“It’s rude to stare at people!” my mother used to tell me as a child. I know she was right yet in some circumstances, I maintain it’s just simply unavoidable. In fashion invariably we see our world through visual cues and those keen details. Trends and must-have pieces, can make it hard to distinguish who’s refined their own aesthetics : that sensibility that often looks simply suave, and comes from what I can only remark is a true love of fashion. In that rare moment when you spot this character, it registers on an instinctual level. You notice that they stand apart from the crowd, playful yet well-appointed and so I indulge with bout of not so discrete reconnaissance and perhaps even a bit of awkward gawking.
Attending Paris’ annual fabric fairs, one individual without fail always catches my eye reminding me guiltily of my mother’s words. How is it that someone could mix both new and old so well, channelling a young Sidney Poitier with the vibe of a Stokely Carmichael all the while looking so current. My curiosity gets the better of me, I must learn his name, it is Sam Lambert. By the number of photos of him floating about on the Internet, I see I am not the only one whose curiosities he has peaked.
His sartorial sensibilities and elegance bring to mind Seydou Keïta’s images of Bamako dandies, circa 1950s and 1960s and also to the Asmarinos of Eritrea (sophisticated typically older gentlemen that to this day follow the old Italian sartor of the 1930s). These gentlemen from west and east Africa have a commonality, one that also rings true to my own Ghanaian heritage – they pay homage to traditional Western tailoring with a essence unique to their locale.
Sam echoes this charming gentility of yesteryear, but its his air of contemporaneity that perhaps makes him magnetic. He makes grooming look effortless, a pleasure rather than a must-do reminding me that fashion at its best, is not about chasing trends but rather about projecting that best version of yourself.
This past December, I finally put my guilty pleasure to rest when he joined me for a candid conversation and interview. We talked about how he got started in fashion, how we navigate introductions as children of the diaspora to his childhood in Angola, and his most recent project Art Comes First. We spoke about his visit to Soweto with the Sartorialist and ultimately what it takes to have a good sense of style. Meet Sam Lambert.
Sam Lambert. Photo © David Pattison.
Nana Yaa Poku Asare-Boadu | Sam your name at a first glance does not sound very Angolan…?
SL | I have a long name which I shorten to Sam Lambert.
NAB | I am sure it is not as long as mine, but please tell me.
SL | My full name is Massamba Samuel Lambert but I am also known as Pania chambo for my old folks in Africa. And yours?
NAB | It is Nana Yaa Poku Asare-Boadu Emily Sebrena Bediako Takyiwaah Subunu. A mouthful which I have also ‘tried’ to shorten to no avail.
SL | Ok you got me, your name is longer than mine, but it’s a great name.
NAB | So Sam, at what age did you leave Angola?
SL | I left at the age of 13.
NAB |When you left, what were your strongest fashion memories of that period?
SL | That a good question, I am getting excited. My strongest memory back then was… that I hated wearing suits because my dad made me suits. I have no pictures of me wearing suits from back then, but I have hundreds of my younger brother who now lives in Spain. He had this amazing mohair suit, the way the shoulders were cut, and the way everything was cut… beautiful. So last time when I went to Spain, I stole it. I had one favorite item I wore all the time, a pair of khaki shorts. The thing with them was once they were washed because of the soap they used, they became very dry and very stiff. I loved their dry stiffness. So as soon as they were washed I would find a nice place for them in the sun and I would wait until they dried. They’d be so stiff they would skirt up a bit on the corners when I wore them so I would just start running; I just loved them. So that pair of khakis was really my first falling in love with vintage. I also remember my mother dressing me in dungarees for school, but I hated them. They had too many zips, belts, buttons and made noise. I used to actually cry because I didn’t understand why they were so noisy. I wanted something more minimal but with more life in it and those pair of khakis they had life and I just loved them. I would just wear them with no top and a pair of flip-flops and I would just run.
NAB |How do you think the memories of this period influence your artistic vision now?
SL | I think it was really more the fact that you always follow love for a piece without actually realising what that piece is about. It influenced me in a way that whatever moment in time, whatever I am wearing, I feel at home with it, that would be my common ground. My playing canvas, this is my starting point. It’s like the first picture you put on your mood board. This is what is going to shape the collection, the start of my ideas. Those memories they put me in the mind frame of the first pieces, the fabric that I fall in love with and then I start.
NAB | Your world is all about grooming; it’s about finessing your looks and the small details. Tell me the quintessential elements for you in dressing well?
SL | You have to be confident. My best friend and my ex girlfriend in Sweden always had this thing about whatever I was into or wanted to start doing, they doubted me. They would say, ‘that’s way too much’. But because of my confidence of approach I pulled it off. So I think the main thing really for me is confidence.
NAB | Whenever I see you, there are certain images and thoughts you bring to mind. For example, Malick Sidibé and Seydou Keïta but also thoughts of the men in my family who all wore suits and took care of themselves.
SL | No one ever broke it down the way you broke it down. People always pick different times, sometimes people put me back in America in the super fly days. But you actually mentioned the right things like the Seydou Keïta, Malick Sidibé and Eritrean Falasha Jewish men. I became those images without thinking of them – without knowing, it was just me being me. When I first moved to London, not many people I knew noticed the similarities like you just mentioned. It was only the older generation that would say anything. I remember a leather supplier I worked with, he went to Ethiopia to get his leather manufactured. The first time he saw me, he thought I was from a tribe in Ethiopia who look the way I do. It is quite funny when I think of it now. I became those images without thinking about it.
L | August Sander, Jungbauern (Young Farmers), 1914. R | Seydou Keïta, Untitled, 1952-1955. Courtesy of the Walther Collection.
NAB | People assume that money is essential to having style. But do you think that it is really about having a good eye and the ability to put together clothing that you know flatters you and you feel comfortable in.
SL | Money doesn’t play any role at all. When I moved to England, I was very broke. I was a kitchen porter washing dishes with a minimum salary. But my eye and will of doing something different made me become what I became. I used to pick up clothes for 1 or 2 pounds that were big and ugly, but to me the fabric was very attractive. It’s really about being able to see something else that others are not seeing.
NAB | For example in the 1950s, men and women looked more groomed and well presented, but in actual fact they did not spend a lot of money on clothing.
SL | Exactly, look at the August Sander book with all the suits that the union workers used to wear and the farmers. These people looked really well groomed regardless of what trade they were in and it was not about money. They made an effort and I think it was really about presentation.
NAB | So does this mean you think that men these days have lost the art of tailoring and grooming?
SL | I think some men have. Anything that is done in excess tends to go wrong. I think it is important for men to go through the process rather than cutting corners and just copying others and putting on a suit.
NAB | So who for you is the epitome of mens’ style?
SL | I think there are a lot of people out there who are doing it in different ways. In the industry I love the way Stefano Pilati dresses. Out’ of the industry obviously I will say my best mate Shaka. Sometimes I feel like when I pick him I know he will say, ‘oh you’re just picking me because people say we look like each other’. But for me, he went through the process and that is important. There are a lot of people that dress well and I can see they did not go through the process; they just had a fat wallet. I don’t want you to give me a scanned version of a picture, I want you to take a picture, go to the darkroom, develop the image print it out and present it to me
L | Sam Lambert & R | Shaka Maidoh. Photo © David Pattison.
NAB | Last year you were in Soweto with Scott Schuman, ‘The Sartorialist’ for South African fashion week. Did you notice a difference in the way men approached grooming let’s say in comparison to London?
SL | It’s very different. Everything is styled from a raw level, which I love. You know it will mature and you will see the process and growth of it.
NAB | So this is the process you were talking about before?
SL | Yes, I love when I can see potential like that. In Soweto you saw that everything was tailored, it was about fit and fabrication but still on the vintage side. Apart from that, there was still that African from Soweto style about the outfits.
NAB | What era would you feel most at home in?
SL | That’s a good question, I like to travel through time and sometimes I might travel through past times or times we have not yet reached. I realised I became this travel mind, who reflects on things differently. I like the sixties because people were fighting a bit more and becoming much stronger. We started opening our eyes and the style was really tight. The 70s, I love the colour palette and the vibe but the style was a bit too messy but musically great. But I would also say the 1920s, 1940s. If you pick a black man at that time for example Fela Kuti’s grandfather. He was amazing, such a black aristocrat you will be like there is nothing negative to think about that person. Everything about him shows being well presented, and well educated. I think that is actually a great way of concluding the whole image of me thinking of myself now, because most of the stuff I have been doing I have been unaware of. But if I have to find similarities, it would have to be with the 20s, 30s 40s.
NAB |Double breasted or single breasted jackets?
SL | Big fan of double breasted because I love it when a suit hugs me and when there is enough cloth around, but saying that, single breasted for events. It makes it much more of a clean or simple look. You can throw on a tie or bowtie with a waistcoat.
NAB | You have mentioned you are a Black Gypsy, could you elaborate on this?
SL | Black gypsy became significant because people could never figure out where I was from. They would guess other countries but my own. Even people from my own country would not ask ‘are you from Angola’? Only once there was a man on the bus in London who looked at me for a long time and out of the blue asked ‘are you from Angola young man’? So the ‘Black’ part is obviously the African part of me and the ‘Gypsy’ part are all the different cultures I have lived in, from Angola, Portugal, Spain, London, San Francisco to Sweden. I felt I was being influenced by a lot of different people I was meeting and the countries I was living in. My family is spread out too. My parents and sister live in Belgium, my two brothers live in Spain. This also helped my career, learning from all the different people I was meeting.
NAB | The words sartor, alchemy & progression are so essential to what you are doing. How would you explain this in for example in music and colour?
SL | In music, sartor would be composing music. For example Jazz musicians writing the tune, the alchemy part of it is that first idea that comes to you as a musician and the progression is mixing those two things together, progressing to the next level, expanding the whole idea of what you are doing. For me doing this, I want it to carry on for years and years so people get influenced by it; like music inspired my tailoring. I want my tailoring to inspire something completely different other that fashion. The colour part would definitely be black, white and grey. Just because for me, black means the idea, white is straight to canvas, grey means you start seeing the design clearly. That is why Art Comes First (ACF) has so many definitions. One of them is always cut first.
NAB | What projects are you working on now with ACF?
SL | Our main project is The Coal. It started 6 months ago but we have been thinking of it for a year. It is a project where 7 individuals come together and create the essential pieces for a small wardrobe you can travel with. We decided to start up something called the coal pack light; everything has been manufactured and designed by us. These people tend to be people we have worked with before. With The Coal project, we wanted to push not only clothing but also to show people the craft that goes with it and what you spend on getting that craft done. But also moving to different media like, photography, newspaper and video. We are showing our collection at the Pitti Men’s show in Italy. We want to do what inspires us, which is art, but art in the sense of beautifying things.
NAB | Finally, what comes second to Art?
SL | The job that pays the bills!!!
Sam Lambert (b. Angola ) is one half of the creative duo and collective Art Comes First. He first started out with a stand on Portobello market selling reconstructed army jackets, from there launching his men’s & women’s wear label Solouniko in Sweden. Lambert has since designed for Saville Row’s Oswald Boateng, and more recently for Spencer Hart.
Written by Nana yaa Asare-Boadu
Angola | Doing our part to combat immappancy
Images courtesy of David Pattison and Kristin-lee Moolman. All rights reserved.