Off-kilter, authentic, esoteric and grounded all at once, ROTTINGDEAN BAZAAR are a law unto themselves. Shirking definition, the designers James Theseus Buck and Luke Brooks exemplify a fresh aesthetic, prizing DIY over the old notions of trend-led fashion. More Or Less shoots their runway collection of subverted rental costumes, while SIMON COSTIN, creator of the Museum of British Folklore, imagines a surreal encounter with the duo in their home town as he searches for a fancy-dress hire shop
Photography by Colin Dodgson Styling by Danny Reed
I went for a walk around Rottingdean yesterday. Tripping along the A259, otherwise known as Marine Drive, in the hope of spotting the house where James Theseus Buck and Luke Brooks work from. Rumour has it that the house faces onto the sea and used to belong to Luke’s mum.
I’m not sure what I was expecting to glimpse. A garden full of giant gnomes or filled with plastic flowers, possibly. Something on one level mundane but on another totally fantastical.
I stop a passer-by. “Excuse me, is there a costume-hire shop in town?” “I don’t think so, love, but you could ask in the tea rooms.”
In the Olde Cottage Tea Rooms & Restaurant (AD 1589 apparently), I spy a discarded guidebook with creased pages and what appears to be a pubic hair stuck to a smear of clotted cream.
“Rottingdean Bazaar. A liberating starting point for an exploration of personal fantasies, conscious or unconscious, often through formal means of great beauty.”The waitress appears. “Do you want some tea, or what?”
“I don’t suppose you know if there’s a costume-hire shop anywhere?”
“As the viewer’s mind works with the provocative image, unconscious associations are liberated, and the creative imagination asserts itself in a totally open-ended investigative process.”
“Thanks for that, but it doesn’t really answer my question.”
“Ask in Arty Pharty; they might know.” She wanders off, humming the tune to Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep.
Arty Pharty had a row of deckchairs outside, each one had a print of either a naked man or women in bikinis. Inside was a young man arranging a series of life-sized cutouts of famous people, including Naomi Campbell.
“I wonder if you could help me? I’m looking for a costume-hire shop.”
The young man looked thoughtful for a moment and then said: “You mean as a way of reuniting conscious and unconscious realms of experience so completely that the world of dream and fantasy would be joined to the everyday rational world in an absolute reality, a surreality?”
“Well, not quite. I just wanted to hire a costume.”
“Give Frock UK a go. Turn left out of here and it’s on the High Street.”
This was rapidly turning into a thankless task. In Frock UK, an elderly lady was gluing rubber pasta shapes on to a flesh-coloured body-stocking. She looked up, and before I could ask anything she fixed me with a steely eye and said, “Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express – verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner – the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by the thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.”
I turned and left her to her gluing.
I needed a drink and a few doors down was Ye Olde Black Horse public house. Written outside was a board. “This Saturday. Live music with Miss Disney. All your favourite Disney songs in the singalong ADULT SHOW. Expect ADULT content.” My mind was racing to imagine what on earth that would be like. The barmaid seemed to be engaged in sticking words to a fabric dartboard with a hole in the centre. “Bunting – Tin Foil – Folk Festival Jumper – Butterfly Wings – Satin Cargo Pants”. Things found in a car-boot sale, possibly, or the contents of a flat?
I ordered a pint of Rottingdean Best. Written on the beer mat was “Let us not mince words: the marvellous is always beautiful, anything marvellous is beautiful, in fact only the marvellous is beautiful.”
Finishing my drink, I returned the glass to the bar, where the barmaid was now wearing the dartboard as a headdress. She looked at me and declared: “The mind of the man who dreams is fully satisfied by what happens to him. The agonising question of possibility is no longer pertinent. Kill, fly faster, love to your heart’s content. And if you should die, are you not certain of reawakening among the dead? Let yourself be carried along, events will not tolerate your interference. You are nameless. The ease of everything is priceless.”
Continuing along the High Street, a man passes me wearing glasses and holding a pole with various signs advertising bird whistles. I stop him and buy a duck quacker. Along with it comes a small leaflet with a short Q&A between an unknown interviewer and James Theseus Buck and Luke Brooks.
Tell us about your fetishisation of objects.
Luke: We like to use everyday objects in our work, as they give people a way in. This grew out of the sort of experimentation we both did at college.
How did the pube badges come about?
James: My mum bought me a badge making machine when I was doing my MA and I wanted to make a contemporary version of one of those Victorian memento mori jewellery pieces which used real hair. Luke is quite hairy, so we used some of his. The badges grew out of that.
Where does your interest in Folklore come from?
Luke: My father is a painter, and quite religious. He gave me an interest in spiritual things and talked about the way all objects have their own power and spirit. He had a copy of JG Frazer’s The Golden Bough which I read.
James: I was obsessed with wizards at boarding school; the teachers must have been searching the rooms for drugs or something, and confiscated my cauldron and Tarot cards. There was even a mention at the morning assembly that someone had been practising witchcraft. Also, my granny, Marion, had a kind of hippy shop in Rottingdean in the 1970s which sold jewellery charms and crystals.
You mentioned that you don’t aim to make something attractive but to represent something. What, currently, would that something be?
I think what we are always trying to aim for is to make things which are, as clear as they can be, outcomes of a process – representative of a process. Like souvenirs or artefacts from a system or moment. And in that sense we seem to focus on designing processes for making things, rather than designing things themselves. This is partly because we seem to be more interested in experimenting and promoting ideas and ways of approaching things than selling things themselves. We relate to the idea of making clothes or objects as coming up with a recipe which anyone can use.
Do you believe that objects have spirits even if they are man-made?
We probably do. I think we see that working in multiple ways, seeable and unseeable. We are often puzzling together different man-made found objects, and sometimes it is uncanny how certain things serendipitously go together. We also spend a lot of time in charity shops and we see those items as charged with feeling and mystery, like an anthropological, cosmic tombola.
What does Folklore mean to you?
We think that folklore is storytelling through people, objects, words or pictures. And that stretches from ancient things to modern things like contemporary advertising. When we are working on something, we consciously think about if and how it can be presented as a story. I often think we treat the physical items themselves almost like props to tell that story. They have to feel just believable enough. It was really evident how prominently aspects of folklore play a part in our lives when we were at college. Especially in retrospect you realise how many stories are circulating an institution like that. So as well as the physical place, theres a whole mythical, emotional, spiritual level to it.
Do you think the mundane can be magical?
Every mundane or typical object, action or phenomenon seems to have multiple levels of reality to it. Their basic physical properties, but also how they connect to our internal, emotional, psychological landscape. There is also the sense of how mundane things have evolved over time, and all the different versions that have occurred to get to where we are today. There seems to be a lot of opportunity for wonder and magic-like feelings when you take things that people know they recognise and then twist or transform them.
What do you like about Rottingdean?
Rottingdean is really supportive of us. It’s a functioning and friendly village where it feels like everyone is working on their own projects and helping each other. The people are energetic and active. It is really inspiring and also grounding to have a role within that. The structure of the village is very elemental, from the landscape with the sea and fields, the houses, churches and nunnery, to how it operates with classic local businesses like the butcher, the fishmonger, the veg shop, the post office and pubs. It is helpful as creatives to be surrounded by that index of universal experiences and references.
I tucked the leaflet into my jacket pocket, and turned to retrace my steps…
For full shoot, please purchase our print edition at select retailers
Models: Anna, Aiden, Ami, Harriet, Olivia, Sophie, Ibrahim and Rosie at Casting Real. Make-up: Olivia Rose. Casting: Danny Reed. Fashion assistant: Julie Velu