Inspired by Sunspel’s Hill brothers, Brothers is a celebration of the complexities of fraternal love. It examines the similarities, differences, expressions, personalities and relationships of all brothers through the medium of photography, film and the simple unassuming uniform of a black and white T-shirt.
Visit the exhibition shot by Josh Hight, on display
at our Redchurch Street store until Monday 24th October.
Biblical brotherhood didn’t get off to a particularly sound start. Like many brothers, Cain and Abel undercut their biological tie to one another by carving out identities of their own: Cain the farmer, Abel the shepherd. The story goes progressively downhill from there, with God favouring Abel’s sacrifice, Cain murdering his little brother in defiance and subsequently being punished with a life of wandering until he got it together to build his own kingdom. Perhaps the best known of Cain’s words was his often-quoted epithet: ‘am I my brother’s keeper?’ To which the answer turned out to be a resounding, not unless you’re tending the funeral. Happily, among our merry band of brothers, the occasional spat may have arisen, but proper fallouts are conspicuously absent. They’ve kept each other well. Introducing a new kind of brotherhood, less belligerent, free of the tension of Cain, Abel, Liam and Noel, Grant and Phil, Ronnie and Reggie and other more celebrated real and fictitious brotherly unions. In keeping with the genesis of Sunspel itself, this is a gentle reassurance of how warm family values really conjoin to look after one another through thick and thin.
Among the many fraternal conversations collected here, what resounded most was the sound of that very specific and unique bond of pride, protection and good humour which denotes brotherly affection. If we have any conclusions to draw from our random survey of contemporary brotherhood, it’s that we’ve come a long way since the bible. When all is said and done – and as the song goes – the brother’s gonna work it out. Yet there is something undeniably celestial and otherworldly in the bonds we caught on tape, that Josh captured so lovingly on camera. Drawn from across geography, class and age, our brothers shared one distinct connection besides the gift of brotherhood itself. That they will always try to look out for one another, no matter what. Perhaps the most telling question that everyone was asked, certainly the one every brother was quickest to answer, was what is the difference between brotherhood and friendship? Yes, there is an element of the latter to the former, but it is something that transcends description, too.
Brothers Peter and John Hill were the great-grandchildren of Sunspel Founder, Thomas Hill. The story of brotherhood was stitched into the Sunspel story from the third generation down. They inherited the Sunspel factory that they had grown up in from their father. In keeping with the bonds that bind in our series of conversations, they too had a firm grip on their own identities and what that could lend the family business.
Because Peter was the introvert, he ran the factory that made the jersey underwear and T-shirts before selling the business to current CEO Nick Brooke in 2005. John was the more gregarious of the two and took charge of the marketing. His further talent for developing new product saw him revolutionise men’s underwear by bringing boxer shorts – still the most covetable and enduring of Sunspel staples – back from the US in 1945. As a result, he ran the wovens factory manufacturing, looking after those other failsafes, pyjamas and dressing gowns. It was John who was responsible for giving the Sunspel boxer shorts to Nick, one of a further pair of iconic brothers, the Kamens, to wear in the Levi’s launderette advert which altered men’s underwear forever. Nick and Barry Kamen feel like a far more fitting precis to our own band of brothers than anything in the bible, regardless. Taking us sweetly back to square one.
Speaking to all our brothers inevitably made me think about my own, how we depend on each other to incubate our independence. I’d call it a kind of friendship+. How the formative years we spent under the same roof of a South Manchester semi-guided us through later life. The little triumphs we won on one another’s behalves. The mistakes we watched each other make, free of judgement. The sadness of one leaving home, then the thrill of their intermittent return, like the prodigal son awaiting his fatted calf on the kitchen table (OK< there’s always something a little biblical about brotherhood).The excitement of watching a new film or listening to a new record together that we both loved. The arguments that would follow when our tastes diverged. None of them ever mattered. Because we were brothers. So, enjoy our little document of brotherhood, a gift to you. Like its subject, we hope it forms a place of safety and assurance. Because there is nothing quite like having a brother, the one person you can always rely on when the chips are down.