Interview: Fashion, Music And Biker Culture With Dave Little
Talent takes many forms in the design world, from outstanding websites to beautifully styled homes. In the last 30 years, we’ve seen some incredible designers emerge and make their presence known to society. One man who’s been active in all of them is designer, Dave Little, who’s made his mark through the mediums of music and fashion.
Dave has collaborated with some of the greatest artists around the world to bring us some truly inspiring creations. He’s worked with DJs including Paul Oakenfold and Terry Farley – producing flyers and posters graphics – and teamed up with the leading Japanese fashion designer, Michiko Koshino – famous for her urban street wear.
Dave’s designs had a big role to play in shaping the music of the late ‘80s, and, since then, he’s continued to stay relevant.
Dave’s latest venture is an exciting new fashion label called Rocker’s Delight, which marries together his love of rocker culture and superbike attire. It’s trendy, it’s edgy, yet, at the same time, retro with a nod to the ‘60s.
In an exclusive interview with Highlight Nation, Dave let’s us in on his life, work and recent accomplishments with Rocker’s Delight – which, as we discovered, has a great future ahead.
So, Dave, you’ve been in the design game for roughly three decades now. What got you into it?
I had a natural talent, I guess. My first memories are of drawing a suspension bridge, aged 5, and sketching Spitfire aircraft wings. Unlike most children who drew aircrafts that looked like crosses, I was blending felt tip colours. A hot balloon I drew was so realistic that it won me a school prize.
I was also mad about Meccano, having been influenced by my Father who was a Marine Chief Engineer on supertankers. When he became Captain below decks, he took my mum, brother and me and we crossed every major sea in the world. We even encountered a typhoon as we rounded the Cape Horn – that’s something I’ll never forget!
Looking back, due to my father’s influence with engineering, I was creating very detailed work for my age. I was also captivated by clothing early on. I was obsessed with Captain Scarlet for instance, and would dress head-to-toe in red, imitating him.
How easy was it breaking through in the beginning?
It was all very much by chance, really! I was a self-taught, qualified airbrush artist and visualiser, and started using an airbrush aged 12. Back in the ‘80s there was no Photoshop – everything was touched up by hand.
I would airbrush commercial illustrations for chocolate wrappers and visuals for street posters and video covers. I earned good money from these projects in my 20s, but, after a couple of years, I got the feeling that something was missing.
I had a friend called Jerry de Borg who was recreating huge copies of the latest released LP covers 30ft. high for the flagship HMV store in Oxford Street. They would seal off Oxford Street and use a huge crane to lift each 10ft. X 5ft. hand-painted panel into place (18 in all). Within a few months I was HMV’s main freelance window designer. But, looking at the large sleeve covers I was painting by hand for the store, I thought I could try designing myself!
Around that time I met Karl Bonnie, who had started a band called Renegade Soundwave. They’d signed Martin Heath to a new dance label, Rhythm King. Within 8 months, I’d designed the singles & LP covers for Bomb The Bass, S’Express, Baby Ford and the Beatmasters.
In ’86 or ’87, as the warehouse scene was mushrooming, I was paid a visit by Paul Dennis and Gary Haisman. They needed a flyer for a night called The Raid with Pete Tong.
They turned up en masse with Andrew Weatherall, Terry Farley, Cymon Eckel and Steve Mayes (of the Boys Own Crew), who needed some covers for a fledgling fanzine cover. Little did I know how influential this meet would be! Gary went on to have a number hit in 1988 called We Call It Acieed with D-Mob (I was actually with him on the Future club dance flor when he made up the cry “Acieeed”…!).
Within weeks I’d met Paul Oakenfold and designed the first West End club flyer for his night, Future. This led onto the biggest design for Spectrum at Heaven in April ’88. During that summer I met Japanese designer, Michiko Koshino, and was asked to create fashion graphics for her collections in Japan.
Looking back, the scene was amazing then! You would meet the most brilliant and creative people all in one place – everyone mixed together.
Graham Ball’s club in Ormond Yard would have anyone from Anthony Price to Paul Rutherford, Kate Moss and Kylie Minogue. It was THE place to go to. Back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, you could count the hippest clubs in London on one hand. It was a true melting pot in those days.
How did you meet your wife and business partner, Simone?
At a party for the Bestival Crew close to where I live. Bizarrely, I’d heard her name before. My friend, Jo, was there that night and introduced us for the first time. I was a bit tipsy, but I knew she was the one!
Two days later I was in New York visiting Martin Heath who signed The Killers. I mentioned Simone and he said instantly that he knew I’d marry her. Four years later, I did!
Simone heads up production on big budget Hollywood movies such as Maleficent, The Mummy and, more recently, The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle, which is due for release next year.
She has a great financial talent and makes the right moves for Rockers Delight. I couldn’t achieve this without her! I always ask for her guidance.
You were pretty active in the ‘90s. What’s your lasting memory of the fashion from the decade?
The designs of Michiko Koshino, for sure! After the relaxed hippy chic of rave culture, it was Michiko who totally turned my views on fashion upside down.
I created lots of prints and graphics for one of the world’s first dedicated club fashion brands, Pucca Clobber. It was way ahead of anything else at that time. It was purely designed for the new emerging nightclub culture at that time, and was modern and futuristic looking, characterised by a mixture of soft-touch Velcro, and fabrics created by NASA, modern motorcycle GP race suits and jackets recreated as streetwear – which were a world first in 1990.
Everyone was wearing baggy clothing and long hair, and I was jumping around looking like a spaceman. It was an explosion of experimentation brought on by the post rave culture, which was a real eye opener. I still have all the original MotorKing collection which I recently loaned to Michiko herself.
I’m one of the few owners of the original one-offs created for her shows, and I’ve kept them in pristine condition. In seeing these pieces 25 years later, she was bowled over! The pieces still look amazing today!
What’s the response been like to the Rockers Delight range so far?
Well, my first collection has been very well received so far. I think I’ve thrown good thought and detail into these pieces. The designs seem to have resonated with multiple groups of people. They’re functional yet smart, with a certain degree of edge. I’m big on detail: the pockets are all curved, not straight, and the shirt has a curved yoke back and patch panels on the arms. This is highlighted by the horizontal pinstripe which compliments the vertical stripes on the chest and back panels. The denim trousers, likewise, have a single piece double seat detail and cinched back, and are a mix between a jean and a work trouser.
For how long was the label in the making?
All in all, it took around a year. Although, I originally came up with the name 11 years ago. The work was intensive and included sampling, manufacturing and registering the label name and logo. The name Rockers Delight is a double play on words, meaning to “rock” a good look.
However, I must stress that even as a keen motorcycle enthusiast, this was the only subtle foundation for this collection, as anyone can wear these pieces – individually or together. They can go with anything.
What steps have you taken to promoting it?
A mixture of things. Instagram has been a great platform for pushing the brand, and has served as a sort of subtle shop-front. Facebook has also helped, to a degree. I have done interviews with New York Times International and two radio shows so far. There are three blog sites I’m booked in with and there’s more to come over the next two weeks, I’ve been assured. Online is the only way for me at this very early stage. Margins can be tight and I’m more in control with an ecommerce approach.
Which are your biggest sellers so far and why?
Hmm, that’s hard to say at such an early stage. I think the denim designs will sell well and the work shirts have an appealing twist to them too. The design printed within the lining of the Cafe Racer leather was a joy to produce and carries a highly different look.
However, I’ve barely started to apply my illustrative/graphic skills to adorn these pieces. There will be a lot more to come, including sweatshirts – which have always been a great blank canvas for me.
What is it about ‘60s rocker culture that really inspires you?
Well, my dad was a real 60’s rocker. You know, Triton motorbikes and Lewis leathers – a proper Ton-Up Boy. He even had a full orange and black teddy boy drape suit.
I vividly recall a car journey with my dad when I was four. I was looking out of the back window, when a proper rocker rumbled up behind us. He had electric blue eyes, stared at me and gave me a knowing wink. It was my first memory of the motorcycle world.
Then there were the school drop-offs. On my first day of school I rode on the back of dad’s Triton and wore no helmet. I still have his original Lewis Leathers boots. Incidentally, it was the Lewis Factory in the East End who produced my first Leather prototype 10 years ago.
The Marlon Brando movie, The Wild One, was another big inspiration of mine. Brando’s look in that film is the epitome of rocker culture.
What defines a 21st rocker in your eyes?
Well, visually the Cafe Racer leather I’ve designed encapsulates a modern-take on rockers attire.
It’s great that the whole Ace Cafe scene has bounced back, but, personally, I’m striving to revive the old classic look and put a 21st century spin on it.
There’s a huge re-birth of old, and also very exciting new motorcycles being produced now. That’s what ‘kick started’ (no pun intended!) this collection.
For example, the leatherwork on the back of my jackets is subtle but modern, yet only visible when you get close and the appliqué catches the light. It’s a real ’second look’ approach, catching hidden detail, which is the premise for all the pieces I’ve made. You don’t notice all the details at first, till you take a good close second look.
Any growth plans on the way?
My ambition is to grow creatively with Rockers Delight whilst keeping its design philosophy intact. There are some great looks coming, of course, but, all will be revealed in good time.
I have roughly four new designs for pieces which will need some real budget behind them. These designs aren’t cheap to develop, but I know they’ll be a big leap forward for the Rockers Delight vision.