Is this Menswear?

Globe and Mail 2015

Inside Vancouver designer Iain Russell’s 400-square-foot Victoria apartment

Iain Russell, 27, is the designer of made-in-Vancouver clothing label Is This Menswear, launched in 2013. Last September, he and business partner Jason Niles, an urban planner, opened an eponymous boutique in downtown Victoria.

“We saw what we could do for the community and for what we are as a manufacturer and clothing brand,” Russell says. “Very often we think of architecture as the top form of art, but architecture is nothing without the people that move through the space. They’re what takes it to the next level.”

The compact but airy boutique is a short walk from Russell’s small, second-floor apartment near City Hall, a less than 400-square-foot space that houses a Murphy bed and the photo studio where Russell shoots his popular outfit-of-the-day self-portraits. He shares the details of what surrounds him and inspires his creative approach and process.

“I always joke that the reason the store is so clean is that my house is a mess! But I would never want to live in a big space – as soon as you adapt to small-space living it’s hard to go back. Even if I have way too much stuff because I’m a total collector. Like Wall-E, I hold onto weird things that I don’t even have space for. I need little things to show the places I’ve been in the world.”


The Zig-Zag chair is a Gerrit Rietveld reproduction from the Shroder House [in Utrecht, Netherlands]. The original design of it needed screws to keep its structure, but of course with modern woodworking my dad was able to do it with really nice Japanese joinery so there is actually no metal in that chair. It’s completely solid and a beautiful thing. Horribly uncomfortable, though. A lot of my design inspiration and influence is born out of the fact that those guys were thinking so far ahead in the 1920s, but they actually weren’t encapsulating the full function of something – it was much more form-first.


The clothing rack is what I wear regularly, about 80 per cent of it is clothing I’ve designed. Even the rack itself – my father made it, often I get pieces like this as gifts for my birthday or Christmas. I drew him up the most basic V-shaped clothing rack and he showed up with this incredible Scandinavian-style piece.


We have a great little tea culture in Victoria – Silk Road tea is fabulous, and it’s my English heritage coming through. There’s a ritual to tea, the steps and time it takes to making it properly. The tea pot was done by artist Chris Savage, it was a store opening gift. I like that it explores different subject matter, often touching on social or political issues in his work combining labyrinths or castles and a lot of natural themes, but will sneak in references to modernized technologies that you don’t notice at first look. It’s cryptic messaging. My father made the maple tea tray, and all the modular store fixtures. Growing up with that kind of craftsmanship is definitely how I got to where I am.


It’s retro nineties – colours that are in the shop and my apartment. I’ve read Tintin since I was a kid and when I started getting into fashion I went back and started looking at them for fashion references. I launched a blog “The Fashion of Tintin,” when at the time I was working in classic menswear suiting and I loved the European vibe Tintin has, and the colourful graphic quality of the clothes, simple and wearable, and the books themselves. For years, all I wanted was a tan Macintosh coat like Tintin wears and when I finally got one it was the crowning achievement of my fashion life. I definitely wear shorter pants, though nothing to the Tintin level, and I’d love to wear a blue sweater but Stephen Harper totally ruined that for everyone! I’ve always had an attachment to primary colours and solids, things that are really defined in that way, even the art that I like – like the simple, stark bull’s-eye or my Hudson’s Bay blanket. And I love my half-and-half Habs shirt from the early 1990s. We think of primary colours as such a childlike thing, but that sense of play is how we all want to feel.

This very much speaks to my dad’s style of woodworking; he loves to keep a bit of natural wood in with the finished wood. The bark, the texture, where of course my design is more stark, modern and clean. It’s a great way to remind people where the wood comes from.

It’s a favourite thing because there is no such thing as a problem, only a solution. The mirror was installed one day and it looked great. The next day, there is a huge crack and I thought I had ruined it. But Jason and my father came up with making it a feature. It has wood veneer with black sandpaper. It’s very comic-book like. In woodworking there’s always a problem – nothing ever goes perfectly – but you never throw out material, whether you want to hide it or bring it up as an accent. It ended up as a neat detail.


It’s a Labrador. Growing up, we had a beautiful Lab named Henry and when I started Fashion du Jour in 2008, the original thing that became Is This Menswear, I was still living in the basement at my mom’s and Henry used to stand next to me every day taking daily outfit photos. He has passed now but my mother got me that figurine, so in a way Henry is still with me.


The exposed beam above the bed in the main room – my poor landlord! – was to build the photo studio; the clips hang rolls of paper. I remember when I was on Blogspot and got one hit a day I was so excited, then I took it over to Instagram and now it’s my favourite thing – for fashion, that medium is the message.

Contained within the May 7th 2015 Globe and Mail (link)

Written by: Nathalie Atkinson

Photos by: Iain Russell