Despite the fact that we picked an especially busy corner to meet, it’s easy to spot Samuel Ross emerging cheerfully from the hordes of people on Dey Street outside Oculus in downtown Manhattan. Wearing a navy utility coat from his own brand, A-COLD-WALL, he conveys a confident ease in both his demeanor and personal style, which is at once lowkey and nuanced, familiar yet new.
At just 25 years old, Ross—who grew up in an artistic home in working class London and studied graphic design—has long been cultivating his creative vision, referring to himself as a multi-disciplinary designer, and chasing creative projects as long as he can remember. A few years ago, these pursuits caught the attention of Virgil Abloh, whom he ended up assisting and still consults for Off-White. “I feel like I’ve had multiple lives,” Ross laughs. “My first life was growing up in a working class estate [public housing] and running around in minor gangs—nothing too crazy but enough to go to court a few times. Now, I have a first class degree in contemporary illustration and have gone to work with amazing people and brands.” All of which has led him here today—to New York City where he’s come to launch A-COLD-WALL into Barneys New York, an opportunity he admits he held out for.
Sitting down to coffee, he’s eager to explain the context of the brand. “The whole point was not to create a brand from a narrative that has been explained a hundred times. It was to introduce a new story and an untold side of British culture that hasn’t been as exposed to the public eye.” That story begins, like Ross’s, in Britain’s council estates. “The high/low phenomenon you have in the UK is a product of the class systems. For example, in London you could live in a beautiful area and have a marble slab wall, and one road down you’ll find a council estate. It’s about growing up in an urban area that mixes those two worlds together. It’s about the experience that comes with growing up in this type of society.”
While punk has long been associated with Britain’s youth subculture, Ross insists that it’s over, and the new movement born of the working class celebrates a “tracksuit culture” that was once considered lowbrow but thanks to fashion and music, like grime, has become part of a zeitgeist. “My job as a designer from that background is to make sure it’s being explained in an authentic way. It’s not authentic if it’s coming from someone sitting on the 20th floor looking down; it’s about coming up through the system and translating that lifestyle,” says Ross, who values time spent with Abloh for teaching him how to translate these concepts into a bona fide business.
“I was already a hard worker and was hungry, but Virgil taught me how to be efficient and to multitask. That gave me a lot of confidence,” he reflects. Off-White, along with other off-center labels like Hood by Air and Fear of God, inspired Ross to express himself and translate ideas into commerce, though he hesitates to group himself under the buzzy umbrella of streetwear. “A-COLD-WALL has been grouped into this, but it’s becoming an outdated term. It starts to lose meaning when you’re lumping too many things in the same category.” Instead, what he sees as the common thread with these labels is a narrative and an uninhibited sense of expression layered into the concept of streetwear. Given his age, Ross is well-situated as part of the conversation. “One of the benefits of being such a young designer is that I am very in-touch with what’s happening right now. Being in my mid-twenties, I know what the kids are thinking and what the OGs are thinking too,” he says.
As for his debut collection at Barneys, those distinctly British, working class themes are translated via fabric and color. The nylon was inspired by his father’s utility uniform, while the greys and slate tones are a nod to buildings where he grew up, as are the bold, industrial graphics. Every piece is produced in London and hand-dyed and hand painted by Ross and his small team.
As we head to Madison Avenue to check out A-COLD-WALL in the store windows, Ross is clearly excited, admitting how hard he worked to get here. “This isn’t a fluke,” he says with a smile, attributing dedication, risk, “and a little insanity” to making himself a success. And as for the future, this is just the beginning. “There’s a solid, longterm vision associated with the brand. For now, I’m excited to start that dialogue with Barneys.”