There are thousands of dudes out there with aspirations of sketching up a couple of print tees and going big time. And granted, for most of them, the gamble usually pays off and they go on to do big things in the industry; said no one ever. But for self-taught designer and cofounder of The Affair, Zoltan Csaki, what started out as that generic, print tee dream, quickly evolved into a niche, creative journey, and now takes form as a ‘1984’ inspired, vintage work-wear capsule collection, that raises the finger to the man in ways you’d never imagine.
Who and what is The Affair?
Back in 2007, myself and a friend started designing and printing tees based on some of our favourite literature. At the time, we were based in London, with all manufacturing carried out in Portugal. Then, in 2013, my business partner moved on to pursue a different dream and I bought his share of the company. Since then, I’ve moved around a lot, with the label’s headquarters now based in Sydney.
Why the transition into menswear proper?
I had a lot of fun making t-shirts, it was a good introduction and I learnt a lot about the business, but I reached a point where I wanted to do something new. My own wardrobe has evolved a lot; I’m wearing more refined gear and better cuts, while still keeping a really casual feel. I guess I just wanted to keep making clothes that I want to wear, which is how the brand began, and how it’s continued to grow.
How did you become a label inspired by literature, and is it still a central theme now that you’ve branched out from more than just print tees?
The very first t-shirt we made was inspired by George Orwell’s, 1984 and because it [the tee] was so popular, we thought, OK, maybe there’s something there, which is how we became a brand inspired by novels. Then, last year, when I started thinking about the evolution of the brand, and where we could go next, I thought back on this, the world that Orwell created, and how that could marry up with the world today. Around that same time last year, the whole thing with Snowden and the NSA leaks went down. Immediately I thought, “oh shit, this prolific, fictional novel that was written 60 years ago, talking about Big Brother and citizen surveillance is fucking real”, all the bits just fell into place.
The collection has a really distinctive, vintage American work-wear vibe, which is obviously huge at the moment due to labels like Carhartt and Dickies. Did you draw inspiration from any other brands on the market right now?
Because I’m a self-taught designer, I don’t automatically think of cuts and fabric and stuff like that, instead I sat down and thought about the novel. The work-wear vibe really wasn’t the central focus, it was more the story of 1984 and the world that Orwell created that led me down that path: a utilitarian, work oriented, factory driven, dirty place. I didn’t set out to make clothes inspired by other labels, I set out to make work-wear that brings Orwell’s world to life, but it’s almost impossible to make work-wear without being compared to labels like Carhartt [laughs].
On Kickstarter, you use the term, “Stealth Fashion for the Under-Surveillance Society”, what’s so “stealthy” about this collection?
After I settled on the 1984 thing, I started to do a bit of research. I found out that cops all over the world, have these “digital forensic bags”, and when they bust people, they confiscate phones and laptops or whatever, and put them in these bags so they can’t be remotely wiped. In order to do that, it has to block all CELL, RFID, GPS and WIFI signals, so I thought, “Shit, you could use that same technology to drop off the grid.” So we developed the UnPocket™, it’s a proprietary combination of metallic fabrics, that block everything, CELL, RFID, GPS, WIFI, meaning you’re completely off the grid, “going dark” as it’s been coined. I decided to keep the fabric visible on the inside, to maintain that utilitarian aesthetic.
Does this mean you’re going to start getting hefty orders from weird villages in the middle of Afghanistan, or clubhouses in Western Sydney? I’d hate to read something in a couple of weeks that you’ve disappeared under suspicious circumstances.
I’m definitely on their radar, in terms of all the google searching I’ve been doing, I use all those web tools, it’s really tough to be off their radar completely; government surveillance is definitely a real problem. Obviously the UnPocket™ can’t claim to protect your digital life, it’s more about tracking. I actually just backed another Kickstarter campaign recently, called ICLOAK™, where you boot your computer up via USB, it’s basically the digital version of the UnPocket™, meaning that all your data is privately encrypted. I’ve been thinking about getting in touch with the dude to see if we can do something together.
So where can we cop the 1984 capsule collection?
I’m not going retail at the moment, I’ve had mixed experiences with that, I’m not saying no outright, but I believe that vertical integration is the future of the fashion industry. There’s a lot to be said for selling directly to the consumer, I’m also selling wholesale, so it’s much cheaper than your standard gear. The detachable UnPocket™ comes with most of the gear, but you can still get it as a standalone accessory for around the $29 USD mark, with chinos and work shirts around the $98 USD mark. There’s also some early bird prices for the first 84 customers with either the jacket or blazer reduced to $119 USD.