Fit for Werk / In Tandem
FIT FOR WERK
ON THE SET OF THE THANDII SHOOT, WE CAUGHT UP WITH THE MINDS BEHIND MARGATE’S UTILITARIAN BRAND WerkHaus
With electrical cables macraméd to form a functional but chic chandelier and graphic green steel rails designed by The Rag and Bone Man UK (no, not the artist), it is pretty obvious WerkHaus Margate has considered its branding and theme down to the smallest detail.
Business partners, and the brains behind the brand, Cynthia Lawrence-John and Rae Jones have a vision, and that vision has pockets. “The focus is always on utilitarian,” says Rae. “Everything has to have pockets. So much of womenswear doesn’t have pockets. It’s such a simple thing but it makes a massive difference to a wardrobe.” This utilitarian outlook fits with the name, WerkHaus, for which the pair encourages thoughts of flair and functionality – it’s a mixture of design institutions Wiener Werkstätte and Bauhaus – rather than those of Victorian workhouses.
Though the amount of steaming and pressing on the Thandii shoot might have you thinking otherwise. “It is about things being really well made; things that last; and things with purpose,” says Rae. “That’s our style, it is what we are both in to. When we first met, we realised we had interchangeable wardrobes, and that was quite rare. I didn’t ever meet people that liked the same things that I did.” Independently, both Rae and Cynthia moved from London to Margate three years ago and it was a chance meeting at a yoga session that commenced the partnership. An experimental summer pop-up proved fruitful in the old laundrette (you can still see the old signage above the shop, and it totally fits), with WerkHaus now open for the past 18 months.
A quick rundown for those of you yet to go, the shop is a wonderful array vintage (70%) and new (30%) styles from both international and local brands as well as a few armies. Seriously. Pieces from the Swedish army, Hungarian military and even a fantastic reversible satin jacket liner, that not so many moons ago was being hiked up a mountain on the back of a Greek soldier, are on the rack. “Choosing those military items is just something that people wouldn’t think of for women’s wear,” says Rae. “But they are so beautiful.” It’s not all graceful boiler suits and foraging for striking army surplus. “We stock brands like Kings of Indigo – a Dutch denim brand; Stan Ray – a North American workwear brand; Ullac – a British gender-neutral denim brand from Hackney; Bensimon – French pumps; and Le Béret Français,” says Rae. There are also stylish bags from designers such as Buckitt, (Rae’s own brand) and Berets by Margate local and Radio One DJ Gemma Cairney x Mary Benson, The ‘WerkHaus Margate’ range of sweatshirts, t-shirts and tote bags – are a massive hit with day-trippers.
Everything in there is greatly thought-about. So, how did the pair become so effortlessly stylish and forward thinking in their fashion approach? Well, Rae is an accessories and footwear designer as well as a trend forecasting consultant, while Cynthia is a fashion director, stylist and costume designer for monster brands and rock bands – which helps. “We still dip into it,” says Cynthia. And, why Margate? “To breath,” she adds. “It’s a new adventure,” says Rae. “We’ve never looked back.”
JESSICA THANDI BERRY AND GRAHAM GODFREY CONTINUE A JOURNEY INTO PSYCH-SYNTH POP TO TAKE THEIR THANDII PROJECT ON TO A PLAYLIST NEAR YOU
With the wind of Margate seafront billowing out her Werkhaus shawl – not to mention ruffling her Seventies fringe – Jessica Thandi Berry looks every bit the popstar in waiting.
You’d have had to place your head in a bucket of Angel Delight not to have noticed the swirl of excitement around the psych-synth sounds of project Thandii over the past couple of years. The electronica keys and encouraging lyrics first caught the attention of ‘cene magazine in 2017, when we placed it as one of our first tracks on the Spotify #KeepitKent playlist, where it has stayed ever since. The soft-focus video for latest song Another One not so much repeats the Seventies trait as develops it, with the roller-skates on the Margate boardwalk and ethereal vocals doing nothing to dissuade mind’s-eye comparisons with Joni Mitchell and Stevie Nicks. But, as it so often does, meeting the artist in person rather than over late-night Instagram messages reveals far more of what it’s really all about. “That video was a crazy shoot,” says Jessica.
“It was -1°C with really strong winds. We were trying to make it look summery and we wanted to have all our friends and artists in the video (if you look closely you will see local personalities Gemma Cairney and Gus Sharpe), but not that many turned up and I don’t blame them. “Anyone who did really got battered by the wind. I stood in the sea that day and it was horrible.” While Jess has been the focus of the original Thandii experience, featuring solely on the artwork (which she created herself), our shoot with WerkHaus also revealed the new dual direction in which the project is going.
Her long-term partner Graham Godfrey is very much part of everything. “I’m not like Thandii the entity when I do a gig,” says Jess. “Graham and I work together, write together and produce it together. More recently, we’ve been bringing Graham into the artwork as well. We do every single part of it together, so why are we just focusing on me? I felt a little bit strange being the only face of it, when it is such a collaboration.
I am not Thandii – we are Thandii.” Enjoying a coffee from the Curve Roasters just off Margate’s Old Town, it is confirmed that, but for a bet between the two, Thandii may never have been in Margate. “Yes, it’s true. But it was more like a dare,” says Jess. “We were getting frustrated going out in London and feeling dissatisfied,” adds Graham. “All these great areas we used to go out in were getting rinsed for commercial benefit. After one long, drink-fuelled night, we had a moment of clarity. Why don’t we just try something completely different?” Graham suggested Margate. “We had heard a few people talking about Margate, but we’d never been here,” he says. “The day we came down here, we got our flat. It was a complete gamble.” Jess continues: “And now I could never leave. Everything fell into place musically and mentally. Best dare ever.”
After a strong start from debut EP Forgetful in 2017, the following year saw a string of single releases including Alkaline, Not Much Room, Thursday’s Child and Another One. Thandii has its own style, certainly, but putting that style into words is a whole different matter. We’ve seen it referenced as Disco 2.0, we’ve heard MGMT in there, The Doors and Fleetwood Mac. “Oh nice!” says Jess. “We’re big fans, so I love that you hear that. The Seventies is definitely an era I love. “One of our favourite albums is the first Buckingham/Nicks record before they joined Fleetwood Mac,” adds Graham. “We’ve got quite a broad set of influences. We aren’t limited to a sound just yet, we are still kind of experimenting and getting creative to find our voice through it.”
The wide-ranging nature of Thandii’s music has seen it picked up from two ends of the musical spectrum. For example, 2018 track Thursday’s Child was added to both the popular psychedelic playlist Mellow Morning and that of world-renowned hip hop, indie and rock producer DJ Danger Mouse, propelling it to almost 300,000 listens on Spotify. “That was really exciting,” says Jess. “It felt mad that he found our Soundcloud link by scrolling through music and then getting in touch. It definitely pushed us to do more.” With the world of music still trying to find its new ways of making money, views on YouTube and listens on Spotify have become a currency but, according to Thandii, measuring success is not always as easy as counting hits on a website. “We would judge it as to whether we’re happy with it,” says Graham. “The acid test is whether we think we achieved what we set out to do.” Jess adds: “You can feel slightly validated when something gets a lot of plays. We aren’t making any money from it, so you have to either choose play count or if you’re still happy with something a year or two down the line.” January, the time for hibernating, has seen Thandii buried in the studio with a whole bunch of new songs almost ready for release. As part of the “development deal” in place with record label 30th Century Music – which released Another One – there is an option for an EP this year. “If they feel this next bunch of songs suits them artistically and the direction they want to push their label in, then we’ll go with them. If not, we’ll shop it around,” says Graham. “There is so much music we want to release this year,” adds Jess.
Though not originally from the area, the importance of Margate in helping Thandii to where it finds itself now is not lost on the pair, with the Another One video shot by local director Tom Dream and even the jewellery featured in the video created by a local designer. “It’s quite important to us to try to keep everything local,” says Graham. “There is something in Margate that’s really special to celebrate. There’s a lot of inter-format relations happening.” Jess adds: “This is why it’s such a nice thing to do this with ‘cene magazine, too. There is a real connect. It’s great to shout each other out and walk each other’s wildest dreams, that’s the most amazing thing about this place at this time.”