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An Interview with Ken Calder from Aero Clothing

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August 8, 2019 by Ville Raivio

VR: Your age and occupation?

KC: Old enough to know better. Occupation? Chairman and designer at Aero Leather Clothing Limited.

VR: Your educational background?

KC: I went to school in a remote village in Caithness and left school at 15, and moved to London to find fame and fortune. My first job was in Lilywhites, my second in Bally :).

 

VR: Have you any children or spouse (and how do they relate to your clothing enthusiasm)?

KC: I have two children and a wife. My daughter Holly and my son Denny are both heavily involved in the business. My wife, Lydia, and I, have taken a bit of a back seat for the last few years, enjoying being back in the Highlands where I grew up.

VR:  …and your parent’s and siblings’ reactions to style back in the days when your journey began?

KC: I think after seeing me go from working for Bally, to failing to make the grade as a footballer and then spending several years in the music business, my mother was probably delighted to see me have a “proper job”. My first business was called Ruskin, started in 1968, which was high fashion and supplied some of the trendiest customers in London, although my own personal taste was for 1940s clothing, even then. I am an only child, my mother was proud of my progress, in fact she wore a Ruskin midi coat I made her throughout the late ’60s. She became a part of the company, and organised production of our knitwear range, even personally making the cardigan Elton John wore on the sleeve of his first album.

An original A-2 jacket from Aero’s collections

VR: What other hobbies or passions do you have besides apparel?

KC: Sport. Over the years I was heavily involved in athletics, football and rallying – both my wife and myself were quite successful drivers in the 1990s. I’ve also had a lifelong interest in horse racing and vintage cars, having had various Mk II Jaguars and Healey 3000s, an AC Cobra, a couple of Astons, I always bought older used models. My current car is a re-built 1990 Range Rover that looks better than the day it left the factory. Now, my main hobby is walking with our dog and enjoying a restful semi-retirement.

VR: How did you first become interested in clothing, and when did you turn your eyes towards leather jackets?

KC: As a kid I grew up in hand me downs and ‘jumble sale’ clothes, Tweeds, Fair Isles and “Tackety Boots” which may have given me my love of Vintage. My first real memory of clothing as being more than utilitarian was being the first kid in my village to get a pair of jeans, the kind that had big turn ups…until they were washed once! I remember they caused quite a stir, especially teamed up with my Woolworth’s Baseball Boots, that I started to take note of clothes from that moment on. When I moved to London, I needed to wear a suit and smart clothes to work. Just at the time Italian suits were coming into fashion and they looked so different to everything I’d seen back home, and Carnaby Street was just begining.

My first leather jacket I designed myself, must have been 1963 (?), and I had it made by the legendary John Stephen (of Carnaby Street). When I realised he’d made a dozen or so of the same style to sell in his own shop it occurred to me that I must have an eye for the type of clothes people wanted to buy. After a couple more jackets made by him for me, both of which ended up big sellers in Stephen’s store ‘His Clothes’ I decided to launch my label where I sell could sell my designs to the public myself. It was only in 1969 that I discovered I had a real talent for working with leather (as opposed to cloth, which I still struggle with to this day), my client list from that era is like a who’s who of the top musicians and coolest people on the scene…Anita Pallenberg, Marianne Faithfull, Syd Barrett, The Beatles, The Stones, The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

VR: How have you gathered your knowledge of the topic — from books, in-house training, workshops or somewhere else?

KC: The clothing I sold at Ruskin was very European in tailoring techniques. I’d worked with a very talented tailor called Colin Bennett who schooled me in the fine arts of high-grade tailoring but Ruskin was very much a design group where the group of young folk who worked with us were encouraged to give their input in our designs.

Despite designing and making Suzi Quatro’s icon suit, the rise of Glam Rock and the outfits I was being asked to make by our clientele eventually led to me walking away from the business as I hated the outfits and didn’t enjoy the work. I was no longer happy to put my name on what we were producing, and I came back to Scotland to replenish myself.

Three years later in 1976, in need of money, I was back in London and started a new business, opening a store called the ‘Thrift Shop’, selling only vintage clothing. Within a few months we were bringing vintage clothing from America, primarily leather, and discovered that the leather that was used in America in the mid-20th century was vastly superior to anything used in Europe. Due to the fact that generally the only thing wrong with these jackets were busted zips, torn lining or rotted stitching, I had to get my sewing machine back out to repair them. Immediately I noticed the manufacturing techniques were totally different to the European styles I’d known…also, in my opinion, the American leather making techniques were vastly superior. Consequently, after a few years restoring vintage leathers, I was finally talked into making some new jackets to meet the demand for larger sizes in A-2s which were difficult to find for the modern-sized man.

VR: How would you describe your own style?

KC: It would depend on what year you’re asking about. Very few people I know have gone through so many styles of dress. Currently I’ve got everything from a 1945 Bernard Weatherill Savile Row suit to Lee Jeans and three button shirts. Vintage tweed suits, Fair Isle sweaters and Charlie Chaplin style boots. I love leather jackets, of course.

VR: Who or what inspires you?

KC: Aside from the obvious and aforementioned love of vintage clothing, there are very few individuals that have my total respect. From a fashion and quality production point of view, Ozzie Clark, Campbells of Beauly, and for style Alain Delon, James Stewart, Paul Newman and Cary Grant.

 

VR: What’s your definition of style?

KC: Understated and someone that looks totally comfortable in what they’re wearing, because unless an individual is totally at ease in what they wear, they’ll never carry it off. Whether that’s a Savile Row suit or a pair of old jeans and a t-shirt.

VR: If what I’ve heard is true, then you’ve ripped apart old vintage jackets to see their inner workings. Is this done for faithful reproductions or do you believe leather jackets were just made better before?

KC: As I mentioned previously, this is one of the ways I learned how to produce jackets myself. Today we steer clear of ‘faithful reproductions’ as much as possible, military aside, favouring designs that look as though they were made in the period with no concessions for modern tweaks. The motto at Aero is ‘nothing should leave our factory that wouldn’t have been designed or made after 1959’.

VR: To add to the previous question, how were leather jackets different before our times?

KC: Leather has been used for centuries, but I believe the advent of flying changed design forever. For example, inspiration from the Royal Flying Corps coats led design for a whole decade. In the depression era a new style and cut appeared, clothing became neater and shorter in attempts to minimise the use of raw materials. This brought in clever use of panelling amongst leather makers, culminating in some of the cleverest and most iconic leather jackets of all time. And clothing was made to last, which is probably the biggest difference between then and now…the disposable society we live in.

 

VR: When did you set up Aero Leather and what was the motivation?

KC: The first Aero jacket was an A-2, which was made in 1981. A year or so later we began the development of the Highwayman, within a month or so we had the jacket that is still our best seller 36 years later, and has been copied worldwide ever since.

There wasn’t really a motivation in my mind at the time, the jackets we made were generally larger sizes than we could easily find in vintage models. It took a move back to Scotland in 1984 before Aero really became a full time venture.

VR: How is Aero different from other leather jacket makers?

KC: In 1984, we were probably one of a handful of companies world wide making jackets the way they had been made in the mid-20th century. When we began producing horsehide jackets in 1986, we were the only company in the world using this leather for clothing. It took several years before other makers began to follow our lead.

Although there are now lots of companies doing similar work to Aero, we are probably exclusive in having no production lines. One complete jacket is made by one single machinist. Apart from giving the operator great satisfaction in their days work, it means that jackets which were carefully matched at the cutting stage stay together throughout production, minimising the risk of mismatched panels and the finished garment never exceeding the quality of the poorest link in the production line.

VR: How would you describe the House Style of Aero’s designs?

KC: American casual and utility clothing, styled according to the eras from 1920-1959, and built to last.

 

VR: Do you have a favourite leather and jacket model?

KC: From our current range the 1920s Work Coat is my personal favourite. I find it ideal for most of the bad weather we have in the Scottish Highlands, whilst still having a stylish and unique look. I also have an old A-2 I made for myself 20 odd years ago which has been heavily abused over the years, but still retains its original lining and knits in perfect condition.

VR: Finally, why should Keikari’s readers try you instead of others?

KC: I hope I’ve said enough earlier in the interview to convince any would-be Aero customers to try one of our jackets. We have dozens of customers who own in excess of 20 Aero jackets, so it seems that once bitten, you’re Aero’s forever!

Photos: Aero

http://www.aeroleatherclothing.com


1 comment »

  1. colin Bennett says:

    Absolutely outstanding Ken..,the Eagle has landed..,.cbpb.

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