Let’s say this up front to get it out of the way, and bid adieu to the Japanese workwear-clad elephant in the room: you know Guy Berryman as the bassist for Coldplay. Touring the world is how he’s made a name for himself and come up with the resources, both creatively and monetarily, to create not one, not two, but three passion projects. And that’s in addition to making up one fourth of one of the world’s most famous bands.

Road Rat magazine, Applied Art Forms [clothing], and soon, CHL, another fashion brand: while this may seem like an inordinate amount of projects to have in the works at one time, Berryman is well-equipped with good teams and a sharp mind. Though they are three separate entities, each involves engineering and architectural forms at their core, and feeds his epistemic passion for creating and design. He studied engineering at UCL before getting into music, and has spent the twenty-odd years since figuring out what he really enjoys doing. 

Which, it turns out, is sitting on the cutting room floor, piecing together pieces of old Japanese and American workwear garments to come up with something new. Something new, but also a product that reminds the wearer what heavy-duty quality actually feels like, and what it means to really design something in an analogue fashion, before technology came in and mucked up pure creativity. 

We caught up with Berryman on his whirlwind trip to London in the minutes before he would head back to Heathrow, the morning’s nose-to-tail traffic on his mind, which could be safely blamed on the beautiful weather. He now lives full time in Amsterdam to be close to the design house’s HQ, and as hands-on as possible. 

Hopefully you’ll learn a lot you didn’t know about Berryman’s various projects. Aside from the launch date for CHL, which although it’ll be carried exclusively at Dover Street Market, remains unannounced as we go to press. 

Guy Berryman

Firstly, do you have a fascination with the word ‘rat’? You have your magazine, Road Rat, and initially you were going to call AAF ‘Ratino.’ Why the name change?

The purpose of the label was initially to have merchandise for the Road Rat magazine, and there’s a logo that we created for it that’s like a skull and crossbones, which is what we called ‘Ratino’. But as I got into it, I was just like ‘I don’t like merch; I think I just want to do this as a separate brand.’ At which point, it didn’t make sense to be called Ratino, as it would be separate from the magazine – so we changed the name.

Did ‘Ratino’ mean ‘little rat’?

Essentially yeah, like an Italian kind of Escort.

What you have now with AAF is a far cry from merch…

And that’s why [making merch] was such a painful process for me because all we really needed to do was buy blank T-shirts and put graphics on them – and that wasn’t remotely interesting for my creativity. 

It was also partly that I studied engineering and architecture, and so I was always interested in designing and manufacturing before I was in a band. I suspect I would’ve ended up designing chairs or lamps or some kind of industrial design object. But as I started travelling all over the world, I slowly started collecting pieces of vintage clothing.

I was always interested in workwear, denims and military uniforms,  nylon flight jackets, parkas. Whenever I would go to a new city I was never really interested in shopping for new clothes. For me it was always more interesting to go to the part of town where there were secondhand vinyl stores and charity shops and vintage clothing stores; it always felt like treasure hunting.

I feel like those things were made so much better back then.

They were better made. If you find or buy some kind of army surplus now, even from the 2000s or 1990s, it’s just garbage. But if you buy a nylon flight suit from the 1950s it’s like ‘How did they make this? Who made this?’

Because not only did someone make this incredibly complicated garment, with all these crazy bar tacks and stitches everywhere, but they made hundreds of thousands of these. There must have been factories where they had hundreds or thousands of incredibly powerful sewing machines. 

Applied Art Forms SS24
Applied Art Forms SS24

Is it like learning an entirely new language of terminology when you enter the world of garment construction [bar tacks, etc] and starting a clothing brand?

Well you do, yeah. Everything I seem to like in life is applied art. Industrial design, graphic design, architecture, or clothing as it relates to a utilitarian function.

I realised that it summarises everything that I like, that all of the influences I have around me in my life – doesn’t need to necessarily be a fashion influence – but it all gets channelled into this creative outlet. 

When did you first start caring about what you were wearing?

I’ve never really cared about what I wear. 

Even on a global stage?

No, not really. I’ve been interested in garments for a long time, but to wear, it’s always just been jeans and a T-shirt. I was interested in [garments] not for any kind of fashion or style, but in the industrial design points of view. But to be honest, what I find interesting about a lot of fashion designers is that they themselves often just wear jeans and a T-shirt. 

Every closing shot of a Vogue runway shows designers doing exactly that… 

I know people who’ve worked with Martin Margiela, and you would think he’d be a very elaborate dresser, but it’s not the case. 

I’ve noticed something sort of Margiela about your clothes – the numbers you have block printed on some of your garments, they’re reminiscent of the way he did his sizing…

Yes, well we have a lot of stencil machines – these old machines where you have to turn and punch it into a piece of card, which we create graphics with. You take a card, punch it out, and hand-fill with a brush. We also have some of the older style numeral stencils which are cut out of pieces of brass. A letter set, or number set.

Sometimes without overthinking what a graphic should be, we might just take the numbers out randomly and put them next to one another.

Are they silkscreen or just stencils?

Both. And we do them all in house, so any graphic you see on the garments are done in the design studio after the clothes have been delivered from the factories. 

How does that model work sustainably – having the clothes shipped from factories, to warehouse, to customer?

Well, they don’t make T-shirts in Amsterdam! The craziest situation is: a lot of our clothes are made in Japan, and whenever we have a production made everything has to come to our warehouse for distribution. But what always seems crazy to me is that we have a large number of stores in Japan who will then order our clothes – so they go from Japan to our warehouse, and back to the stores in Japan.

Now if you’re a big brand, and you’re dealing with hundreds of thousands of units, they’d remove stock for the country before it got sent somewhere else, but when you’re a brand like us, making only one, two, three hundred pieces there is no situation where we can say just take 10 or 20 pieces out of the batch because it might be bought by a couple people there. You have to ship stuff around the world, unfortunately that’s how it is.

Guy Berryman

Speaking of clients, who is your target audience, your market? Road Rat is about luxury, and in a way so is AAF. So your ideal customer – is it you?

Well, everything on the rails is something I’d want to wear. I haven’t done any creative situation where I think, ‘OK well, what do all of these people over here want to buy, because if we make this, then they’ll all buy it and we’ll make money.’ I could never work in a situation like that. It’s a really dangerous place to get into.

I’m not designing for anyone other than myself, first and foremost. I think the kind of people that buy my brand are… well, Coldplay fans, first of all, that buy the graphic T-shirts, and they’re into it because it’s made by a member of a band that they like, and that’s OK. 

But, increasingly we have customers with a good understanding of workwear, craft, quality, and people who like learning. Every garment we make tells a story, and we like to try to explain what the techniques were which we used to make it – and I think some people appreciate that transparent approach.

If it’s a customer working through a store that we’re situated in, and they know nothing about the brand, that to me is the best sale; when someone sees something at purely face value and they fall in love with it and they buy it without knowing who made or designed it because they’ve found something they really like. 

Applied Art Forms SS24
Applied Art Forms SS24

Are you part of a trend – of musicians capitalising on their success and creating a separate business venture?

Well, I would say I’m a member of a famous band – I’m not particularly famous as an individual. I think a lot of celebrities make brands simply because they have, say, 15 million followers and are like ‘OK, I’m going to make a brand because I have 15 million followers.’ It doesn’t work for me.

For me, I’m doing this because I like to get down on my hands and knees and cut bits of fabric and stick things together. That’s who I am, that’s who I’ve always been and who I always will be. You know I understand celebrities make brands all the time, but I think it doesn’t apply to me.

You don’t consider yourself a celebrity?

No, and I don’t even like attaching my name to the brand [AAF]. It’s frustrating because anyone wants to preempt any kind of news article with ‘Coldplay’s bass player Guy Berryman’ – it’s never purely about the label or the designs, and I don’t know if I’m ever really going to get away from that, and it doesn’t really matter. What matters to me is that the business starts growing. I can’t keep funding it forever. 

It’s like a child who needs to learn their own independence.

Yeah, I don’t want it to be a vanity project.  You know, it needs to wash its face. It doesn’t need to be huge, it doesn’t need a $100m valuation. That’s not my goal. All it needs to do is allow me to be creative and to be excited to make things. 

Are you excited right now?

I need to get back to that place. At the moment there’s so much I need to do which is non-creative. You know, I think with a fashion label, 98%  of the job has nothing to do with designing. 

You have to become a jack of all trades.

So I’m trying, without spending too much money, to set it up so I can distance myself a little bit from the operation.

Applied Art Forms SS24
Applied Art Forms SS24

What would be your dream role at the company if you could choose?

Walk in and design all day, every day, and not deal with numbers, figures, business plans, PR, communications strategies, selecting models, talking logistics, sales. Which courier? Is it TTD, UPS, DPD?

Sounds like working with a bunch of three-letter agencies, and a little overwhelming for one person to handle while still trying to be creative at the same time. It stops you being creative because it chews up all your time.

What about Road Rat magazine? How do you find working on that project with Michael Harvey?

Well, my involvement at this stage is minimal, you know. I helped set up the look and feel of the magazine, and set parameters about photographs and how typography is laid out.  At the beginning of an issue’s production cycle, I’ll have some kind of editorial input as to what sort of content is going in there, and when it’s finished I’ll maybe change a picture or two, and make sure the cover is something interesting and different.

Have you ever put one of your own cars in the magazine?

No, I think that would be self-indulgent. It depends, if there was a cover story about a car, or a model which I owned, of course I would say ‘You’re free to borrow my car,’ but the story would never revolve about me being the owner.

Do you own your favourite model of car?

I own quite a few cars. I don’t know, I don’t know what my favourite car is. There are different cars for different jobs. If you’re going on a certain road trip in different countries with different climates… you would choose an appropriate vehicle.

I really like old cars. I’ve never really bought into new, performance, Lamborghini-style ostentatious stuff. I really prefer the elegance of the 1950s and 1960s sports cars. 

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The 1960s seems to be your niche.

It is, and also the 1950s. Anything mid-century. I think that period for design and music was just this kind of magical time.I strongly believe that it was to do with the fact that there were no computers to help people design stuff.

A car was beautiful because it was literally someone just drawing these beautiful lines on a board. And now instead you can do so much so fast, and there’s just no restraint from the designers. It’s ‘let’s add this and add that, and let’s make this complicated shape here.’ Well, why? Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. 

Do you find it’s easier to work on multiple projects at once – a magazine here,  a clothing line there, and even playing in a band – when the inspiration comes from one place or one time? 

I don’t think it all comes from one place. I just like mid-century.

Does the mid-century aesthetic extend to your home, and interior decoration?

For sure, I have a lot of mid-century in the house. But for instance, this new label I’ve been working on, the inspiration is mid-century Dutch fisherman’s clothes – so you know I do move outside that mid-century area of interest. 

How did you make the jump to Dutch fisherman’s clothing from AAF and Japanese workwear?

Well it [CHL] is still workwear, and it’s something that’s local inspiration to where I live and work. And the production is local, which is sort of the opposite of everything we do at Applied Art Forms, where the inspiration comes from all over the globe and the production happens all over the globe. CHL’s line is very much ‘think local, act local’. 

Do you enjoy living in Amsterdam?

Yeah, I love it. I think it’s the best city anyone could ever live in.


Because I think it has all of the culture you would associate with London or Paris or New York or Tokyo in terms of food, music, subcultures, and yet it feels like a tiny village where you could walk or cycle within ten or 15 minutes. 

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See more at appliedartforms.com