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Friday, 4 October 2013

GarconJon meets...John Brophy - GQ x GAP

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In the last segment of the GQ for GAP interviews, I caught up with the in-demand John Brophy aka Johnny Buttons. He's a creative force to be reckoned with, as a designer, director and all round visionary. He designs sets, he upholsters furniture, he art directs music videos - and he can even host a mean dinner party. It seems the New Oxford English Dictionary is missing an additional definition for 'Multi-Talented'.

We took the beautiful Roy for a walk while chatting about his former culinary dreams, cowboy aspirations and the constantly evolving London scene. John wears Baldwin chambray shirt and jeans, available at

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Johnny Brophy, Creative Director and Founder of Johnny Buttons Ltd

Where did you grow up and where do you live now?
 I grew up in a tiny village in between Glasgow and Edinburgh. The village was a sleepy little place dotted with farms, pubs and only one shop. As a kid I spent a lot of time outside, climbing trees and building naïve huts to shelter from the unforgivable Scottish weather. I’d have died of boredom if I hadn’t been creative with my time. Now I live in Old Street, between Shoreditch and Clerkenwell.

How would you describe your job title?
 I oversee all aspects of the company – from the initial client meetings to development of concept, working with and directing my design team, reviewing and approving ideas and managing the financial side of the business too. I call it personal interference… some would say I’m a control freak.

What's your star sign? I’m Piscean.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? I actually wanted to be a chef. I won a scholarship when I was 16 to be trained up by the chefs at Gleneagles Hotel. For some reason I felt that I was too young, but then skipped off to London the following year without an ounce of doubt. Food and cooking are huge passions of mine and I really enjoy cooking and being a host for friends and family. I love simple uncomplicated food using the best ingredients I can find.

Where did the name Johnny Buttons come from? At the point of forming the company I came up with quite a few fantastically shit names. I felt pressured as work was already coming in and I just couldn’t nail down a name. Around the same time we were commissioned to create a huge handcrafted flag for PRPS and I needed hundreds of buttons to create their embellished cherub logo. Whilst sourcing the buttons I got chatting to some lovely women who have a vintage textiles stall at Spitalfields Market. They had millions of beautiful buttons and agreed to bring me a whole sack full the following week. So she asked my name, I replied “Johnny” and she took her pen, wrote in her little diary and said in her cheerful Essex accent “I’ll just call you Johnny Buttons, so I remember who you are.” I smirked at the name, repeated it in my head a few times and thought it was perfect.

Secretly, I love it when people call me Mr Buttons.

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Describe yourself in 5 words? I’m a reasonable, emotional, quietly controlling, fortunate, hat lover.

Is there a book that changed your life? I think everyone should read and reference Wabi-Sabi – for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers. The Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi is a beauty of imperfect things, things modest and humble. I‘ve bought this for everyone in my team. I really admire the designs produced from The Workshop of Carl Auböck. Their designs are beautifully documented in Carl Auböck, The Workshop by Clemens Kois.

You've experienced working for big designer brands and also having your own business – how do the two compare?  The time working with Diesel was an education in itself. I was the youngest person in the office and they gave me so many opportunities to develop and grow, which I grabbed with both hands. There’s a certain security when working inside a large organisation. I do not miss the office politics.

You've lived in many countries, how has this expanded your mind creatively? There’s nothing more I love than being in a new city or country and having no clue where I am. Getting lost excites me.  Aimlessly pottering and exploring allows for discovery. It’s nice to discover things naturally than be tied to a schedule. I’m obsessed with good food, so I miss the culinary delights and wine of Italy. I miss my close friends in Mumbai and drinking chai tea with the tuk-tuk drivers on a Saturday morning.

London’s a city I’m still discovering. It’s endless. You can never be bored in this city – all you have to do it get outside, walk and keep your eyes open. Wander and get lost. You’ll soon find something you’ve never seen before. London’s a city that I’ve fallen back in love with.

I nearly always get a hugely warm welcome when people find out I'm Scottish – particularly in the US – whether the person has visited or not. Do you have a similar experience? Why do you think this is? Yeah I’ve had the same experience too. I think a lot of people have this romantic vision of Scotland and it’s people – kilt wearing, porridge scoffing, handsome, outdoorsy types. Not quite your average Scotsman, but I would say that we Scots, generally, are very friendly and welcoming in themselves and perhaps this has become a wider known positive trait. I’d rather this than the usual stereotypes.

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How long have you lived in London? What are it's best qualities? I was so hungry for the city from a young age and got my first job with Diesel HQ and moved to London when I was 17. After a few years working in Italy and India I finally moved back to London five years ago. So 10ish years on and off.

You're a resident of the East which has changed tremendously in the past 10 years. Has that affected your opinion of the area? I don’t see myself in Shoreditch for much longer to be honest. It’s very familiar to me and I’ll definitely miss it a lot – all of my usual places to eat or drink and sit and enjoy exactly that moment. The gentrification of the area has brought in a different crowd. The house prices have become ridiculously unaffordable for most young people, so of course everyone is moving further afield.

The London Collections have brought a huge amount of attention to our city – for you, what is the menswear scene in London like? There is definitely a trend scene in London – one that you can see a mile off, especially when in Shoreditch and Dalston where everyone has the same haircut or scruffy jeans. The menswear scene I prefer to see is the traditional British gentry style, personalised in a younger, fresher way. Combining classic tailoring with colourful accessories, cool denim or dare I say… a beautiful hat.

If money were no object, who would you buy clothes from? There would always be a limit on how much I would spend on clothes. This is a completely different story with furniture. If I really love something and I’m able to use it practically and/or appreciate it everyday, then I’ll buy it.

And in reality, where do you shop? I love Oliver Spencer for shoes, shirting and accessories; Liberty for almost everything; D.R. Harris for fragrance; CA4LA for beautiful Japanese hats; GoodHood for an army of great independent brands and GAP for the 100’s of white pocket T-shirts I own.

Who are your style influencers? 1950’s cowboys.

What blogs or magazines are you currently reading? Magazines: Kinfolk, Frame, Apartamento, Monocle, Buffalo, Acne Paper. Blogs:

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What’s an average day like for you? Average days don’t really exist for me. I wake up at 6.30am, probably snooze until 7am (bad habit), stop at my– De Beauviour Deli - favourite place for coffee, walk Roy in Clissold Park and aim to be sat at my desk for 8.45am. From this point the rest of the day can shoot off in many directions; client meetings, reviewing designs and concepts with my team, sourcing or checking on production, shooting on location.

What’s the most challenging thing about your job? Finding enough time in the day or week to get through everything. The past four years have literally flown by. I’m so conscious of time and making sure I optimise and squeeze the most out of my day. I cherish the time when take Roy for a walk. I stop and breathe for a moment.

What do you like most about your job? I like that we’re working on such varied projects at any one time – one day we’ll be working with traditional gold gilders (sadly a dying trade) and the next we’ll be on location shooting a fashion film with trampolines and wind machines. I love collaborating with other creatives, artisans and craftsmen to produce unique materials – something with more creative value.

What's on the horizon for Mr Buttons?
 Of course to grow and expand Johnny Buttons. I’m also currently developing a furniture collection – a series of tables to begin with and I’m itching to design a lighting collection too.

On a personal level I’m busy learning the craft of traditional upholstery. So far I’ve finished two chairs – what a great excuse to buy more furniture than any one person will ever need. Oh and an antique French bed frame to refurbish and reupholster.

Finally, leave us with some words of wisdom... I’m so alive to the fact that we get one shot at this… so, make it worthwhile!

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