Yeah, baby. Yeah, man. There are many sayings, most of which include the words baby and man, that neatly capture Ollie Proudlock’s feel-good persona. When we meet in a very busy Soho House, his bounding energy is the first thing I notice.
That and his “whacky granddad knit” (a bold and bright sweater-vest), which he points out is “kind of old man, but kind of cool” – oh and his bling. The man is practically dripping in bling. Then that’s hardly surprising seeing as he has established himself as one of the major players in the men’s jewellery industry.
As we say our hellos and get acquainted, talk inevitably turns to everyone’s December small talk go-to: how busy the lead up to Christmas is and how alcohol will become as common a drink as water in these next few weeks. (Safe to say we are prompted by the tables of people around us who, at 2.30pm on a Tuesday, are ordering their third and fourth bottles of red wine at what is presumably marked in their calendars as a “meeting”.)
“I'm actually off the booze at the moment, just to keep my head in the game, because I always find this time of year so crazy,” Ollie tells me. “It just gets way too easy to drink a bottle every night. We [he and fiancée, Scottish supermodel Emma Lou Connolly] are guilty of it, especially since buying our new house.”
The table next to us, and a group of businessmen and women around the circle bar behind us are getting louder as they polish off another bottle. I’m starting to worry that my voice recorder won’t be able to pick up Ollie’s voice when it comes to writing up our interview. And it’s at this moment I first get to see past the Ollie everyone thinks they know – whether it’s the guy they recognise from E4’s Made in Chelsea or the one who shares his life on Instagram and YouTube – when he jumps up and offers to scour the Greek Street venue for a quieter spot.
He fails in his attempt, but on his return does position himself, where he remains for the next 45 minutes, practically hunched over my phone to ensure I don’t encounter any issues with the recording.
As his signature padlock chain, which can be seen in almost every Instagram snap the entrepreneur posts to his near 750,000 followers, dangles over my phone in mid-air like some kind of hypnotist's pendant, no time seems better than the present to ask where the inspiration for Serge DeNimes [his now jewellery company, which started as a clothing brand] came from.
My nose ring, two earrings and chain but ‘very naked fingers’ have been clocked ... I'm suddenly very aware of my hands
“We celebrated our eighth birthday this year which is crazy – but it's amazing when you look back at how we started and where we are now,” he says. “The underlying message behind the brand is still there, but it's slightly changed in terms of the product offering. Whereas we used to be a clothes brand with the odd piece of jewellery, we’re now very much a jewellery brand that might have the odd piece of clothing alongside a launch.”
Serge’s journey is doubly interesting when it's considered how men’s jewellery was perceived when the company started in 2011 and how it is now. I’m quickly told my nose ring, two earrings and chain, but “very naked fingers”, have been clocked by the designer. I find myself suddenly very aware of my hands. “When Serge started, men were only really wearing the odd signet ring but that’s very different these days. The market has really grown,” he says. I'm practically sitting on my hands now.
Ollie cites many inspirations for the brand and his creativity: principally his mum and a love for denim. Having grown up in a house that was “full denim” (his childhood bedroom, which he tells me is still the same, was made up of black denim wallpaper, a slate denim headboard and a completely blue denim bathroom), Ollie knew the material would eventually play a big part in his life.
I point out that all I can think about is Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears at the 2001 American Music Awards – “It’s a strong look, no?” he asks, rhetorically of course.
Originally set to be the next big denim brand, Serge DeNimes got its name from the origins of denim itself – serge being the way denim’s cotton was once woven together and Nîmes being the first part of the world it was made and worn in.
So what happened to the denim dream? “People are very loyal to where they buy their jeans from – if you're a Levi's guy or girl, you don't go anywhere else. People find their shape and they stick to it. And for me it was all about finding my niche, my USP. I think we’ve really done that by creating this premium, but affordable jewellery.
Being creative was always my calling, and it's always the place I have felt most comfortable
“Everything's hallmarked here in the UK, it's all 925 silver, some gold pieces are 14-carat gold plated. We're just in a really exciting time now where we've found our voice, and the creative community we started building back in 2011 is growing year on year – we have some really cool collaborations coming in 2020. And we've just opened up our wholesale again this year, with some really exciting accounts like Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, The Iconic (in Australia), Urban Outfitters (in the US), Zalando and Asos. It's really exciting.”
I wonder if it still feels surreal listing off some of the world’s biggest brands as partners of what was once a dream, and is now a profitable business. “I always say to date one of the most bizarre and exciting times of my life was when we got our first stockist, which was Harrods,” Ollie reminisces. “My grandmother used to take me for days out there and I’d always think I just wanted something of mine, be it art or clothes, to be in that building, so the day I walked down into the men's lab and saw Serge sitting next to brands I've loved for years – like Acne Studios – it was such a defining moment.
“And now to be in a place where Selfridges and Serge are about to do a big collaboration is mad. We've actually just dropped some exclusives for Christmas, which is super exciting.”
As he goes on to explain the creative process behind each Serge capsule – the latest of which is a Zodiac collection and the next a Royal Anarchy one – and how it works from inception to physical product, I can’t help but wonder what the process from reality TV star to businessman and creative director looked like as well.
“I've always been on the creative side, so I never really found that journey hard. It's what I've always wanted to do – ever since I was a kid, my mum always says that from the age of five I was just obsessed with art and spent all my time in the art department and that continued through to adult life. Being creative, whether it was in the arts or in fashion like it is now, was always my calling. And it's always the place I have felt most comfortable. It goes back to that thing of community: it's about bouncing off one another, in a studio or at a shoot with like-minded individuals. For me being creative is what gets me up every day.”
And when he says gets up, Ollie means he gets up. “The morning is really my time. Super early is how I like it,” he tells me when we talk day-to-day routine. “I just think everyone needs some time in the day for themselves, some alone time, some you time, and for me that's mornings. I get up at 5.30am to workout and it just gets me set for the day.”
My body was awake but I think my mind overcomes my body sometimes and in the end, my mind needed more rest
When he casually drops into conversation that he used to sleep for no more than four hours a night, I must look visibly distressed as he hastily explains that’s no longer the case. “My body would feel pretty awake but I think my mind overcomes my body sometimes and in the end, my mind needed more rest,” he says. “I always push myself, but there's only so long you can do that. You can go a long way living on pretty much adrenaline alone, but actually your body is slowly breaking down and you've got to listen to it. Plus I listened to a few podcasts about the importance of sleep which really woke me up.” I congratulate him on the pun; he thanks me.
It’s true, Ollie Proudlock is a bit of a style icon. Always has been, probably always will be. It’s for this reason he’s regularly found modelling for the likes of Hugo Boss and Topman. He’s able to make outfits look cool that your regular guy (say, me) would look an absolute you-know-what in. And it’s also true that his trailblazing role in men’s jewellery has laid the path for other brands, but it isn’t just fashion and style the Londoner can be commended for.
If you haven't tried, or ever even thought about trying, saké – don’t worry. You're not alone. In fact, it's for this exact reason Ollie decided to help Hong Kong brand Four Fox Saké (hilariously pronounced For Fucks Sakay by three separate friends of mine who marvelled at the silver bottle, with a light-up function, that Ollie gave me as a thank you after our interview) launch in the UK. A venture that has, almost predictably, gone extremely well.
“I planned to start my own sake brand and call it So Saké, but it turned out my business partner had a connection with the guys at Four Fox. We arranged a meeting and just totally fell in love with the product,” he tells me. “The team basically said they wanted us on board with them rather than have us as competitors – that was at the end of 2018. So we came on board, did a launch party in February of this year and it's just been an incredible journey.”
I admit to Ollie I don’t know anything about saké and only think of it in terms of some Chinatown restaurants serving it after a cheap and fuss-free meal. Apparently that’s the issue – or the point. “The main thing for us now is to showcase saké and educate people on how you can drink it because so many people still have that very small niche idea of it,” he says. So, kind of redefining what saké means to people, and how it’s perceived?
Aside from my work, I'm getting married – 2020 is going to be the biggest year of my life yet
“Exactly. Saké needs to develop, to grow, and also to connect with the younger generation, which is a huge part of what we want to do: show younger people how exciting and sexy saké can really be.” When he fills me in on the minimal hangover it gives you, on account of its 14% strength, I agree that – even without ever having tried it – it seems pretty damn sexy to me.
Talk turns to 2020 – “It’s going to be the biggest year of my life yet” – and it becomes apparent that it’s not just in the studio that Ollie’s really making waves as the new year fast approaches. “Aside from work, I'm getting married next year. We're actually looking at venues this week,” he says. As it happens, he and Emma have a few all-day, and one or two overnight, visits to venues across the country – and beyond – to find the spot where they’ll say “I do”.
“We're yet to pick where but everything is slowly coming together, both professionally and personally, and it just feels right. Everything merging and coming together is a big thing. I really believe that.”
This idea of merging really does seem to be true in all walks of Ollie’s life, as next year will see the couple work a lot closer together than ever before. After buying their first house together in west London last year, the two produced their own YouTube series called From Crib to Casa which documented their 16-month renovation.
So popular was the 15-parter, which spanned two seasons and will wrap for good later this week, that the pair have now landed their own TV show which will sit “firmly in the world of interiors”. He isn’t allowed to tell me much more than that, but safe to say interior design is yet another notch Ollie will be adding to his fast-growing professional bedpost.
As our chat comes to an end, and Ollie’s back begins to regain its feeling as he slowly lifts himself up from my phone, I ask about his unwritten career as a role model. What he might say to someone who’s also trying to start their own business, off the back of a childhood dream. Of course, his situation is unique – Ollie’s privilege isn’t something that should be forgotten, but it can’t be said that he hasn’t worked extremely hard to get to where he is today. And with hard work comes experience.
“I've got a few things I'd advise anyone,” he says. “The first is to take your time. When you're trying to set up a business, you can get so excited and it's really easy to get carried away and just get it out there before everything's ready to go. But the most important thing is taking your time in those beginning stages. It took me ten to 12 months to actually put Serge out there because I had to ensure it was all ready to go. We live in a world now where everyone is super impatient, so you have to make sure it's perfect and ready for you to back it all the way.
“The second is surround yourself with like-minded individuals, people who are positive and believe in what you're doing as much as you do. Community is everything.
“And third, whether it's personal, professional, a project or whatever – just be positive. That's why I've got these two plus signs tattooed on my thumbs, my mum always told me to be positive and if you are then positive things will come back to you.”
Like good karma? I ask.
“That’s it. Good karma, baby. That. Is. It.”
To shop the Zodiac collection, see sergedenimes.com