The A Better Feeling head-honcho talks eyewear, fragrances and why a CSM student is just as good as a top-rate photographer.
The first thing Xander Ghost tells me about his luxury label A Better Feeling, smoothly delivered through his air-pods, is that he’s not interested in homeware: it’s currently all about “hollow-ware”. “It’s stuff that comes in containers and metallic products, that’s the next chapter.”
Ironically, it’s a solid piece of thinking. Throughout our chat, Xander communicates a clear interest in objects. If you’ll let us go a little philosophy A-Level for a min, it’s like Heidegger’s analogy of the jug – it’s the nothing-y void at the middle of the vessel that represents a product’s intrinsic thingness, its essential identity. There’s something magical about things – and Xander has a thing for ‘em.
For Xander, it all began with eyewear, though, rather than a manic obsession with Germanic ceramics. “[Eyewear] is a tough business to break into as it’s monopolised and has very long lead productions,” he concedes. “We thought we’d give it a new take.”
One take was all it took. It’s blown-up rapidly, and Xander’s designs have been seen on the likes of Billie Eilish and Stevie Wonder. There are more important things, though. “I feel a lot of people think you put it on Instagram or make two famous people wear it and you’re done,” he tells me. “Celebrity placement is something to show to your parents, it doesn’t really do anything. It’s cool but it’s not the main thing. We didn’t actually get any press like that – we didn’t push for it.”
Fittingly, our own interest in the label came from its design rather than any influencers. Xander’s move from music producer to designer piqued our imagination: we were fans of the synesthesia that surrounded the label’s story, melding vision with tactility, product with person.
But whereas Xander’s sights were previously set towards eyewear, he’s now taking on a new sense: smell. “When we asked people ‘what do you think we’re going to do next?’, they think it’s jewellery – that’s the standard template,” he reveals. “But I’m big on fragrances in general – we started out saying that we’re going to do fragrances, but they are really deep, ten times harder than eyewear. It’s also hard to visualise, it’s more of a full on experience.”
“I feel the pandemic has made people more open-minded. If I take a good thing out of it, it's that people are taking more risks."
So instead he took on a new object – the candle. “I wanted to do something that might lead us onto perfume…it always comes from a gut feeling. We went with the vessel first which took about eight months to make, then the fragrance was parallel; it took about eight months as well.”
The result is a new aluminium candle fit with a sleek, chic vessel. The outer case is engraved with a scientific explanation of combustion, adding a utilitarian touch to proceedings – and igniting conversation. Most interesting, for us, is that it uses completely vegan wax sourced from Grass, France.
This indicates a move towards sustainable practices for the label. “All of our new stuff is fully sustainable in terms of the vessels are recycled metals and the packaging is made from sugar cane. We went so into the details to try to transition it to becoming much more sustainable.”
For Xander, this is part of a new, more progressive wave cascading throughout the luxury industry. “People are more aware and it’s more inclusive,” he says. “It’s changed – there’s much more representation in it and if you work harder you’ll break a lot of boundaries whether it’s social or ethnic. It’s opened up a bit more – if you’re working I’m not really looking at your background.”
This fiercely open policy is seen throughout the team’s philosophy. “The content, I do everything myself – there’s no big team,” Xander says. “Obviously I collaborate with a lot of people like freelancers but the core team is very small, it’s a very DIY operation.” CVs, for Xander, aren’t vital. “We work with people from everywhere. One of our best shoots was a CSM student – and she’s better than the guy that is on the cover of fucking…” he stops before revealing, but, basically, a big glossy mag.
This staunch independence is what drove the brand to swerve away from the bandwagon-filled main road. That included dodging the towering skyscraper of Luxottica, which owns almost every glasses maker under the sun, along the route. “With eyewear, Luxottica is the monopoly and owns all of them. You either go under them or open your own store, it’s a very weird thing to do,” he says. “Eyewear is like you have to be under Luxottica on the ground floor, but we want to be on the first floor.”
Being fuelled by independent-thinking, though, doesn’t mean Xander isn’t ambitious when it comes to retail. The opposite, in fact. He’s confident that the new candle will light a new path to consumers. “I feel like the candle opens another door which is more retail and once we have the retail support it’s easier to push new products.” Contrary to popular thought, too, Xander thinks the Covid-19 pandemic has actually enabled this access. “I feel the pandemic has made people more open-minded. If I take a good thing out of it, it’s that people are taking more risks.”
This isn’t surprising to hear. Xander’s design philosophy, it seems to me, is always about taking a good ‘thing’ out of a situation: it’s about moulding a vessel around something intrinsic, about housing a pulsing essence and making an object that almost seems alive. Perhaps, then, things this year, really have changed for the better.