Bolongaro Trevor was founded in 2006 by British designer Stuart and his co-designer wife, Kait Bolongaro. Stuart has a BA in fashion design from Nottingham Trent University and was head of menswear at Reiss for seven years, then founded fashion brand All Saints in 1994, with Kait (who has an MA in fashion design from the Royal College of Art) joining him in 1996. Together they created the distinctive look and ethos of the cool, indie designer label with a grungy, distressed vibe. They sold All Saints in 2005 and launched Bolongaro Trevor a year later, inspired by the Victorian era and vintage military, blending it with contemporary British street style, also finding inspiration season after season from musical sub genres including punks, mods and teddy boys. Which explains why Bolongaro Trevor has built up a following among actors, models and bands including Daisy Lowe, Gwen Stefani, Courtney Love, Liam Gallagher, Helena Bonham Carter, The Who, Danny O’Donoghue from The Script, and The Libertines.
“When they’ve got an album coming out, they don’t want an international famous designer brand, and they don’t want High Street. What we have is unique,” Stuart says.
There are four Bolongaro Trevor stores, three in London and the one in Leeds.
It was while Stuart and Kait had All Saints that they hit upon running menswear and womenswear side by side, one of the first retailers to do so. “We’ve got girls who buy menswear,” Stuart says. “Not so much the other way round… but the collections are different.
“We don’t particularly target anyone. When I started All Saints I was 28 and when I started Bolongaro Trevor I was 38. My wife and I are designing clothes for ourselves. Our customers are probably 30 to 50s. We do get a lot of customers who mix vintage and Westwood with Bolongaro Trevor.”
For All Saints, Leeds was a top-performing store, so opening a Bolongaro Trevor in the city was a priority. “Leeds is very vibrant, and probably, after London, it’s the coolest and most fun city in the country,” Stuart says.
For this spring/summer, there are pieces in Bolongaro Trevor’s own prints, hand- painted and digitally drawn. “There’s a whole story based on the raven and the kings and queens of England – a little bit macabre, but very cool,” says Stuart. “We also have our own take on the Hawaiian shirt, inspired by 18th century illustrations of birds, and another with battleships.”
Meanwhile, in womenswear, Bolongaro Trevor’s parachute dresses are much sought after, collectors’ pieces for many fashionable clients, season after season.
When it comes to modelling the clothes, Stuart often asks friends, customers and staff. “They look good and we like to work with real people,” he says.
In a new direction for the brand, Bolongaro Trevor is set to open its first store in a mall, at the Westwood shopping centre in Stratford, close to where Stuart, Kait and their three children live in east London. It’s hoped that, down the line, more will follow, perhaps in the Trafford Centre and Meadowhall. “We’ve come to the point where we have realised there is only so much we can do on the High Street with little boutiques,” Stuart says.
Around 80 per cent of the clothes are made in the UK, using a network of small manufacturers in the East End. “We only produce 50 to 100 of anything,” adds Stuart. “Everything is made by hand – it’s not throwaway fashion.”
Customer following and loyalty has played a major role in the brand’s development. “We have one couple from Hull who buy virtually everything, and they discovered the brand in Thornton’s Arcade.”
Last year they dressed young musician George Ezra, just before he hit general public consciousness. “It’s interesting for us to dress young, cool musicians – you never know where they are going to go” Stuart says. Bolongaro Trevor has formed a new partnership with Leeds College of Music, which was showcased at an in-store party night featuring KELL, a psychedelic rock meets haunting pop three-piece.
“My wife and I have both been obsessed with fashion since childhood. “People say ‘why? It’s so fickle’, but after food, it’s probably the most important industry, and first impressions really do count.”
From meeting your wife to getting that job, clothes matter, he says: “What you wear could be one of the most important decisions of your life.”
• Bolongaro Trevor is at Thornton’s Arcade in Leeds and on www.bolongarotrevor.com.