There is no mistaking Kenny Kelly, the Product Development Manager at Brompton. Six foot something of 1970s rocker hair and Glaswegian accent dressed in vintage military garms, and sporting a cornucopia of metallic hand furniture. We worked closely with Kenny on the creation of our Brompton blazer, a collaboration with the iconic folding bicycle brand that we launched earlier this year. It was a phenomenal success, which is why we've now restocked and in good time for those of you brave enough to hit the roads in the winter months.
Kenny's got a great eye for design and style. An obsessive over details, he loves the stories behind products, the whys and the hows, while bringing a 'what if' mentality to product development. His own personal style riffs on the utility and timelessness of classic military silhouettes, with an obsession for Japanese denim, artisanal products and sportswear in the mix too, all of which he carries off with aplomb. So we sat down with him recently to pick his brains on design, style and everything in between. Enjoy.
What are your personal style signifiers?
Well denim was always my first love, that’s where I started working in this industry, but I'm also very into vintage military workwear, anything that is original and functional. I guess what interests me most are those products with stories behind them, and most of the pantheon of militarywear was borne out of necessity. Hence why the design of classics like the field jacket, or the pea coat or any of those iconic pieces has remained the same over the years. They were all originally designed with pure function in mind and I love all that, but equally it's great to see how brands continue to try and put their print on them. I'm also a big fan of outdoorsy stuff and sportswear. I was really sporty in my youth so I’ve always had a thing for football kits, and more recently running gear. The fun is working out how to mix all these different kinds of genres into a look.
What have you bought and loved recently?
Pressure washers aside, by far and away the best purchase I’ve made was buying an espresso machine last year. Little did I realise at the time (pre-Covid) just how important it would become, but I doubt I’d have made it through the last 6 months without it!
What website can you not do without?
Something that I loved a long time ago then faded away, has resurfaced during lockdown, and that is A Continuous Lean. I really enjoy the stuff that Michael Williams writes about and share a lot of his views on menswear and life in general. He’s a really passionate advocate for authentic menswear and manufacturing, and does his best to make sure the little guys get heard above the noise. It can sometimes be a little too American-focused for my liking (understandably so) and I’d love to come across a more European focused equivalent, but its resurrection has been a real bright note for me this year.
What has influenced your style over time?
I've always been fascinated by Japanese style, but it doesn’t always work on a 6ft 3in hairy Scotsman! Nevertheless it's always interesting to see how the Japanese brands interpret things with their great obsession with fabrics and details. This is what I try to feed through into what we do with clothing at Brompton: we want to take classic, iconic pieces of menswear and work out how to make them functional for the bike, while also producing something that looks and feels amazing off the bike. It can be a conundrum sometimes, but when we get it right - the Brompton blazer being a case in point - it results in a product that ticks every box.
Above all though, I just keep my eyes open and look at what people are wearing on the street. Influences can come from anywhere, but mostly its just from observing people and how they’re wearing things. For me though, consistency is everything. I approach my own style as a designer would a collection - stick to your principles, be creative, but always refer back to your ethos. It's why the likes of Oli, Paul Smith, Nigel Cabourne and Margaret Howell have been so successful for so long.
How did you get started in this industry?
I thought I was going to be a professional rugby player but then my body fell apart when I was about 18, so I left school and went to Uni not quite sure what to do. I had a year working in Ted Baker in Glasgow when it was just a small brand, during which time I got to learn a huge amount about so many different aspects of the business.
I’d always been into clothing but never thought it could be a career. I moved to London and got lucky with a temp job that opened some doors and things just moved on from there. I’m not a designer, more of a product development person, but I think I work well with designers and do a good job interpreting what they’re trying to create. I understand the passion for fabrics and the attention to details, and more than anything I understand history of products, so I can relate to the designer’s approach.
If not Brompton's Product Development Manager, then...
The alternative answer is 70s rock star - that’s the ultimate dream. I think I was born in the wrong time - I should have been in my prime in the 70s - I love how the Kinks got really interesting in the 70s, and the Beach Boys too. I just love the hair and the beards - I’ve had mine for a long long time!! I’m really drawn to the whole 70s package - I’m a sucker for it!
What would the 20 year-old Kenny think about you today?
He might be a little bit surprised. I’ve been fairly consistent I think. I knew who I was early on, I’ve always tried to stay on a level. I’ve got lovely kids, great family, I get to work with interesting people, and I feed off that.
And what advice would you give to 20 year old Kenny?
Just be a nice person. The most pain and anxiety I’ve experienced in my career is from people that just aren’t nice. It vexes me - going to work should be fun creative, inspirational - that’s why I love getting up and going to work at Brompton because we have some amazing people from many different backgrounds who are all really passionate about solving creative challenges.
What’s your go-to for switching off?
I’ve got 12-year old twin girls and a dog, so between them I'm kept pretty busy at home. I just love getting outside, walking in the countryside around Maidenhead where I live. I always have my best ideas out when walking.
You can save one possession from your home. What is it?
I’m going to assume I’ve got one of my pairs of jeans on (I’ve put a lot of time into ageing them!!) I’ve got a really beautiful picture of Nick Drake. He changed my view of music because I was only really into heavy metal at the time, but my brother played me some Nick Drake and it really opened my eyes. Something so serene about the man. There’s a mystique about him. There was an exhibition on Redchurch Street a few years ago and my wife bought me this print by Keith Morris of him leaning against a wall looking pretty cool - it’s just one of those pictures I love staring at.
What's a place you would love to go back to?
Scotland has so many amazing memories and I do think it’s one of the most beautiful countries on Earth. One of my friends got married maybe 10-15 years ago in Caracas, in Venezuela. We took a cable car up to the mountains, about 20 of us, all wearing our kilts. We were above the clouds in a restaurant having our lunch, which caused quite a stir but it was one of those kind of iconic moments. I was only there for a week so didn’t get to see too much of Caracas, but nonetheless I have great memories of it.
What's an indulgence you'd never give up?
I’ve got a sweet tooth, but beer takes precedence! I like a few different things - there’s a brewery in Scotland called Harviestoun that makes a beer called Bitter and Twisted and a lager called Schiehallion, which are my favourites right now. That said, I couldn’t live without music - it’s on all the time and is definitely the backdrop to life. It’s less an indulgence and more a necessity really.
What thing would you do if you had more time?
I would love to learn to play the guitar properly. I’ve finally got round to starting it during lockdown. I got an acoustic guitar for my 30th birthday, which then lived in the attic for a decade, so I picked it up again. It was going pretty well until it started getting a bit more difficult, which is very frustrating. I just want to be able to pick it up and start playing like Jimi Hendrix.
Failing the guitar, the other thing, is drawing. I would absolutely love to be able to draw. That partly comes from the fact that I never had a formal education in design so I never had that drawing foundation. It would be great to have those skills and to be able to put to paper everything I envisage in my head.