Ben Kelly

Ben Kelly is a legendary designer and the founder of his eponymous studio. Across his career he has worked with everyone from Virgil Abloh to the Sex Pistols, but he is best known for his interior design work on Manchester’s The Haçienda, one of the most influential and important nightclubs of all time.

How would you describe yourself?

I'm Ben Kelly. I'm a designer and an artist.

Have you any memory of the first time you spotted the G9 jacket?

I think it was on TV or in a movie. I think it was James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. But also I think it was the early Mods in the UK, in the ‘60s they started wearing them. That was probably the first time I was aware of the jacket here in the UK.

Speaking as a designer and an artist, how is it possible to have a design that becomes immortal over time?

That is a really difficult question. To answer it in three words I would go for rigorous, radical, and designer. The rigor is to do with making something classic that has longevity. In my work, I've always tried to design interiors that have longevity, and that's a really difficult thing to do because the very nature of interior design is that things are temporary, and they go in and out of fashion.

But I wasn't interested in fashion, in interior design. For example, the Hacienda nightclub – which I designed and opened in 1982 – lasted 15 years, which is quite a longtime for a nightclub, especially one of that scale. We used robust materials, materials that are designed and made to last because a lot of people are going to be using these interiors. So, it's building up a language of materials, which, in a sense, the jacket has done. There’s a very simple language of materials with the lining and the outer fabric. It's simplicity as well as not pandering to the fashion of the moment.

Does that create perfection?

Don't be silly. You don't get perfection but there's something amazing about it. I can’t imagine when they first put it together they were thinking it would last for decade upon decade upon decade. But it's a bit like a uniform, almost like a military uniform. Which is why I think the Mods were wearing it, because it suited them as a uniform, it was practical, it was easy to wear and casual, which is another word that comes into it all, casual. But to design something to last is very, very difficult. But if it negates fashion, then it can go through as many trends as you like.

So, the key is not thinking that you want something to last.

No, I think that this was done to be practical. This jacket was purely to be practical, easy to wear, hard wearing and would last and didn't make a big statement. You were comfortable in it.
Comfort as well, I suppose, is part of it. I think the other important thing is to do with class. And because the Harrington jacket transcends fashion, it can also transcend class. So, men playing golf can wear it, but so can kids on the street. That's a pretty unusual thing to achieve, that you can be from any strata of society and wear this jacket. Now, that's to do with its longevity as well. So, it's weird how class comes into it, but maybe that's because it's English and the bloody class system.

How does it relate to this idea of ‘Britishness’?

Is it reflecting Britishness? I don't know, but it is a British product. I don't necessarily think it equates to anything that's that old thing called Britishness. I think it's well made, it's affordable, it's practical, long lasting, and it transcends class barriers. Britishness is a kind of cliché. Now, there isn't such a thing, I don't think, because this country is in a bit of a mess politically, financially, it's lost its way somehow, but the jacket will see its way through all of that.