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Dr. Romanelli & George Bamford: A Tale of Two Customizers
United by their knack for customization and reappropriation, it only makes sense that Dr. Romanelli and George Bamford of BAMFORD WATCH DEPARTMENT are the midst of working together on an upcoming project. We took a particular curiosity in this shared interest involving deconstruction and reconstruction over the respective platforms of fashion for Romanelli and luxury watches with Bamford. Luckily, the two were able to link up a short while ago at the Pallihouse Holloway in Los Angeles as they spoke candidly about their respective crafts.
The conversation was centered around their histories and their own philosophies on customization. Both describe how they initially got involved in customization as well as the importance of unique and individuality through product in this day and age. There is also reference to their upcoming project which as you imagine is focused around a customized Rolex timepiece.
George Bamford: How did we first meet?
Darren Romanelli: We met through James Brown at HOSTEM. He originally came to my studio a few years ago and bought some product for his shop in Essex. From there we opened up the Dr. Romanelli Prescription Shoppe.
George Bamford: When I originally linked with James, I wanted to somehow work together collaboratively. When the Prescription Shoppe idea came up, we thought to ourselves, “Oh my god you have him here. They have a god in this place (HOSTEM) with Dr. Romanelli.”
Darren Romanelli: Their attention to detail is awesome at HOSTEM with their craftsmanship and selection.
George Bamford: Some places don’t have that that eye that HOSTEM has and they just go with the norm.
Darren Romanelli: When it comes to my visual eye, I have the help of a great designer, Nathan Cabrera. I met almost 8 years ago in the back of a comic book store, and he opened up my world to graphics. It helped me to really explore this beyond just craftsmanship.
George Bamford: Comic books now have been something you’ve explored a lot in your designs of late. You did Fraggle Rock last year and this year with Beetle Bailey, it seems to be something that’s influenced your aesthetic.
Darren Romanelli: Growing up and staying connected with my youth has had a big part of this. My dad was in a sense Bugs Bunny’s agent so I grew up around the merchandising and commercial product of Warner Bros. I’ve always been a kid at heart as funny as it sounds. With all these properties, I had the ability to dive in and resurrect them. I’m super passionate about it and the ability to contemporize these franchises has been great.
George Bamford: I didn’t know your connections ran so deep and it’s cool to see your customization in a different light.
Darren Romanelli: Talking about our craft, do you think there’s something we don’t get credit for as customizers?
George Bamford: I’m not sure. It sounds strange but with personalization, you always want it to give credit to itself. To speak for itself if it’s good enough. It’s not about your eye, it’s about the product standing on its own not ’cause of the collaboration.
Darren Romanelli: Aside from my collaboration projects, there’s another side of my business outside of these shop-made collections.
It’s these bespoke projects where somebody might bring me an old flight jacket or motorcycle jacket. I would get shipped these boxes and people would want me to revive the pieces or flip them. Awhile ago I got an old Boys Scout shirt which I flipped into khakis. There are these bespoke one-off collaborations in which I see eye-to-eye with the client and everything works out. Then there are the wildcards where at times the zipper is off, or a patch is misplaced and everything seems to be much more difficult to work out. Like you’ve said in the past when we’ve spoken, time is the issue and there are only so many hours in the day.
George Bamford: Do you ever feel as though people are sending stuff for the sake of investment rather than cause they really want a piece done?
Darren Romanelli: It has mostly been athletes who have asked to have things flipped.
George Bamford: That’s one thing we at Bamford found very strange. Personalization sometimes adds more in value. Sometimes it is that weirdness and that feeling that I have something no one else has. When we’re talking about military design, we want it in our design. We have a mutual appreciation. When I look at your product, you’ve thought about every bit from stitches to zips.
Darren Romanelli: Do you ever flip vintage watches?
George Bamford: No, but I collect vintage watches. I take elements of vintage watches and then put them into contemporary models. It’s not about flipping new to old, it’s about flipping old to new. I think that you and I kind of have this view of where personalization, or how brands are running away from it. I mean they can’t personalize because they are doing mass production. It’s going back to trying to make something a bit more unique. I know these brands have got tons of shops all the way around the world, there’s nothing unique anymore.
Darren Romanelli: That’s something I really appreciate about your brand. For me it’s interesting because I discovered your stuff really organically. I saw first saw your mastermind JAPAN release, was that two years ago?
George Bamford: Yeah, mastermind JAPAN was two years ago.
Darren Romanelli: It was so nice. I think that was my first experience seeing a Bamford customized Rolex. It floored me with the attention to detail. This is just from a place of curiosity. Tell me a little bit about when you first started getting into watches
George Bamford: I started with watches in 1995. I got given an old watch from 1955 and it was a funky old school beaten-up thing. I just thought “my god this watch is so sexy.” Then I got into Rolexes and kind of moved up the ranks. Rolex for me is just a cool thing. But awhile back, my father for Christmas got me a Rolex, I mean I was so happy and I went to a dinner and four people at that dinner got the same watch and it lost the speciality. They had identical watches and I was like “what’s happening, why am I feeling like it’s not as cool, not as customized, not as special?” And to say a £4,500 watch is not special, for me it wasn’t that it wasn’t special, it just lost that coolness about it. It’s like when I get a new pair of trainers and I go “my god, I want them to be my pair of trainers, I want them to be my own sneakers.” I want it to be something unique to me. Even my bag, I like it because this bag, it’s been designed by me for me.
Darren Romanelli: It’s beautiful. Is this 1 of 1? So you picked out the lining and you designed it?
George Bamford: Yeah, we’re in this world, the mass market. You can’t be different about your car, you can’t be different about anything. So I was at this dinner where everybody had the same Rolex and I just went to my car and I said, “We have do something that’s specialized.” So we started with these old Submariners. We started with that cause it was just a really nice simple watch. We did two of them, one was for me and one was for my father.
Darren Romanelli: How’d you customize it?
George Bamford: We just blackened it, if you look at the black, it’s blueish black, it’s not as black as our black. We started off doing that and I wore it in the summer and my father wore his and we got orders for 10. And then it quickly went to 10 ,15, 20 orders, etc. From there it started building. I love how you can have something that is unique for you. That’s why they go to pimping out my car because they want to find that uniqueness in this world where you have mostly similarity.
Darren Romanelli: It’s that customized personalization. The more you customize the more you are in tune with it. It’s the same thing with me and fashion.
George Bamford: You go about the history, the collectibility of the items. That something I wanted to know because when we were talking about the jackets before. You were saying about the aviator jacket. I loved how you were talking to me about that and how you could have the history of these jackets, and look at what you’re doing to make something else.
Darren Romanelli: The other thing that’s interesting about watches to me is that you buy a watch and you can wear it so many times, and you can put it away for awhile. If you wear it too much like anything, you’re over it. One idea for me regarding the Bamford and Dr. Romanneli project was, wouldn’t it be interesting to customize a strap to be able to switch out? That’s when I got to thinking – such a classic timepiece that’s associated with flying. The idea would be deconstructing the G1 and finding those amazing imperfections in the leather, the wear and tear, and turning those into scraps. That was the concept that I was playing around with for a little while.
George Bamford: I love what you were saying on that and now we’ve figured out how we can do a quick swap out the straps for your watch. We got the strap made so you can pull it across and then pull it out.
Darren Romanelli: Regarding the Jaeger Le Coultre, Reverso Romanelli collaboration, we had only a short time frame to work on the design so I was limited to what I could do. The idea was how I could integrate the watch in a different manner so it was customized in how you wore it, and that’s how we integrated it into the jacket cuff.
George Bamford: I loved that concept. What was the first thing you customized?
Darren Romanelli: The first product I ever customized was a pair of Chuck Taylors. I was sitting with them and I thought “wouldn’t it be great to put a zipper on the side of the shoe?” I had no experience in sewing so I cut the side of the shoes, sewed in the zipper, I took some classic neck ties that I found at a swap meet, stitched the top of the shoes and made these wacky Cons. I started wearing them around and someone said those are great. From there I went into customizing bomber jackets, I was into the many possibilities around working with the ribbing, I remember wanting to have the ribbing pop and create unique color combinations between the leather and ribbing . My first series of official Dr. Romanelli products were the 2002 baseball jackets with a beautiful pinstripe ribbing. That to me was my first true experience with customizing.
George Bamford: I can see how people see us and can say the co-lab can happen and can’t happen. I’m sure people are like how the hell can you put these two together. What we’ve thought about and where we’ve gone, from the philosophy of customization, we’re on the same page. Getting back to personalization, I think it’s key to how brands will stand. Brands can’t go forward anymore cause they’re trying to emerge in bigger markets, but as soon as you’ve done that where do you keep it fresh. How do you get bigger and remain fresh?
Darren Romanelli: There’s this authentic element behind brands that have these permanent fixtures in culture. Like a Converse Chuck Taylor, a Ray-Ban, a Pepsi can, a Rolex Daytona – these are all very iconic. You see it as a blank slate and you can personalize them with these great brands, and sky’s the limit. That’s what Bamford has done so well. What’s your biggest release you’ve done in regards to numbers?
George Bamford: We’ve done a release with fragment design for 20 pieces in three colors each. It was a good project but I like doing smaller numbers. I like the idea of keeping it unique. I think it’s kind of cool cause we work in that way. Each of our watches is about full traceability and we know everything about it such as what’s going on with them. We have a new coding system for dials with infrared so we know that it’s our watch. Even our photographs have little signatures so we know that it’s our watch.
Darren Romanelli: Have you seen fake Bamfords?
George Bamford: Yes, I saw a fake Milgauss. I was slightly flattered. What about you?
Darren Romanelli: Yes I’ve seen fakes of shoes I’ve released in Taiwan. A friend kept asking about these different colors. I looked on eBay and there they were in nine different colors.
George Bamford: The whole theory behind fake I don’t like. But I found it flattering. What was one of your favorite earlier projects?
Darren Romanelli: I was approached by Nike in 2004 to participate in this project called “Reconstruct” where they picked 10 designers, and gave us each a box of vintage materials and scraps off the cutting room floors with 24 hours to make something.
George Bamford: No way! That’s kind of like a challenge in itself.
Darren Romanelli: Amazing project. I’m not even sure if Nike knew but I went to school at University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon, so there’s a lot of history with Nike there. The project for me was a turning point in deconstructing, not just creating something new. It was taking something apart and putting it back together again. It sparked something inside of me.
George Bamford: I love how you’re “I wanna take this part, lets do something.” You know it’s a form of art.
Darren Romanelli: From there as I matured I spent more time experiencing vintage and sourcing vintage. I was on this Nike kick for awhile where I was also searching swap meets and thrift stores for vintage Nike orange label stuff from the early ’70s, and while I was thrifting I started discovering military wear. I never really connected with military initially, maybe a few bits of pieces here and there but slowly overtime I developed a love for the items. It was so incredible the quality and the craftsmanship of how the pieces were made. And then to me, you know it was amazing to see the wear and tear, the damage.
How pieces were old and deteriorated in sections. I found beauty in that. So I thought to myself “wouldn’t it be interesting to cut those up and bring those pieces that I like so much back to life in a new shape.”
George Bamford: Where were you finding the stuff for this?
Darren Romanelli: I went to the Rose Bowl because there was such a demand for my Nike jackets that I had to find more vintage Nike. I photographed the vintage pieces with a Polaroid so the consumer could see what the new Romanelli creation was originally made from. After awhile I bought so many pieces and made so many jackets that I started thinking “what’s next?!” When you do something for so long, and you can attest to this, things get tedious. I wanted to create another collection outside of vintage sportswear. That’s when I connected with these incredible military pieces, especially vintage G1′s and their amazing patches. I met this guy by the name of Eric who’s based in Boise, Idaho who used this classic form of embroidery called chain stitching where you actually are hand stitching artwork on the back of jackets. We became good buddies and I started working with him on a majority of my military collections. I really liked the idea I could start customizing the messaging on my pieces. I did the first proper DRx military collection titled “Surgical Strike” for SOPH. and it did very well so I kept it going.
Production: Luis Ruano & Eugene Kan
Photography: John Ong