Sprezzatura Spotlight: The Beat Poets’ James St Johnson

Sprezzatura Spotlight: The Beat Poets’ James St Johnson

by Stefano

Each month, we speak with some of the country’s leading experts in style, art and design on all things sprezzatura.

At Espresso di Manfredi we are inspired to partner with skilled artisans and crafts people, producers and personnel who share our core brand values and display that certain sense of sprezzatura, and who may assist us in our constant endeavour to deliver a unique and finesse customer experience.

This month we speak with James St Johnson who together with Edward von Bertouch are the brains behind The Beat Poets clothing and accessories. Utilising simple geometry and form fitting style, the Beat Poets have created a subculture underground following for their fashion label. Edward and James skilfully designed the Espresso di Manfredi shirts and aprons, as well as creating the concept for Espresso di Manfred’s ten year celebrations.

1.       How did you develop your passion for fashion design?

For me it was living in homemade ‘dress-ups’ as a kid and then an obsession with punk in my adolescence which has primitive elements of both Sprezzatura and Wabi strangely enough. I’ve always been interested in the essence of someone’s idiosyncratic style. Fashion has never been of much interest to me.

2.       How has your work evolved since you began your own label?

Moving to London to immerse myself in formal training in bespoke tailoring on Savile Row has changed everything for me. I now have a feeling for garments from the inside out rather than imagining the finished effect and not knowing how to get there which was such a frustrating way to work.

3.       Where do you look for inspiration?

These days I’m obsessed with minimalist architecture and traditional japanese design and I try to work in a similar way. Form, rational design, austerity, paring back to find the essence, truth to materials. The Bauhaus mentality in a way. I try to apply it to any design I do whether it’s book design, a summer suit or interior design.

4.       How would you describe your personal design aesthetic?

A cold and muted simple palette and a slim silhouette with a generous use of cloth if that makes any sense. I rarely iron a shirt and don’t mind a little drape to let the cloth lay as natural as possible and maximise comfort. I find a man who maintains uber-perfect grooming and a perfectly turned out wardrobe to be particularly off-putting and somehow untrustworthy. Living with imperfection is a healthy thing, I think it shows wisdom and acceptance and there is no energy or tension in the concept of perfection.

5.       What advice would you give to young designers?

I would highly recommend formal training. Be patient and build up skills and confidence before you jump in. Many of the best architects of the Modern movement spent time on the building site before they sat behind the drawing desk. It’s important to get as much experience with the materials as possible, see the qualities of all the different weaves and fibres. Learning cutting before you start on construction is also very valuable in establishing a foundation for your overall understanding of the harmony of body and garment.

6.       Who epitomises sprezzatura for you?

Well the obvious answer is probably Agnelli, the Italy industrialist and former head of Fiat. But for me personally, no-one does it better than the French new wave actor Belmondo. Films like Godard’s ‘Pierrot Le Fou’ or ‘Breathless’ are perfect demonstrations of Sprezzatura in action.