Q&A with Casual Connoisseur

We recently caught up with twins, Tom and Dan, the brains behind Casual Connoisseur, to talk football, the infamous countylads and Tony Soprano, amongst other things, in one of the most in depth interviews we have ever done. Enjoy…

Welcome lads, how are you both doing?

All good, just about to watch our first home game of the season against Halifax town, only it’s two months late, I’m not four pints in, wearing a big coat and a funny hat, and it’s a live stream on the telly via the Internet, what a funny old year!

For those who may not be aware, could you give us a bit of background to the brand and your journey so far?

Tom and Dan, CC The Casual Connoisseur or ‘Casualco’ as everyone says (easier to spell and pronounce) established 2006, been many ups and one or two downs over the years. Still here though, doing what we do, still got some big ideas, still don’t know what we want to be when we grow up.

How has the label changed over the years?

It’s stayed relatively similar to be honest, not sure if that’s a good or bad thing on our part really, we know what we are as a brand and have a loyal, regular customer base so it’s pretty decent, things could always be better but they could be worse, just happy to be still at it in our own little way.

How big of an impact has COVID had on your set up?

It’s been a very weird year, when this thing really kicked on and the first big lockdown happened, I was on the verge of going under, I thought that would be it for us in all honesty. If people are panic buying toilet roll and pasta, nobody is going to be too arsed about graphic t-shirts and hats and stuff, but we actually went really busy and that helped a lot. The local PO were thanking us for keeping them busy. Being online and people being stuck in browsing the Internet more has worked out OK for us. We recently tweaked a lot of our main website too, during that first lockdown, tied up a lot of loose ends and got it up to scratch.

It’s been harder to get certain things, we’ve got three, maybe four coats I’ve been trying to do for a while now via different people and places, but it’s something that’s gone on the backburner, which is a shame as it’s something we’ve been desperate to crack on with going forward. There’s a new ‘Overlook’ parka we’re working on with Far Afield and some nice flannel shirts too, swatches and samples are taking a longer to come through with all the back and forth delays. It’s just how it is really, we’ll get there.

Personally, it’s been a shit time, but there’s always people in a worse position so can’t really grumble too much. This current curfew is something that has pissed us off, you work to live and we like to get out at the weekend, we’re night owls and love pub culture (not pissheads) and having to cut your night short at 10pm is fucking rubbish. I’m fully behind pubs and bars trying to change this, everywhere we go has been sound and places cannot cope with these enforced changes, so many places will close for good and loads of people will be out of work. The looming threat of another lockdown is as depressing as the current weather. You can’t go out with your mates like normal, but you can go and play fancy dress in the countryside killing innocent wildlife, you couldn’t make it up. Should probably keep my opinions of the government to myself really, but they have been totally fucking useless throughout all this, we all should have known this though, eh?

You just assume it will all get better by next year, but who knows what is around the corner.

What’s been your biggest achievement with the brand so far?

The obvious answer would be the Overlook hat, which has then in turn become a shirt, a jumper, socks, and a scarf and hopefully a coat soon too. It’s pretty far removed from the whole ‘casual’ thing too which makes it even more mad and was just a very good idea at the time. Loads have copied that premise now. Brands have literally started on the back of that idea and it’s success, so I think that answers that question. It also put lots of people onto the film the Shining itself. The horror genre isn’t something I’m that into, but when you have one of the finest actors with one of the finest film makers you have to take notice. Doing a product based around a carpet from that film is as mad as it sounds, sometimes I regret not going full throttle with the original hats and making a lot more money, but it is what it is and not really how we do things. Every time we did those they did their own bit of ‘breaking the Internet’ which is something we’ll always remember. Being a twin it was also crazy to see the original sisters from the film in the hats too!

That aside, we have done some good things over the years, there’s a lot to take in and remember, if I was more organised I’d have done a better archive of everything we have done.

Here’s another one for you. A postman, a chef, a teacher, a banker, a student, a care worker, a digital analyst, a musician and a printer all walk into a bar. It’s not a joke, there’s no punchline – it’s one of our ‘meets’, when thirty or forty lads are walking through London, Brum, Manchester , even Sicily, Stockholm or Spain and someone nudges us to say you created this, that’s a nice feeling. I should mention that too, always a pleasure. Sorry I went full David Brent there didn’t I?

As Stockport County fans, are you optimistic for the season ahead?

Yes, very. It’s been a strange time following us. Growing up I guess we were spoiled as pretty much from the get go (I’d say 1990/1 was our first proper season) it was a decade of success, four trips to Wembley, numerous cup upsets, punching above our weight, decent rivalries with bigger clubs, brilliant players etc. Our legendary manager Danny Bergara was the first overseas manager to lead an English team out at Wembley (imagine that?) and he really turned the club’s fortunes around. All culminating in 1996/7 with Dave Jones who followed him with a season which we will never beat, promotion to Division One/Championship and a League Cup semi Final, we were just of the right age, had a season ticket and went to as many away games as we could, I’m glad I had the memories, as after five seasons in that league things started to go slightly downhill over the coming years. There’s too much shite to get into – crap managers, sharing with a pompous rugby union side who shafted us etc… but it left us in what is now the sixth tier for six seasons.

At one point for a while we’d all but given up, it was no fun, it’s not just the match but everything that comes with it, losing at village clubs every week just became a dull chore for the hardcore few. So anyway, Jim Gannon is back at the helm and arguably the best manager we’ve had in many ways. It became fun again a couple of seasons back, started going regularly again and we won the National League North last season. It was decent, there’s places I’ve visited I never thought I’d see us play at. We’re too big for that level, that’s not being cocky but for many reasons we should never have fallen that far, we did though, and it was a long way back. Our support has been great, averaging 5,6 thousand at this level is brilliant and our away support is always superb. It’s quite different to following us in the league, not many clubs have big followings, most weeks there’s no away fans but there has been the odd spicy encounter too, Hereford, Wrexham etc. Good days out to remind you of the good days.

A rare thing for a club like us and especially in the current climate is we were recently taken over by a local billionaire businessman. It seems like we are finally due some good fortune, we’ve signed a lot of very good players for this level, finally gone full time, got a great training complex, the ground is being redeveloped. We’re pretty much favourites for the title and so we should be, we’re one of the big guns anyway so that return to the league should be sooner rather than later. I don’t want to get cocky like a lot of our fans, as you just never know what can happen. It’s just fucking typical that as all this happens we then have a global pandemic and nobody can even go and watch us.

We recently took a game in at Sandygate, home of Hallam FC, the oldest ground in the world. We’ve got an advert there and one at Golcar FC just outside Huddersfield via our pal Brodie, grass roots at it’s best. We’ll get one at Edgeley Park at some point too.

Tell us about the infamous countylads site?

It was of it’s time and the Internet was a lot different back then before social media. Parts of it would make me cringe looking back but it was always well received wherever we went. I’ve had and still get people all over the world talking about it. I’ve been in bars abroad and people have come over to talk about it. A lot of the content was ‘firm’ as we were all bang at it back then, but I’ve always said it went hand in hand with the clothes and it was the first real website to delve into that. There was a bit of everything, nostalgia, match reports, galleries. The graphics on there were all done ourselves and improved over time but I think despite being basic now, it was genuinely quite striking visually for the time and it gave people something to smile about. We had a page dedicated to Massimo Osti when a lot of people then outside of those circles wouldn’t have known who he was. I had asked lads who were well renowned for their collections take photographs of it all and it was the first time anybody had ever really done that. Like Kerso from Motherwell, Oliverbeer from Stoke etc. I’ve met lots of people through CC who I’d conversed with on the Internet via countylads all those years ago, people like Peter O’Toole who we’ve worked with a lot over the years, Nelly from Veras shoes (Ex Drooghi Cardiff) Minty, Josh Parkin, Neal Heard, the ‘authors’ too, like Tony Rivers and Phil Thornton and Neil and Mark from Proper who we’ve known for years, the lads from Weekend Offender, Berlin Groundet, Outskirts from Moscow, Our Culture. Trickett and Sock Council too and anybody else I may have missed, all people we have ended up doing stuff with.

I guess it was an early form of networking. Everybody was from the same sort of background so despite following other clubs, it kind of bridged a gap a little and made sense as we’re all into the same things anyway. It was always trying to make sense of a scene or movement even, that was given very little attention. that was always my reasoning behind doing it.

It’s not just football that inspires the brand, where else do you draw inspiration?
Football, film, music and popular culture was always our thing, the great outdoors too, I get aching knees if I walk upstairs at the moment, but getting out into the hills and muddying your boots was always a thing for us (as long as there was a pub nearby) we’ll get back to more of that, it’s a lot more popular now. We used to get the piss taken out of us for all our ‘rambling’ themed stuff back in the day. But big coats, nice scenery and fresh air is always good for clearing the head.

We’ve recently done some nice t-shirts with some choice lyrics featured, Talking Heads, The Style Council, The The and Morrissey, a bit more grown up maybe. They have done well, maybe we’ll do more unless we get a cease and desist. We did a bit of a rebrand with a nice logo we developed with a graphic designer years ago, it was recently registered too. It’s basically a tweaked version of ‘Avant Garde Gothic’ designed in the 70’s by Herb Lubalin and Tom Carnase, it’s pretty much the font of some great old film posters like Scorsese’s Mean Streets for any typography fans.

What brands are you currently favouriting?

I go through different phases myself, I can switch from one thing to the next. Over the last couple of years, I’m guilty of nostalgic purchases, like stuff I used to have or wanted back in the day. I do that with a lot of the typical football labels – Massimo Osti designed stuff, old Stone Island and CP bits. The market is crazy now though, there’s a million ‘vintage’ retailers via social media now and the prices are driven right up. I can still find the odd bargains though, recently got a few Left Hand coats, a couple which were deadstock and tagged, they were too boxy on me twenty years ago, now they fit well. That Paninaro influence is still there too, like late 1980’s both Best Company and Henri LLoyd stuff that was designed by Olmes Carretti. Some of it is bonkers, but I like that, and I’ve got some nice pretty rare coats, which you won’t really see anybody else, which is what it’s all about really. I’ve always been an outerwear fanatic, I have quite a lot of original Berghaus Goretex models and old school Belstaff stuff from their ‘adventure’ sort of line, Chris Bonington endorsed, that sort of thing, it was all made in Staffordshire back then. I reckon I’ve probably got as many original Norrona Sport coats than they have in their own archive. So basically, lots of nice colour blocked, technical outerwear, that whole mountaineer thing, mixed and matched, suede shoes and a nice tweed hat.

I’ve always had this thing with Clarks too, I spent six years running a big stockroom in a shoe shop in Manchester and always wore Wallabees to work, they’re like slippers to me and I once had a nasty electric shock whilst changing a starter on a tube light, when I was in A&E the nurse said the rubber/crepe sole probably saved my life as I was up a steel ladder. So, yeah. They’re another daft obsession for me, it goes beyond all the shoes I have though, I’ve got caps, hats, t-shirts, bags, mugs, trinkets, things they didn’t really release, little collectables. It’s a mad obsession, those that know will understand it.

I’d always deny being classed as a collector, but I am very guilty of hoarding stuff, especially loads from the same labels. Kenneth from 6876 called me an ‘archivist’ and that makes a lot of sense, another label I’ve always been into, I think I counted six or seven old coats in the same Grey colour/fabric the other day, it’s mental. I honestly thought I’d snap out of it as I got older, but it gets worse to be honest. There are worse things to waste money on I suppose. They all stand the test of time.

What’s your holy grail clothing wise?

I find myself chasing things I don’t even think really exist, I have a lot of saved searches on eBay put it that way. I’m pretty happy with what I have now, I need less coats and more space! I can’t mention the couple of things I’ve been after for ages as they’ll suddenly reappear and I’ll miss out on them.

I’d say my favourite coat at the minute is probably the Metropolis from CP Company, the proper winter one it’s just a very good sturdy coat, pockets in all the right places and the mask. I never use it, but like goggles in a hood, it’s a gimmick and we all love a good gimmick, don’t we? The Dynafil fabric is very good and I’m surprised how little they have used that in twenty odd years since. I’m lucky enough to have found this in four different colours over the years and the Move jacket with the scooter, that collection was mega, it’s come full circle as things always do. The new ones look good, I’ll always say the originals are better, they usually are. I do like that Dyneema one which has split opinions. I know it wouldn’t have been cheap to make, but I don’t think I would spend that even if I was minted. I’d be scared to wear it too, imagine getting a blip burn on it?

Any brands you would like to collaborate with in the future?

That’s a good and tough question, we are a tiny brand really, so it’s hard to see things like that happening. It’s all about who you know and what you can offer bigger brands for that to ever materialize from experience, there’s one or two I’d love to work with which would be a proper collaboration i.e. someone doing something they specialize in which you can’t do yourself, a lot of collabs are collabs for collabs sake, not really a meeting of minds creating a great, unique product, it’s more just two brands stuck together to sell more product. If we could do the things I’d like to or dream about doing it would be very good for a small brand like ourselves. I’ve seen this happen and it’s very good to help introduce you to a new audience and you can also create product to look back on and be very proud of.

It can’t just be a case of knocking on the door of somewhere and hoping they do it, we have pretty much tried that in the past and it’s not a nice feeling to be snubbed. I can’t name names but there’s been a few we came close to and for one reason or another they just fizzled out which was frustrating. There’s two footwear giants based in this very town for example, doing something with either of those would have always created a buzz, it seems unlikely, but then you other labels working with them which you are then surprised about.

Moving away from fashion, you’re both huge fans of the Sopranos – do you think Tony was killed?

I’d always thought and creator David Chase originally said it that it was left open to interpretation, it was kind of like we, the audience were ‘whacked’. It was a very strange ending, but a good way to do it and the fact we’re still talking about it after all this time proves that. There’s loads of different takes on it and hints throughout the last season about how you never see it coming, but who was left to kill him? the war had ended. I reckon it was left to possibly return to one day, which makes sense. But as time has moved on, people have got a lot older and with James Gandolfini’s untimely passing that would never be a possibility now. That was a real shocker, people were actually texting us to ask if we were OK.

I hope the new prequel film goes some way to filling that gap, I’m about ready to watch it all back to back again soon too, it set the benchmark for great television we now have today, it’s still remains the top dog.

You’re keeping the show’s memory alive with some Tony inspired shirts, how did that come about?

It’s a great little project to have done, we linked up with Far Afield who have the access to making things like this a possibility – our imagination, their know-how and factories, a good example of a collab. We’ve done two so far and have at least one, maybe two to follow. It was picked up by decent Instagram accounts dedicated to the Sopranos and all things mob related and was in the Wall Street Journal which was nice recognition. His shirts are quite horrible designs even but he pulls them off every time, there’s something unique and cool about them, they’re never really made by any known labels and where would even buy such a thing? It’s nice to be able to recreate things like that from film and TV, such as the Overlook shirt, Hunter S Thompson’s snazzy shirt from the Omnibus documentary where he famously did a line of coke behind the BBC’s clapperboard. Then there’s the recent Tony Montana one, which is bonkers but arguably the best holiday shirt a man could buy.

If you could only watch one film for the rest of your life, what are you choosing and why?

The cool answer would be something like Goodfellas which I’d still say is one of the most perfect films. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Boogie Nights, Mean Streets, Nil By Mouth, Kes, Meantime, Nuts In May, The Firm (Director’s cut). The list is endless, different films for different moods. I can still flop on the settee and really enjoy stuff like Police Academy as much as I can enjoy some a bit of Euro or World cinema.

Onto music, who are you currently listening to?

Right now, a real mixed bag on Spotify, got one of those Google nest things where you tell it to play stuff as if we couldn’t get any lazier. Funkadelic, Frank Zappa, Brian Jonestown, Creedence Clearwater, Talking Heads, Rolling Stones, The Fall, Happy Mondays, Roy Orbison, Fleetwood Mac, Bowie, The Dubliners, old school hip hop, Motown and basically lots of dead long winded jukebox busting, guitar solo music. Helps me concentrate when I’m on the PC and trying to edit stuff on Photoshop.

‘OK, Google, you can turn Megan Thee Stallion off now…’

What albums do you never tire of hearing?

The The – Soul Mining, Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed, Ice-T – Power, basically, anything off here really.

What are your plans for the future with the brand?

I want us to continue to grow, a couple of years back we were really at a good point, manufacturing stuff in the UK and Portugal and the USA, I was very happy with where we were at. There’s been a couple of things happen behind the scenes over the years which has knocked us back and we’ve had to pretty much start again from scratch, but that’s a different story for another time. It can be a little soul destroying if you put your heart and soul into a project and not to mention expensive and it then not do so well. I was very happy with our last Anoraks and they were as good as anything out there in terms of quality and design, but they were a bit of a slow seller. To me, we were doing it what I feel is the best way, there’s no right or wrong way, but smaller numbers, not mass produced, made very locally – the factory is less than twenty miles away. The fabric mills we use like Millerain and Brisbane Moss are all used by top brands and are both about forty minutes away. It’s all a bit of a learning curve and something I want to do much more of, designing your own clothes and seeing it go from a sketch to arriving in a box is a great feeling. It can’t be beaten. So, yes, more of that for sure.

Our Weir hats continue to be a great success, there’s quite a few ready to go as I type, more tweed hats and caps too. I love the flat caps we do with City Sport in Belgium, they are superb quality, those take inspiration from old outdoors-men and old cinema like The Godfather , Once Upon a time in America and Boardwalk empire from a time when everyone was very well turned out. Definitely not Peaky Blinders and the Teds that has spawned.

I’d like to do some more footwear, our link up with Veras Shoes are always well received and another nice project to do. Some more trainers would be a good thing for next spring, graphic tees are the bread and butter that help pay for the other stuff. It remains very sporadic, we get an idea and try and realise it, we don’t work to the conventional seasons as such. It’s still very much a tiny operation – just the two of us and pretty much online exclusively, we don’t have any backers or belong to anybody, it’s 100% independent, it’s very hands on and self-sufficient. We always say, we reap what we sow. If we can pay the bills and go the pub every weekend, we’re pretty happy, maybe we need to be a little more ambitious and adventurous. We will look at that next year!

Finally, describe the brand in only 3 words…

It would have to be four, ‘This Thing of Ours’ our motto since day one.

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