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With roots in high fashion, music, design and alternative youth culture, multidisciplinary artist Pharrell Williams and Japanese streetwear pioneer Nigo decided to join forces and create a luxe-streetwear imprint, Billionaire Boys Club, in 2005. Still going strong some 16 years later, the BBC brand has become a staple in hip-hop and beyond, with HQ’s in Tokyo, NYC and London.
Last year, Billionaire Boys Club announced its European arm as a standalone brand. Building on the label’s motto that “wealth is of the heart and mind, not the pocket”, BBC EU—under the helm of Creative Director Ross Westland—is committed to exploring cultural scenes from the ground up. “We’re able to create a whole range in London, for example,” Westland explained to Complex over Zoom. “The brand DNA remains the same, but just being sat in London is so different from being sat in New York or Tokyo. It’s also cool to design for some of the smaller, luxury boutiques and stockists, rather than having to worry about the greater commercial demands.”
Born and raised in the often forgotten English town of Leamington Spa, Ross Westland’s style journey began when he decided to major in Fashion Marketing & Branding at Nottingham Trent University. After he graduated in 2012, Westland, then aged 21, moved to London and landed himself a job at the branding agency ‘a number of names*’, where he worked on a number of style brands, including BBC. This eventually led to him becoming the Creative Director of BBC EU in 2018—one of the youngest CD’s in fashion, aged just 26—with his other passions, music and art, shining through in every campaign. Just last week, Billionaire Boys Club EU debuted the first drop from its ICECREAM sub-label featuring Don Toliver sporting some eye-caching threads.
In order to get a better understanding of the current positioning of the brand, its roots, and where it will go in the near future, we caught up with Ross Westland to find out more.
“I’m inspired by my friends, peers, and people around me. I’ve got a lot of creative and entrepreneurial friends with a lot of vision and passion.”
COMPLEX: Hey, Ross! It’s great to be speaking with you today. Where are you right now?
Ross Westland: I’m currently at home in London. I’m meeting [UK rapper] Sainté later today, as we’re producing a vinyl record together that will be released exclusively with BBC.
We’re finally out of lockdown! How have the last 18 months been for you, in your world?
It’s been enlightening. I feel like I’ve always known myself pretty well, but it’s been nice to have some time to have a look around and think about what’s really important. I do what I love and I love what I’m doing, so I guess it was a good time for me to analyse what I do love about my job, and why.
I agree: it’s been a great time for reflection. As the creative director of Billionaire Boys Club EU, how did you and your team navigate through this period?
We started working from home straight away. It was completely new. We’re quite a small team and we’re really close-knit, so we made the best out of the situation. I guess when you’re put in that position, you don’t really have time to weigh up what’s going on, really. I think now we’ve learnt how to use our time when we’re together a lot more productively. Personally, I’ve really missed bouncing off ideas in the workplace. I find that having that human interaction spurs a lot of my creativity and it’s something I appreciate a lot more now.
How did a day in lockdown compare to a day at the office? What were some of the main changes that you had to make?
I live alone, so straight away there’s a huge difference. It has its perks: you have space and time to yourself, but when you’re in the office, there’s this sense of camaraderie. At the beginning, I did really enjoy being at home—it took me back to being at uni. Before the pandemic, it was rare that I’d ever work from home—I’d work from other places, but to actually just only work in the same space, it made me think of my unstructured uni days. I lost a sense of routine.
I want to take it back to the very beginning, before Billionaires Boys Club. Where did you grow up, and what was it like there?
I was born in a place called Leamington Spa. I lived in a tiny village and went to school in a place called Southam.
Did you have a particularly creative upbringing?
My mum and dad weren’t together when I was growing up. I just thought they were doing typical mum and dad stuff; they’re not architects or designers, but my mum worked in retail and my sister was always into art. She’s ten years older than me, and I would always look up to her without knowing it. She’d always have paint around the house, and fabrics—she studied textiles—and because my mum was always into clothes and because I was brought up by two women, I guess it had an effect. My dad was really into clothes and music, and that had a massive effect on the stuff I listen to now. We all have quite similar tastes—my mum can get in the car with me and I don’t have to worry about what we’re listening to [laughs].
You studied at Nottingham Trent University, right? What did you major in?
I graduated in Fashion Marketing and Branding. It was a fairly new course, but it was good! I took it for what I believed the course to be. I was quite different, the only boy, and I was the only one who was really into the things that I’m into now. At the beginning, I thought I’d made a big mistake. We were always talking about high-street fashion, which wasn’t me, but I persevered and it gave me a better understanding of the whole industry—especially the business side.
Okay, so how does one go from Midlands-based uni student to working at Billionaire Boys Club and doing cool events for the likes of Travis Scott and Pusha-T? Talk us through that journey to greatness.
I’ve always been interested in this pocket of music and fashion. That’s why I was drawn to Billionaire Boys Club; it’s a brand that has validated my passions and interests. When BBC became at the forefront of what I was looking at, I realised it combined everything together that I loved. When I moved to London, I started working with [brand agency] a number of names*, and I was always subconsciously bringing fashion and music together there. Back in the day, it was quite rare to do in-store signings. I started off with artists that I knew were in town, who were relevant to our audience and that I was a fan of. I did a Joey Bada$$ in-store signing, a Travis Scott signing in 2014 and one with Yung Lean, too. These were all people I really wanted to connect with.
I’ve always thought of myself as an outsider, not being from London. I’ve always shared that aspirational nature that comes from being a fan. We were bringing inspirational people to town and connecting them with an audience—it was totally for free. The artists would always say, “It’s amazing! I’ve come to London and out of all of these gigs, I get to know who my fans are here.” We were doing it for the love, and it was quite ad-hoc. I remember with the first Travis Scott in-store, he just texted me and was like: “I’m in town. Shall we do something?” I was like: “We don’t have much time—shall we just do an in-store signing?” We’d then put the artwork together, post it on Instagram, and that would be it. I stayed in contact with Travis. I was in LA in 2014, and he messaged me saying, “Come to the house. I’m just finishing off Rodeo.” We were listening through it and I was like, “Have you got any plans for the rollout?” He was like: “I’m actually coming to London!” So I said we can do a thing in-store again. It was organic. We became known for doing these artist events and parties—we did a BAPE anniversary party with Pro Era and Joey Bada$$, as well as a lot of things with UK artists at the time.
When Sneakersnstuff wanted to open a London store, they knew we had this reputation of hosting these events. It wasn’t a massive budget but they wanted to be affiliated with the artists and the culture, so we did the Pusha-T event when he had a show in London, and the next year we did the same with Ghostface Killa. It was good. For two or three years, we had this continuous rollout of these cool events.
Did you work in fashion before Billionaire Boys Club?
I worked in retail for my first job, and for work experience, I helped out at an independent skate store that stocked brands like Stussy and Vans. It was the closest thing that I could get to that I had an interest in.
How much did your previous roles influence your approach and aesthetic when it came to leading the direction of BBC EU?
When you’ve worked in a store, you think about the chain of how things develop—from inception to being put out on the shop floor. You’re more focused on how it will look, be displayed, and you appreciate it a lot more. I’m into everything around the product, whether that’s the communications around the collection, an event that we’re planning, or even collaborating with someone to make music. By the time the customer gets to the T-shirt, I want them to see and hear everything behind it.
Skate culture has played a huge role in building the DNA of Billionaires Boys Club. Is this something you can personally relate to?
I was really into skateboarding growing up. It’s one of the things where I’ve never had to grow up, in terms of influences; I’ve been into the same things forever. Like you said, skateboarding is ingrained in the brand, but it’s also in me. I watch skateboarding videos now, and Jimmy Gorecki—who’s an ex-ICECREAM skater—he’s a really good friend of mine now. It’s weird because I used to watch him on DVDs when I was 15! Skateboarding has always had a bubble about it—it wasn’t mainstream, and that’s what I’ve always been drawn to. It’s cool how skateboarding brands communicate, too. There’s more than just a product shot—there’s a video supporting it and the campaigns are really well conceptualised.
How would you describe the creative direction of BBC EU today? Has it changed much since its inception?
There’s a lot more freedom. We’re able to create a whole range in London, for example. The brand DNA still remains the same, but just being sat in London is so different from being sat in New York or Tokyo. It’s also cool to design for some of the smaller, luxury boutiques and stockists, rather than having to worry about the greater commercial demands.
I read that a lot of the label’s designs are taken from archival clothing. Can you tell me more about this process?
So there’s archive BBC products and stuff that I’ve picked up from vintage stores and flea markets when I’m usually travelling around. I’ve bought a lot of vintage sportswear and mid-century Americana stuff, which are both key references that I learn from. It’s part of Billionaire Boys Clubs’ DNA; it’s a Japanese brand that takes influence from post-war American culture and the youth culture boom which birthed subcultures and trends/styles we still refer to today. I look back at the old pieces now and think, “Where did that come from?” Even the varsity jackets, for example, I’d go and find the original jackets so I’ve got the BBC archive version and the original archive version. For me, it’s like I’m trying to trick the customer and make them think that the piece has been done before.
How closely do you work with Pharrell on the wider BBC vision?
The best way to describe it would be to say that the world of Pharrell is his own world; he has a myriad of moons that satellite around him, and BBC is one of them. So it’s not like I’m working alongside him, but I send the designs to his team, which then get approved. It’s a constant back and forth, and we’re always in communication. When we do manage to bump into each other, it’s always good because he’s someone that made all of this possible and he also authorised his tastes—skateboarding, high fashion, jewellery, music, art and an open-ended mindset—and let people know that you can turn this into a career.
Who inspires you and where do you look for inspiration more generally?
I’m inspired by my friends, peers, and people around me. I’ve got a lot of creative and entrepreneurial friends with a lot of vision and passion. To be honest, it’s really anyone who makes a living doing what they love.
Describe the creative mindset that you’re in at the moment?
My creative mindset is wide open, and because I know there are going to be four collections alongside BBC EU and ICECREAM, I try not to think of these ideas separately. My ideas can come from anywhere, like a friend’s music project or a collaboration. I’m like a sponge. Since the pandemic, I’ve been able to read a lot deeper around my interests, which has really helped.
Earlier this year, you unveiled a co-branded project with Black Butter Records. Can we expect any more collaboration’s in the near future?
Definitely. It’s our 20th anniversary in 2023, so the brand—as a whole—we’re looking to work with people that have supported and inspired the label since its inception.
What have you got coming up in the pipeline? What’s next for Ross Westland and for BBC EU?
We’re about to launch a full EU collection for ICECREAM , which is something we haven’t done before. There’s a whole campaign that I’ve been working on with Don Toliver and The FACE magazine, which should be out by the time this interview drops. I’m really excited to share that. Personally? I have a lot of passion and ideas within this space of art and commerce—music, film, art, jewellery and the hospitality sector—that will probably all collide at some point and start a new planet of my own. In the meantime, I’ll just continue being into what I’m into and connecting with good people and good visions.