We sat down with illustrator and designer James Grey to discuss his latest project Mammon, a streetwear brand with a focus on art, politics and consumerism.
CB: Why did you start MAMMON?
JG: When I first started my study to become a designer, I was hugely inspired by Shepard Fairey’s Obey. I was particularly a big fan of the fact that, it was amazing street art with strong political messages that eventually branched into fashion. It feels like it is something that is real, that has value. Because it wasn’t just about fast fashion, all the designs have a story to tell and that made each piece interesting. I wanted to build something like that, but form my own creation and perspective.
I believe media and entertainment is the most penetrative form of propaganda that exists in our time. As our society progresses, I begin to see that we currently live in a society, where there’s an intense obsession and worship of money and wealth. No matter where you look, whether it is in movies, music, television or even magazines, there’s the glamorization of people who live an excessive lifestyle. Adding on top of social media, I really feel like the idea of indulging in vanity has become part of the mainstream consciousness.
That’s where the idea of MAMMON begin to take shape. MAMMON is the name of the entity that represents greed and material wealth in the new testament. I’m not a religious person in any way, but I thought this would be the perfect name for the message I am trying to convey.
The message is this, the only entity we as a society truly worship is money, and money has a tremendous, yet terrible power over us. It has become our god.
Through MAMMON, I want to create works that are beautiful from an aesthetic standpoint, but always have a dark and ominous message hidden in it. The same goes with the style of fashion under the MAMMON brand. I also have plans to work with musicians to attach certain types of music to it, so that it would be able to completely express the feel and idea of this project both visually and auditorily. I believe this is how you create something that is complete, and this is why I created this project.
CB: What has been the most difficult aspect of getting your brand off the ground and how did you overcome that?
JG: The biggest challenge I’ve had so far has been marketing. Getting the project off the ground took a lot of time, but I had great people that work together with me, so getting the idea realized wasn’t too difficult. Now that the brand has launched, getting it to the right audience and finding exposure is the most difficult part. Especially in this era of social media, where organic growth is hindered by paid ads or having to advertise through influencers.
The illustrative works you produce for Mammon are quite often politically charged and are rich in symbolism and meaning. Is it important for you to always convey a message within your artwork?
Absolutely, every piece should have some narrative built into it. People are drawn to stories, and I want to express certain ideas through my work. To me, it gives the piece itself more significance and not just something pretty to look at.
CB: I imagine it must be difficult at times integrating the realities of running a commercial business with the creative nature of design. Do you put aside your personal agenda and tastes to focus on current aesthetic trends when bringing a product to market to ensure it is commercially viable?
JG: Chasing fast trends is definitely not something I’m trying to do with my projects, but you certainly want to be up-to-date with what’s going on in the market at the moment. I think it’s good to challenge yourself to make a product both creatively fulfilling and commercially viable. So far I haven’t felt that I have had to make compromises creatively. I’m a big believer that good work has to have the quality to resonate with people, otherwise it’s just self indulgent pieces, which are totally fine. But I’m trying to make something that not only resonate with myself, but also with others. I think there’s ways to find a good balance.
CB: MAMMON has a quite a unique brand identity. What was the inspiration behind the aesthetic of the brand?
JG: It’s a combination of a lot of things. The main aesthetic of MAMMON is dark beauty and symbolism. I take inspiration from baroque, renaissance and art deco periods, combining them with modern aesthetics such as graffiti and street art. But also from film and music as well, I would watch or listen to something, take the feeling that I get from that piece of art, and try to create something combining all those elements. The most important thing is to have the end result to have a strong presence.
CB: How important do you think it is for a brand, be it a personal brand, clothing brand, design studio etc. to have a well defined and consistent aesthetic?
JG: I think it is very important to be consistent. However, there’s difference between consistent and rigid. For me personally, I get tired of working on the same things pretty fast. So what I do is try to stay within the same vision, but find new ways to make it interesting and exciting for myself. It comes down to having a strong vision and finding ways to work everything into that vision.
CB: What other brands inspire you and why?
Obey was definitely a big inspiration to me. I love their take on propaganda style art and their printing methods. The works are beautiful and almost always have a message behind it.
I also take inspirations from brands like Versace. Their over the top, glamorous aesthetic is always very interesting to reference. But also, the whole story behind Versace’s iconic usage of the medusa head actually have a very similar meaning to my whole concept for MAMMON. They used the medusa head, as a reference to the old greek mythology legend, where medusa was turned into a monster because of her beauty. The icon was meant to be a warning to people that the pursuit for beauty and vanity could be a dangerous path.
I also love the dark aesthetic of Alexander McQueen. They also have this whole idea that there’s darkness in beauty. His designs are amazingly elaborate, but at the same time bold and elegant. I want my works to have the same effects on people.
CB: MAMMON also sells art prints, do you think you will move into producing other designer homewares moving forward? Or are you planning to keep it strictly apparel based?
JG: Moving into homeware is something that I do have in mind. But at the moment we will focus on getting the apparel side of the business to take off first.
CB: What’s next for MAMMON?
I’m currently working on our second collection, finding a signature look and really defining the style that represents the brand. We have plans to add more leather wear into our catalog. What’s are they you ask? I’m going to keep that a secret for now, haha!
There’s also new works that will be telling new stories currently in the production pipeline. So you definitely want to keep an eye out for that as well.
But the most major next step, is starting to integrate the music aspect of MAMMON into the brand. Once the music starts to come in, I believe it would give MAMMON an even stronger identity.
CB: What is one piece of advice would you give to someone who is looking to start a fashion label?
JG: Know your foundations. That means design, process and manufacturing, but those are just the basics. Work in the industry, get your experience and try your best to build good relationships with people. Relationships are going to help get you more opportunities and a strong foundation is going to help you execute your ideas.
To purchase apparel, or find our more about MAMMON, head to: godormammon.com