Unless you have broom handles for legs, it’s become practically impossible to buy jeans in Britain. “Skinny” is now the nation’s regular fit, while “Regular”, well… you have to assume every pair has been dragged from the shelves of the high street and taken to the nearest incinerator. All of a sudden, everyone’s starting to look like Max Wall.
One location that’s stubbornly impervious to the enforced narrowing of fashion is Manchester. Here men, on the whole, still dress like they’re off to see Oasis at Maine Road. Perhaps it was an act of black magic conjured in the bowels of the Factory Records office one long night in 1989, but it’s like a spell has been cast on the city, meaning that the width of jeans will forever provide legs with much-needed space. It certainly pays to visit Manchester in the sales and stock up on wide-fitting denim.
Sale-time Manchester is a cracking proposition and it’s best to plan your day with the mathematical precision of Alan Turing. You will, naturally, appoint Night & Day Café on Oldham Street as your base and from here you’ll be sure to spot a wide selection of the city’s creative force. There’s Guy Garvey! And Graham Massey from 808 State! And isn’t that Marc Riley ordering from the cocktail menu?
Night & Day Café is also a casual introduction to Manchester’s contemporary art scene and the work of local illustrator Stanley Chow is well represented on its crimson-painted walls. A selection of his highly stylised portraits include Kraftwerk in Trans-Europe Express-era pose, David Bowie, Tom Selleck as Magnum, Breaking Bad’s Walter White and a superb rendition of Vladimir Tretchikoff’s 1952 painting “The Chinese Lady”, more commonly known as “The Green Girl”. If budget-restricted, you may even forego a pair of baggy jeans to secure one of Chow’s prints, available from thestanleychowprintshop.com from £10.
We speak to the artist who’s adored by the Manchester crowd and loathed by would-be US president Donald Trump…
British Ideas Corporation: Is there a name for your art style?
Stanley Chow: To be honest, I don’t know if there’s a name for what I do but if you were to pigeonhole it, the creative professionals call it vector-based illustration.
Who are you influenced by?
I’ve been influenced in some way by all art and culture through the years. I spent many years of my youth reading Marvel and DC comics, and watching cartoons. I learnt a great deal reading about past masters like Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Monet and Degas but there’s nobody that really stands out. I just allow myself to absorb everything that I think is good.
You were born in Manchester and live and work in the city. Do you think Manchester is a special place?
Yes I do. I grew up here, my family are here. Manchester’s a great city and deserves the name “Capital of the North”. I love the fact that it’s so cosmopolitan, I love that the city is forever evolving and growing. There’s so much creativity and energy here. There’s such a buzz about the place.
Why did you become an artist?
I became an artist because it’s all I ever wanted to do. I had no interest in anything else other than maybe becoming a DJ, which I spent ten years of my life also doing. My other option would have been continuing the family business, which would be to run a chip shop. My father came to Manchester from Hong Kong in the Sixties and my mother in the Seventies. We lived upstairs, over the chip shop.
What’s the secret to a great batter?
Use self-raising flour. But the secret isn’t in the batter, the secret is to season the fish properly.
Manchester visitors should spend a few hours in the Night & Day Café. Not only is it a cool place to hang out, it’s also an introduction to some of the city’s artists. What’s your connection with the place?
Night & Day holds a very special place in my heart. It was where I hung out after leaving art school. I probably spent every day of my twenties in there. Before everyone had mobile phones, people who wanted to contact me would just ring Night & Day. It was a place that attracted writers, musicians, artists who inspired each other and many others who’ve gone on to greater things. Most of the friends that I still see now, I met in Night & Day.
When you were a DJ, what sort of music did you play and what’s your ultimate track to get someone on the dancefloor?
The music I played was mainly Sixties and Seventies psychedelic rock, funk and soul. I never really relied on a specific big hitter to get them on the dancefloor. For me, my style was to get people to slowly fill the dancefloor. Having said that, if it was a case of needing an “Emergency: Break Glass” tune, it would probably be “The Snake” by Al Wilson.
What’s your art process, or is that a trade secret?
My process is pretty straightforward. I’ll have an idea in my head and I try to turn that idea into something that looks good visually. I’ll do this on a computer. I use Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, and a mouse, to attempt this.
How long does it take to go from idea to finished image?
From as little as half an hour to as much as a week. It depends on what the idea is but in general, I don’t want to be spending more than three or four hours per illustration.
What was the moment when your career really took off?
I’d say it was three things: I was nominated for a Grammy Award for artwork I did for The White Stripes; receiving my first commission from The New Yorker magazine; and realising how effective social media was before it really took off.
City or United?
United. I live round the corner from the ground and I’m a season-ticket holder.
What’s your favourite Manchester group and are you on nodding terms with the likes of Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses?
I’m on nodding/speaking/drinking terms with some esteemed Manchester bands. I don’t really have a favourite as I’m still stuck in the Seventies with my musical tastes but I’d encourage people to go and listen to Jane Weaver and Magic Arm, who are both based in Manchester.
Didn’t you used to design nightclub flyers?
I designed flyers for Night & Day, Roadhouse, Planet K and Fab Cafe, to name a few, but I’m too embarrassed to show you anything. I’m not a graphic designer, I’m an illustrator. I blagged being a designer for years and sort of got away with it.
What’s been your proudest professional moment?
When I was first asked to work for The New Yorker magazine. I’m a regular contributor now, which is great. Being in The New Yorker was seen as the Holy Grail when I was a student. I used to spend hours wading through American art and illustration annuals. The thing I noticed was that The New Yorker has had so many great illustrators during its 90-odd-year history. It was an achievement I wanted above everything else when I was younger. You kind of know you’ve made it when you appear in The New Yorker.
We understand that Donald Trump knows of your existence. Can we have the story, then we’ll leave you in peace!?
On the cover of The New York Times Magazine last October, there was a photograph of a balloon with Donald Trump’s face on it – one of my illustrations. He was asked about it in an interview in The Washington Post soon afterwards and he expressed his disdain. He targeted me in an interview with GQ magazine, too. I got great pleasure out of that. I do worry, though, that if he becomes president, he won’t let me into America.