Q+A: Swear London.

September 13, 2009
I remember distinctly the first pair of somewhat outré shoes I purchased in a decidedly un-outré, slightly conservative high-street-chain store – River Island. I still wear them today, baby-blue pointed-toe canvas shoes with white brogue detailing, the result of River Island/Nushu and phenomenal footwear brand, Swear London (S***R), hopping into bed together in what was one of the most unlikely (to my mind…) high-street/high-end collabs. ever to come to fruition.
Since that purchase I’ve only grown more aware of the influence this brand has on the industry, relentlessly putting forward new shapes, designs and formulating fresh perspectives on the shoe itself. In advance of their display at the LFW exhibition at 180 The Strand, I caught up with Brand Manager Jorge Sampaio, asking why and wherefore…

1. S***R is now one of the most renowned and innovative footwear brands on the contemporary scene. But how did it all begin? Who founded the brand and when?

It began when Jose Neves (founder, now head of the SIX showroom and also farfetch.com) and Jorge Sampaio (brand manager) opened their first store in Covent Garden London in 1996. It was all about Ministry vs Manga then and the shoes were pretty crazy, ranging from metal heeled women’s to stacks of micro fibre assembling towering platforms as high as 10 inches.

The “new” S***R debuts in 2000 in our second store (now the only one in London) in Carnaby Street.

2. S***R has been described as a brand that recognises the intimate connection between the realms of fashion and music. How crucial is this relationship to the brand’s aesthetic? Is there a band that you feel best represent what S***R is all about…your “don’t give a f**k design ethos”?

The relationship between S***R and music has always been what drives our creative process because it feeds our daily lives. We are inspired by some bands out there, regardless of genre but we listen to mostly independent music, from minimal electronic to Grindcore (well, me) but there is one band in particular that would be a worthy ambassador of S***R : LIARS.

e5c9c liars

^ American three-piece Liars.

They even have worn S***R shoes in the past. I guess if they read this they will probably go “our shoes are dead now”. They are innovative, fresh with every album, are honest about what they do and look damn cool.

3. What inspires the S***R aesthetic? Some of the models are named after household names/icons e.g. James Dean. Would it be accurate to say pop culture is a strong influence?

Yes, pop culture is important with music at the helm… there’s the “Dean” (James Dean) and then there’s “Gene” (Gene Loves Jezebel… yeah, my wife chose that one… she always prefered them to Siouxsie back in uni (!)- she is the manager of our store in Carnaby St. so she has a vote as well), there’s “Iggy” (you know who), “Cramps”… some obvious musical references. Next season I will have a new group of styles called “Isis”. That, I can tell you.

d7406 swearjimmyzebra

^ Jimmy Zebra Derby Shoes

4b803 sweargenehigh tops

^ Gene Metallic High-tops

e0659 sweariggywhiteleathersneakers

^ Iggy Leather Sneakers

We don’t only get inspired by music though… I guess nobody in the team lives music like I do… I will still have a band again one day… the rest of the team like Matthew, our Men’s designer for SS10 is on a different wave length when it comes to music and parties but we respect each other’s tastes and influences and there’s also more than 10 years difference between us.

4. The brand is noted for its instantly recognisable models e.g. the pointed-toe ‘Dean’ or the ‘Gene’ and ‘Iggy’ hi-tops. Who conceives these models? Who is responsible for designing men’s footwear at S***R?

Dean is the most recognizable S***R ever, it will be 10 years old in 2010, it still is the style I see the most times in the streets… and it’s also the group of styles that looks better when trashed so they last longer.

We plan to release S***R 10 – a capsule collection of the 10 best DEAN ever.

The Dean was designed by Jose back in 2000 but Jose hasn’t really designed since around 2004 so we have had a string of men’s designers. The GENE and IGGY were designed by one of these designers with Jose’s orientation. He still oversees everything technical. Today, we have a talented young man called Matthew Taylor and creative director Dominic Webster designing S***R (and also other licenses at the SIX showroom London).

5. Collaborations (Fred Perry, D.I.E., Cassette Playa etc.) seem to form an integral component of the design process for you guys. Which of these has been the most fruitful, in your opinion? What menswear designer/brand would you like to collaborate with in the future?

The best collab. we had in terms of freedom and totally cool approach to creation and sales was D.I.E (Denim is Everything) for S***R, we must have had like 7 seasons of creating cool shoes with Rey and his team. The best for $ was, and still is, Hummel (last season will be SS10).



^ D.I.E. x S***R SS09

Fred Perry was all meetings and no fun, a 3 season collaboration that went practically unnoticed. Thank god.


^ Fred Perry X S***R


^ Cassette Playa x S***R

Then there was Cassette Playa… a one season exercise, but there was also a Blaak shoe, a Swarovski shoe, back in 2000-02.



^ Hummel x S***R

Today, we are more interested in creating a strong segmented collection with a ‘premium + mainline’ or ‘mainline + diffusion’, such is the need for the brand at two speeds/output, one that is more commercial and readily available through major accounts and shoe specialists and another that is favoured by cool boutiques who look for exclusivity/destination stores and dept. stores….

Still, personally, I would like to collaborate with April 77 in 2010.

6. Your AW09 collection includes hi-tops, boots and brogues. Do you think there’s a definitive style of shoe for this season?

Maybe there is, but we don’t care, we don’t follow trends, we just twist them. We’ve been designing and redesigning high-tops, boots, wing tips, oxford and derby shoes, with or without brogues for the last 10 years.. in the process we have designed 100 uppers in the DEAN, seen SS10 being presented with 12 different lasts in a 150 sku collection… guess we’re not sure about that definitive style of the season…? Or maybe we are never quite satisfied?

Also, London Fashion Week’s fast approaching. Is S***R planning any displays/exhibitions? And do you have any collabs. set to launch in the near future?

For LFW we are showing our collection in the SIX showroom in Savile row and will occupy a stand at the LFW exhibition at 180 The Strand, together with other brands from SIX. We will also be in Milan from 15-19 Sept and Paris 1-6 October. More details at www.sixlondon.com and www.swear-london.com

01272 swearss10

^ A peek at SS10

Much thanks to Jorge Sampaio and the rest of the S***R team.

Images from High Snobiety, Selectism and ProductShopNYC.

  • Anonymous September 13, 2009 at 10:55 am

    really interesting and frank interview. I've been a fan since I bought the first collection Swear 4 Topman, maybe some 6, 7 years ago, its fresh to see a brand collaborating for fun and for the creative aspect of things, be it Topman or Cassette Playa…. well done and long live the people behind this unique brand.

  • Anonymous March 31, 2010 at 7:34 am

    slick marketing will be needed to shift the Jimmy Zebra Derby Shoes to anyone outside of the 18-25 demographic in Albania! truly truly appalling, what were they thinking? deary me.

  • Anonymous April 10, 2010 at 11:20 pm

    those Zebra are part of the "greatest hits" collection, which is limited and, you got it, hard to find.