"I thought music was complicated, but it's a f-ing breeze compared to this," says a laughing Paul Weller as he surveys the surrounding clothes rails on which hangs the debut collection of his first stand-alone menswear label, Real Stars Are Rare. It's a line heavily influenced by Weller's own style, developed with the help of Phil Bickley, owner of West London menswear store Tonic. "This is a totally new world to me," continues Weller, "so it's really opened my eyes as to what goes into it."
In a small nondescript London showroom that houses the label's autumn/winter 2014 launch collection, just a few minutes' walk away from the busy shopping mecca that is Oxford Street, the 55-year-old artist looks every inch the well-dressed English gent dressed in a stone trench coat and checkered slim-fit trousers.
"Music and clothes have always been a big part of my life," says the one-time frontman of The Jam and The Style Council and latter-day solo artist, whose sharp, mod-influenced style and distinctive close-cropped haircut, now silver grey, has earned him the moniker "The Modfather."
Reflecting on his status as a British style icon, Weller in recent years embarked on a number of forays into fashion, designing limited lines for clothing brands Fred Perry and Ben Sherman, as well as Oasis/Beady Eye singer Liam Gallagher's menswear label Pretty Green in 2011.
"For a long time I've wanted to do it and I have sort of dipped my toe in here and there, but they were [mostly] just one-off things and, for me, there was always an air of too much compromise," says the artist, who recently starred in advertising campaigns for British label Daks and U.S. designer John Varvatos, who called Weller one of music's most iconic singer/songwriters.
The decision to launch his own menswear label was born out of a series of conversations with Bickley, whose Tonic store on Portobello Road was where Weller would regularly shop, or, as the musician jokes, "get fleeced."
Beginning with the loose idea of making some tees and dress shirts, the pair have spent the last two years developing the brand's inaugural autumn/winter 2014 collection, which veers between formal wear and sharp casual.
"There is nothing in there I wouldn't wear myself," says Weller, whose current favorite (it regularly changes, he says) is a piece of knitwear emblazoned with the brand's star-shaped logo. "There's a very formative period of time for me between the mid-1960s up to the early 1970s that forms a bedrock to all the things that I really like. That's my original source of inspiration, but at the same time there's nothing here that doesn't look contemporary," he states, proudly eyeing the collection.
"This is not a celebrity-endorsed clothing brand," adds Bickley, who already is turning his thoughts to a spring/summer 2015 collection, which will also include footwear. "Paul has been involved every step of the way. He drew all the designs. He has been helping choose fabrics, coming to meet the manufacturers. It's a real hands-on thing."
The duo -- whose close friendship is evident in their jokey banter -- are meeting with international retailers with a view to getting the collection in a limited number of stores in the United Kingdom and the States later this year. The line, which ranges from about $80 for a pocket square to roughly $800 for a jacket, can be purchased at Tonic and on the company's website beginning in August. "We're not trying to become some massive global brand. I'm more interested in keeping it quite small and select," says Weller, who came up with the label's name. "It's an old showbiz saying that 'real stars are rare, they only come out at night,' which I always thought was funny," he adds, dismissively noting the idea of naming it after himself would be "naff." "For me, [the name] means that real quality is a bit more discerning and a bit harder to find sometimes," he adds. "And that's the idea behind the label."