary square we was long a car what we were the last year to be at lawmaker with. It was long acre, Southampton row. And you know, it wasn't long. Alexander McQueen was just a couple of years before when Hussein Chalayan and all of those sorts of greats. And it was funny because I remember I first went I went to St. Martin's I actually snuck on board the boss that was going from cultures to art school, taking the foundation students and and as soon as you used to go into that building, it was like you could just feel what had come before. And it's kind of it's very, very, very different now, but it was it was very much of that time of the late 90s. And kind of you know, after I was at St. Martin's I went to there was a I don't know if you remember like design collective called tomato that was my first place and plays in to Feder tomato with a band underworld. And tomato at the time did all the title graphics for Trainspotting? All of that sort of stuff. And you know, at that time, designers were like rockstars and all I wanted to do was design record sleeves and make music promos, but very cool. I mean, I remember doing a course on Alexander McQueen for my for my fashion course. It wasn't it wasn't that same mines but I did like a module on Alexander McQueen and how like those early shows that he would do which are upper kings Kings Cross their their coal drops yards now but those places and they used to be old rave warehouses, and people are back in the day word you'd see like the likes of Liam Gallagher kind of sneaking in and just being in the in the wings and it felt like a a moment in time that's kind of cryo preserved before social media before everyone had their phones, watching it with their own eyes and experiencing it kind of in the raw flesh that those moments kind of real to you still those days. They very much are and this is a being up in Manchester at the moment exactly that what you're talking about is there was that stuff going on and like taking over those derelict spaces and, you know, in the East End with all of the round Shoreditch. It was Tracy, I mean, you know, on 48th street it was the Gilbert and George Tracy M and Damien Hirst, and you know what, and these people were just doing it offer their own back because they wanted to do it and they had something to make. And they had something to say. And it wasn't about, you know, celebs it was wasn't about being interested in celebrity status, but it was about expression of humanity. And you know, like, it's kind of was the antithesis of what social media influencing and that and it was just about doing it and wanting to do it and it very industrious at the same time. And, you know, it was at the time where all the gangsters around Hackney were laundering their money through the devil at warehouses and the way that they do that, where they would let all the artists have the warehouse spaces to live in into working and stuff. And it was kind of this amazing combinate melting pot of kind of people just doing stuff. And yeah, and all of that, all of that stuff, sort of, kind of rounds, Kings Cross and McQueen. And, you know, it sort of, with like, I remember Hussein Chalayan, like in his third year, it was just he would be doing stuff, like taking his clothes, taking it to Hackney marshes and burying them in the clothes, and then just seeing what happened to them. And there was this real great, not for the sake of like, it was gonna make him famous or do anything, but he just had these crazy ideas and was just doing it, then McQueen ever go back to St. Michael's College while you were there. No, he didn't. He was not, not during that time. But, you know, it was, it was it, you know, that sort of like, at the time though, there's some Martin's alumni was very kind of like close, sort of knit and you know, like, whereas. Whereas, because I didn't actually study fashion, I studied graphics. So it was it was a very different department. But then again, there was all sorts of like, the design greats. And and everyone like, you know, Phil Baines as a typography teacher and different things and, and that so so it was this amazing, because the way that the course was set up, I mean, I'm sure the fashion students had that contact intuition of these sort of masters, as did we with filmmakers, and graphic designers and art directors and different things. And so from there, talk to me about the next steps of where you went from two minds college. And you did you were the head of creative at Asus, and then global Creative Director at Jaguar Land Rover, am I kind of fast tracking into the future were they in between, like, tracking so kind of like after similar to what happened I won. Creative reviews quit a Futures Initiative for design and we got to design an extra window in Selfridges and different things. And you know, it's kind of when I left was all I did was start taking my portfolio around to like places like like, when I met Adam and Joe at Vex generation, I remember I would just be ringing these people going, can I come show you my portfolio, you know, from the payphone, on bidet Road in my land where my sort of student flat was and you know, I never forget the first time that ringing off and like Joe hunter from vexed picking the phone up and kind of you know, it guys kind of became very, very close friends of mine and it's sort of that that was an entrepreneurial spirit of everyone kind of helping each other out. And when I say entrepreneurial, I don't mean FOMO sort of business or financial goal it was just mates helping mates out and stuff like that. And then but after winning that I got a left actual letter in the post like which you wouldn't get any more I remember it from daybell who was the ECD of kesselskramer at the time kesselskramer A Dutch communications agency very famous for doing all the old diesel ads like the save yourself stuff and and everything like that. So I was over in Amsterdam for a couple of years working as a designer art director coming back working on Nike at Wyden Kennedy and you know that all the while still doing all the other stuff like helping back style and different things. Some stuff with Mandarin adult is the marquee there was a great tank magazine is massive now but but Massoud and stuff when they first started I went to see him at their little office I was doing little spreads design spreads for them when their magazine was like this was tiny. They have very short sort of like subscription rates and things like that. And um, but I think I think kind of like really funnily enough what, what sort of like happened a little bit was and this all kind of led up to the formation of law suit was you know, one of the things kind of like when you're when you're growing up and you're encouraged to follow your dreams and what your dreams and ambitions are, is as you can kinda progress for you for your career. One of the things you don't sort of get taught is actually your ambitions and your dreams and things change, you know, and whatever. And I think for quite a long time, I was quite sort of, I would say, I was misplaced, I'd kind of lost what it was that I wanted to do. Or maybe it was that I never discovered what I wanted to do. I mean, they sort of say that university is a time that you should be figuring out what it is you want to do. But I think upon leaving university, you never, you never, there's no one thing Oh, yeah, that's what I definitely want to do. You're continually sort of like discovering and sort of exploring. And I think for quite a number of years, I was in a situation where I was kind of doing doing whatever I liked in the hope that I would discover that I liked what I did, you know, and sort of like, and it was just a really interesting sort of like go ad agency working at Nike being asked by Silas Fosun to do kit launches. The only reason I was asked to do kit launch is because people that work on Nike, that they're out of design agencies absolutely love football, whereas I hate football. So I would approach it in a very different way. And I was quite capable of standing in a room with Wayne Rooney, Sir Alex and Ronaldo without falling to pieces. Even as an even though I'm not a man, United fan, I still probably would fall to bits in in that company. So So yes, so it kind of like became a little bit misplaced on it. And it was great, because it was like, I was doing a bit of this and doing a bit of that and trying these different things out. And sort of like, I don't know how I kind of, I couldn't even tell you how I kind of like ended up as head of creative for a sauce. But you know, that was a very misplaced experience for me, I think but you learn you learn a lot, you know, and by the time that I was doing a global creative director, Jackie Orlando, I was very unhappy, very unhappy. And I didn't, I didn't realise it. And you know, really, funnily enough, I think, what what sort of what kind of like happened in a crazy turn of events was actually I was I was actually stabbed in my stomach in and this is gonna go somewhere, but I was stabbed in my stomach. And then, when I was in, I found out I had a tumour in my stomach, which I didn't know I had. And really funny enough, that really put me in a situation where I was able to take some time out to figure out what it was that I wanted to do. And then coincident, really, funnily enough, after, after that happened, I ended up getting a email from Kanye West PA. Because I've kind of gone through this process of what it was that I wanted to do, and I love fashion and working in fashion. I got an email from Kanye West PA, they were trying to find Adam and Joe from Vex generation to help them design a bag. And I'm really funny, it turned out that a lot of my work was actually on his their mood board for that season's collection. And then and I thought it was a some sort of scam or joke at first and then gently bringing me in INGOs can you bring you yeah rang me and me Adam and Joe from Vex were on a plane and it's they go into Chicago. And although they were working on the bag, I sort of ended up staying a bit longer and working with the a&r team on kind of look and film stuff for Yeezy, which was really good. And sort of, I guess, when I came back, and then coming back to Manchester and not coming back to London, that was kind of like the formation of lawsuit, I guess, in quite a lot of way I was nourished by that experienced and, you know, yay, is kind of amazingly creative, but amazingly. How can I put it diplomatically, you know, a reputation for you know, he's a very talented guy, but you kind of nervous by that experience for both the good reasons and the bad reasons. And and I think coming back to the country at the time with things like Theresa May with Brexit with the experiences that I had gone through and everything like that, I'd always had this idea of lawsuit floating around which was all about discontentment being the enemy of invention and because because sort of society felt very discontent and I felt very discontented kind of gave birth to this sort of idea of a clothing label that was about fashion. Born out of the fury of the fallen, I guess if I'm going to be very dramatic about the way that Talk about that. Yeah. Well, lots to digest there. Okay, if I didn't want to interrupt you, I just felt like there was a good flow. And I was fascinated. So before I let you run with that, but I mean, we'll get to lawsuit in a sec. But a couple of things. On you mentioned, going back to like following your dreams. And I say this to quite a few people that come on the show, it is weird how you have this, follow your dreams, Mantra beaten into you, when really, it's not the sort of stuff you want to be preaching about. What you really want to be preaching is about having a great work ethic, you know, getting up at the crack and outgoing the guy next to you who's going to be trying to get up an hour earlier than you and working harder. The whole follow your dreams thing felt, to me when I was growing up in the 90s. It felt like, if I just make it in a band, and I become famous, if just someone listens to my demo, then then I'm there then I've arrived. So I follow my dreams right down to the edge of the cliff. And then you kind of hit your mid 30s. And you have that fight club mentality of like, Oh, we're not famous and we're pissed off about it. Now, and it comes quite hard. The the older you get to try and rebrand yourself and convince other people No, this is what I'm about. Now, I'm doing this thing over here. You used to know me for this, but now I'm changing it because people kind of like to place you and pigeonhole you. And not just like me, everyone, right? So everyone and I think this for me much of a thing of really funny, particularly in a sort of creative industry where really funnily enough, I don't think people like want to get that pigeonhole thing and then it's there and it's safe and actually really funny in kind of a lot of mics with people don't like to see you doing well and people don't like to see you kind of transforming yourself and you know, it kind of you know, it's very much of life this thing of follow your dreams and you're steadily going up, but it's not new continually get somewhere new. That's not right. And you want to reinvent yourself, but it feels like the world or society isn't set up in that way. So we then have things first, like midlife crisis, where you're kind of vilified for this. When actually I kind of feel like it's more like a midlife awakening where you've gone this one way and heard this view feel a bit duped. So you find and actually but you're vilified in a wave so that that's a bad thing. You're having a crisis, but actually when kind of just you're finding a different way and kind of an awakening. Yeah, and if you just so happened to get a cocktail waitress has a girlfriend aged 18 And in the middle, who's complaining if you want to go out and buy a two litre GTI and have it wrapped in matte black, or, you know, I'm going to go out and spend spend my life savings on a G Wagen then you know, exactly that is your prerogative and no one can call you out on it. Listen, one last thing I guess before we get into lawsuit, I mean, a million things but you know, we don't have all the time in the world but the stabbing, so you got stabbed? What I guess it was just basically where I was living in Chatwal. I mean, it was kind of a sort of homophobic and racist attack. And, you know, but, but it wasn't actually that event. It was, you know, don't go into hospital and the stabbing having saved my life, which was the thing which was a crazy I did if it was for headstock, it was a complete headphone, I'm not gonna lie because it was the tumour apparently was I'd had it since birth, and I didn't know it was there. And it was in my bow and it was so big that had not been stabbed and taken to hospital, it would have been, I would have maybe had a week to live before it exploded in my bowel. So that was a thing of coming to terms with that which was, which was an honour. But you know, like, it's kind of like one of those things. It's like I was saying, if you parallel that at a time in my career, you know, it's kind of that way that the Universe works, you know, it's sort of it's kind of the physical and metaphysical things kind of like aligning, so, just being very miserable, very really unhappy in my life. And that kind of I think it's like only at the precipice, do you evolve and it's sort of like that's one of those points where where you kind of have you become completely fallen you know, like it and as you said, the Fight Club thing. That was one of those moments if I refer to that film where because Fight Club is very lawsuit in a lot of ways are ingrained, often that is, you know, only after you give up everything, are you free to do anything. And it was very much one of those moments that was like, everything's gone, you know, so let's talk about lossy I want to get into it. So how old when when was it born and and talk to me about the inspirations of them. So, so lawsuit was is about two or three years old. I mean, I think lawsuit is one of those things, which has been is probably a lifelong thing. I mean, kinda like every a lot of people were telling me that I should write a book about different experiences or things but you know, it's kind of as a multi channel storyteller, rather than write a book. I was like, really more interesting to tell these stories for fashion, kinda like, not that I consciously thought exactly that at the time but but, you know, lawsuit coming back from the States after working with VA onesie was I've had this idea floating around for a while and although lawsuit is a lot of is a lot of different things, you can put it on one thing, I mean, it was definitely all always, I've always been interested in social trends, not fashion trends. We're having worked in fashion, all about these issues of self worth and everything and everything that kinda like been through and, and but actually, the core of the idea for lawsuit started when I had this idea for a tracksuit coming back at the time, there were a lot of brands that were doing stuff like, you know, Pepsi and Phil are doing these co labs, and it's like, kinda like Pepsi, his way of buying their way into the bait is very exploitative of the youth as well, because it's almost like, Oh, we've got no new ideas, let's just get Pepsi involved. And then we can make a sweater that's blue, red and white. And then Pepsi can give us a lot of money for it. And then we can sell loads to kind of 16 to 24 year olds, and then, you know, Pepsi have established themselves as a Youth Authority and, and, you know, so at this idea of doing a job or kind of a job tracksuit, which was we did a taxi, there was a co lab of 50 different band labels and it was literally like, almost like urban camouflage this tracksuit kind of like as if you take on Piccadilly Circus and put it on a sweater. And but in the label it read MB, we do not have permission to use any other brand logo. And so it was, it was a very much a social and fashionable comment, comment. But the tracksuit was literally a lawsuit. kind of almost like the best the kinda like the best thing that could have happened for lawsuit was to get a lawsuit in a way which a cease and desist or anything? No, like there was there was no, I mean, there was no lawsuit that came off came of it. But it would have been how fantastic would it had we got got a lawsuit for it. But that was sort of like so the idea of then lawsuit came about, as I was thinking, if we did get a lawsuit, then I would actually put the lawsuit up online. And you know, that would become the advert for the tracksuit. And what what was really interesting with this spark of an idea, and it's sort of like funny that the lawsuit logo became a flame because it was the spark that grew into something fast, which was that whole thing of making everything transparent. So if you get a lawsuit putting the lawsuit up, and, and that and that's where this idea of lawsuit all of a sudden became something bigger. And it was like cultural and social trends, not fashion trends, but a we basically wanted a platform that told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth and you know, like a space that puts every day on trial. And that was kinda like the genesis of lawsuit. What could you just clarify or drill down on the differences between what social trends are and fashion trends in your mind? Yes, or so? And that's a very good question. Because obviously, fashion is greater than garments, you know, like fashion is a lot of things. It can be the way people behave, it can be. But when I talk about social trends, it's kind of like for instance, what I'm interested in is things like, for example, we did a thing last year with footballer David Cox after he was abused on pitch for his mental health so you know, mental health as a social trend and tackling that rather than when I say the word fashion trends, just when I mean fast such as I mean like because long like T shirts, we're not making clothes because as long lead t shirt or drop drop crotch joggers are in trend. We are making a t shirt because we're trying to make a social statement and positive social change about issues that affect people's lives. And we have thanks and so the garments are now online at low Sue clothing.com place people can go and we got any plans to be doing any bricks and mortar is it just online for now? No online for now. Absolutely do bricks and mortar I mean, it's going to like, later this year, I can't say which stores it's going to be available in, but absolutely plans to be a space, you know, like, and, I mean, I'm not too sure what that space or any food will be yet, but kinda like quite interested in, in thinking about a space, you know, like a lot of people go, Oh, it's a cultural venue and it's a thing and it's a club. I quite like the idea of like in Germany and when you go to these nightclubs in Hamburg, and they have stylists and hairdressers on the dance floor, and you can get your hair cut. I quite like the idea of doing something cross between a barber shop and a clothing shop or something like that. I quite like those sorts of matches. So absolutely bricks and mortar somewhere or, you know, unusual or unexpected places like like pop up stores on building sites and I've been on many buildings that I've worked construction most my life and that would be a welcome break in the day to see something that could just buy a house but use all the clothing How great is scaffolding as clothing? Well, so it's ready to be done? Yeah, definitely. Well, listen, keep I could I could talk to you all night. I feel I realise you got to live to get on movin got a bit of a hard out. But again, lawsuit clone.com. We'll put the links and notes over at menswear startup code at UK so people can get an idea of the imagery over there. And the social work, where do you like to hang out on the social pages, if at all. Cause all sorts really, I mean, I kind of am very much one not for the usual typical places, I like to get lost in rabbit holes of all sorts. For example, I hold a what was this, this bloke that I was looking at, like, literally just early is this thing that I've like, fat kid on fire was this bloke that I found sort of like earlier on, on thing. And then I like these sorts of things, and then I just start sending the messages and then start talking. And then we discover all sorts of other things. It's kinda like social things for me on a kind of like really interested in like, one of the ways that we started talking with footballer David Cox was, I was driving one time in the car, and he was on BBC Sports about being abused for it. And then Instagram is actually a great place for connecting with I just started chatting to him on Instagram, and then we came up with this whole idea of a collection thing and stuff like that. But but in terms of social spaces as well, Manchester's a great place for, you know, as we were talking about earlier with those great experiences, like copying things costs or in, down in Shoreditch as well, you know, Manchester because it's not as vast as London or that sort of thing. It's kinda like Manchester has a feel about this, like, the physical version of social spaces as a way of, it's like, you know, going out and you meet people, videographers, or people that run the independent clothing stores. And there's that kind of whole physical social thing that goes up on here. So yeah, and the original caught INNOPOLIS as well, the place where it all began. For the UK. Got written? Yeah, there's also I read in this book here, I've got to hand no good for you on the podcast, you're showing up to key fashion opolis There is a factory in Manchester. It's like the oldest factory. It's not the one that private white operate out of, is another one. And I think it's a, an anyway, I'm not too sure. I love to fashion awfully. This is called a really good book. It's by Dana Thomas. It's all about the price of fast fashion. And yeah, well, it's interesting that stuff. And again, sorry, I know, we said we're gonna carry on. But fast fashion, like this couple of things, which are really interesting. I think it's like, you know, kind of yet with fast fashion and stuff. I mean, there's all that stuff with fast fashion at the minute where they say they're sustainable, and all of this stuff going on. But the thing is, is whether using sustainable, you know, you're still making 16,000 garments times 16,000 every season. So even if you use an organic, you're still using that amount of materials, that amount of water and you still got that amount of waste and stuff. And it's kind of quite interesting, being up here and with the factories as well, whereas, you know, they used to say the Northwest was like the guts of Britain with the mills and when you look at old photographs of everyone lined up in those mills kind of the repetitive thing. It's Funny now because when you look at pictures of design studios and offices in London, although they're not sat at cotton mills it's almost like it's kind of EastEnders been replaced as the guts of Britain but with technology rather than machinery. Yeah, no interesting comparison. It's, well, listen, I again, I could talk to you all night key from sorry, but me, missus has got the dinner on the table and I'd like to tell you there's another reason but that's my lovely to talk to you, Peter. And you might take care when you're in London next, give us a shout. We'll go definitely brilliant. Yeah. Good night. 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