8 Things
Sweetu Patel of C’H’C’M’

“I like selling clothes that make people hyperventilate,” says Sweetu Patel. “Furniture doesn’t do that.” Trained as a furniture designer himself, Patel was the original founder of the design brand Citizen Citizen, but after giving up that business and putting in five years on the sales floor of New York’s Cappellini showroom, he shifted gears to start the online men’s clothing shop C’H’C’M’ last year. As it happens, though, Patel’s purveyorship of classic heritage brands represents more of a return than a departure — back to the clothing he grew up around, back to his sartorial instincts, back to the business model Citizen Citizen was originally meant to follow. We’ve always been a fan of Patel’s work, so we asked him to tell us his story, then share the eight inspirations that have led him to where he is now.

“I was born in India and moved to England when I was three. I spent most of my life in Northampton. My uncle owned a grocery store, and I used to work for him, which is where I discovered magazines. I was really inspired by i-D, and I read it for 10 years starting in 1988. It made me be creative instead of going the academic route, which is what an Indian person at that time usually did — all my cousins were doctors, dentists, accountants. Being a minority, reading i-D made me feel part of something. It opened up a creative world for me in terms of clothing, music, and literature.

“I ended up studying furniture design and interior architecture in Birmingham, and moved to London in 1998. My friends and I started a company that cut up secondhand leather jackets and turned them into bags, and from that I got a job with Alma, Europe’s oldest leather merchant. They were starting a home collection, and I was the in-house designer. They had a factory on the East End, so I got to see how the company worked from top to bottom; in the morning I could make a drawing, get a pattern cut, take the pattern to the machinist, and by the end of the day have a product. They had proper artisans making everything, it was old-school. It was like a hidden gem. A lot of fashion designers and architects came through and bought leather there: Smythson, Burberry, Norman Foster.

“After two or three years there I met my wife Nicole and came to the U.S. in 2002, but I couldn’t really work. I had all this free time, so that’s what made me start Citizen Citizen. I sat down and made it up. I gave myself a year to do all the research, then started it in 2004 with the idea that I’d go to England and bring back the work of young designers like FredriksonStallard. I launched during ICFF with a gallery in Williamsburg, and no one else was selling the things I had. I spent a year and a half running it, and Philip Wood came over to help out, but then it just didn’t work out. We got into manufacturing, which I wasn’t ready for. Buyers from Japan were knocking on my door wanting to buy 200 candles, and in the end I couldn’t afford it so Philip took it off my hands. I’d never meant for it to be that big of a thing. I meant for it to have a neighborhoody vibe; it was supposed to be more like a gallery.

“That was in 2005, and it kind of brought me to my knees a little bit. After that Nicole and I moved to Clinton Hill, and I worked at Cappellini. I’m actually not into making my own designs, I’m more into doing product development for other people. While I was at Cappellini I was always trying to work on something, but it took a full three years to get a business up and running. With all my businesses it’s been proper grassroots in terms of the money involved. That’s why with Citizen it was really tough — things like that aren’t cheap. We got a lot of press but didn’t sell that much. The idea for C’H’C’M’, which stands for Clinton Hill Classic Menswear, came to me in 2006: I used to collect images — I had a database of 30,000 of them I’d pulled off the internet or scanned — and at some point I noticed most of them were clothes and shoes and bags. I started putting different looks together, and it branched out from there.

“It was meant to be a nice shop selling classic, rather than fashion-based, clothing. When I was a kid, I used to save up for clothes, even if they were quite expensive, because to me they were worth getting. Everything I bought was top notch. C’H’C’M’ has that kind of mentality — clothes aren’t something you throw away. Like sweaters from Denmark that you’ll pass on twice to your son and your son’s son, real fisherman stuff. A lot of my vendors are old-school, and with the first few brands, I was the first person to carry them outside of Japan. Maybe that’s what Citizen Citizen was supposed to be. The roots of it are pretty similar.

“I carry some new brands, but most are old European ones. I grew up around the shoe industry in England; Trickers was started in 1829, and I still go twice a year every time I visit my mom. It’s just down the road, and people are still making shoes there in exactly the same factory. I think because it was around me it probably stuck with me. Someone like Mackintosh is still making clothing the same way since the 1800s, since they invented the rubberization of cotton, which I think is insane. Or the Danish brand S.N.S. Herning, a family business founded in 1931 that still uses the same German machines. I’m really into family businesses and how things are handed down from generation to generation. I think my uncle taught me that — I ran away from it back in the day, but now I understand it.

“In November I’m opening a bricks-and-mortar shop in Noho, and I’m going to have Fronzoni tables and B+B Italia furniture, so in that sense my love for design is still there. If I put my finger on what I’m doing I’ll lose it — it’s all instinct, so I just let it be.”

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Northampton, England: “Northampton became a center for leather and shoe manufacturing because it’s surrounded by forests, and you need tree bark for tanning. It was also on the route joining south to north. So I grew up around all these companies, like Gloverall and the Regent Belt Company, whose products I carry at C’H’C’M’. It’s funny how it’s come back to that: After living in Northampton and not giving it any attention, wanting to wear my Nikes and thinking the shoes produced there were for old men, now I absolutely love them. I visit the factories near my house every time I go back. You’ll see Japanese kids outside taking pictures, so you know something’s going on.” Above: A pair of Trickers shoes Patel purchased in Northampton last year.

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Northampton, England: An item from the Regent Belt Company that he stocks at C’H’C’M’.

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Northampton, England: “It’s amazing how the manufacturing is still going and keeping a lot of people employed. There are people who have been at the shoe factories for 30 or 40 years, if not more, and they’re still passing the skills down. Every time I go back there’s someone younger who’s been trained by the older folks to carry on the tradition. It doesn’t seem to be a dying art. The Regent Belt Company, for example, makes stuff for Ralph Lauren, J Crew, and LL Bean. Same with some of the shoe companies.”

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i-D magazine: “When I first saw i-D magazine it was 1988, and I read it all the way through to 1998. I’d buy records based on it, read books they reviewed, and study all the fashion shoots. I put the advertisements on my wall. For me it was a one-stop shop for creative inspiration — it was my internet back in the day, my Google. I’d always had the creative urge, but the way my family was situated, that wasn’t an urge you’d follow through with. i-D helped me hone my creativity and pointed me in the right direction. Now and again I look at it, but it’s very different now, and with the internet, it’s not as exciting. But I did find a bunch in a vintage shop in Williamsburg recently, and I spent all day in there reminiscing. I remembered everything.”

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Mangiarotti Table Lamp: “My first-ever purchase from Cappellini was this mushroom-shape lamp in white Carrara marble by Angelo Mangiarotti, and I love the way it’s formed and the way the light comes out of it. There are eight perfectly round holes drilled into the bottom which give it a machined look. It’s an object I love to look at and touch. It’s similar to clothing, how you pick up a Mackintosh jacket and the zippers are right and the labels are right and the weight of it just feels good. In a way, selling furniture helped me understand how to sell clothing.”

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AG Fronzoni: “When I started at Cappellini in 2005, I knew about the Italian designer AG Fronzoni, but it was the first time I'd seen his work in person. It was always hard for me to get my head around the shapes created by Marc Newson, but Fronzoni’s furniture made complete sense to me. I started researching him and you couldn’t find anything online, which of course only made me more interested. I found that he designed a beautiful suitcase for the leather brand Valextra in the early ’70s.”

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AG Fronzoni: “Then I found a picture of a Fronzoni book on the website of this German graphic designer; I thought he was selling it, but he had actually done the layout. He had five copies lying around and I was able to buy one off of him for 30 euros. That book contained Fronzoni’s graphics, so it was very exciting, the process of uncovering his work that way.”

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AG Fronzoni: “I own some of Fronzoni's furniture, too: a black dining table and four black chairs. The architect Claudio Sylvestrin studied under him, whom I like as well.”

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George Boorujy: “My wife Nicole has been friends with George for 10 or 15 years, and this is his portrait of a deer that we own. Everything he does has an environmental message, but it’s done in a really nice way. He does so much research into the animals he paints; he’ll go to Kenya just to study the wildlife. I’ve been to his studio and seen him working — there’s a lot of technique and time involved, which is part of why it appeals to me so much. I’m into minimalist art, too, but this moves me in a way that minimalist art doesn’t.”

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The Rig Out:The Rig Out is a new fanzine geared towards bikes, boats, and the outdoor gentleman’s pursuits. The clothes you see in here are clothes that like-minded people wear, and the attention to detail, photography, and writing are painstakingly thought out and put together. For me, it’s a beacon amongst all style-related printed material out there at the moment, and I feel it’s as exciting as when I used to read those early issues of i-D as a kid. Plus, it only costs 1 pound.”

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Image archive: “I used to collect images — I have a database of 30,000 of them, which I started gathering in 2005. I think it’s like collecting anything, but with the clothing images, it was like having clothes without actually having them. Like hoarding without hoarding. It’s just something I started doing and I couldn’t stop. A lot of it I found on the internet, and some people call it trawling but I call it traveling, because one word leads to another word leads to another. Anything I loved I pulled off and kept.”

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Image archive: “With a couple of the clothing shots I’ve since zoomed in to get a close-up of the label, contacted the manufacturer, and tracked them down. Some may have been bought out and changed their name, but were so excited to work with me. So I have acutally purchased items for my store based on this.”

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Image archive: “I don’t do it so much now because all the images I shoot for C'H'C'M' have replaced those pictures. I do close-ups of buttons and stitching and labels on the site, and I suppose that’s how I learned to take detail shots, from looking at these pictures. It’s a nice way of finding inspiration. You’re looking at stuff that was big in Germany eight years ago, for example, and if you drop it in your shop now, it feels fresh again.”

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Image archive: “In general I try not to go to same trade shows everyone’s going to, or read all the same blogs, because I don’t want to end up with the same stuff everyone else has.”

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Margaret Howell: “The London clothing designer Margaret Howell is one of these people who’s always there — her stuff is classic and never really goes out of style. Her work isn’t fashion-based, but every once and awhile it becomes trendy again because the fashion press will write about it. She makes simple, elegant garments out of beautiful fabrics, and her shop in London is stunning. I like that she’s still going after 35 years. I wear her clothes, they’re extremely understated.”

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Margaret Howell: “She also designs furniture for Ercol, and her store is a nice mixture of her clothing and furniture. Everything’s made using top-notch European manufacturing; some of her shoes are made by Trickers. When she began designing, she found a vintage shirt at a garage sale that was so high quality she based her line around everything being that well made. I wanted to carry her at C’H’C’M’ but her minimums are too high — maybe next year.”