“I like taking something as basic as underwear and giving it a push”
Stonemen founder Marc Debnam has fused his background in graphic design and photography to turn to iconic underwear design.
As an adult, he lived in London for a year pursuing graphic design and advertising, before moving back to South Africa (he was born in Cape Town to English parents, who moved to Australia when he was 3 years old) and taking an accidental turn as a photographer when his apartment turned into a thriving nightclub in the late 90’s:
“We had a top floor apartment in Cape Town that had roaring parties. When I went on a trip to London, I returned to what my flat mate turned into a licence premises. It was a proper nightclub – we had DJ’s like Carl Cox in residence.”
So what was the nightclub life like?
“Intense! I don’t remember much of it… little flashes, a bit of a blur, friends who I ran it with remind me what happened. In all seriousness, it was fun! But you need to be alert – it’s a lot of people management, but also incredibly social – we had 3 humming floors.”
Still the nightclub lifestyle does a photographic career little benefit, which was burgeoning in Debnam as he documented his nocturnal subjects.
“It’s not the best working hours – cashing up at 11am,” he remembers of those hedonistic days. “Nightclub was my release and distraction but I’m glad that I got out of it in the end.”
This was the official start of a serious photographic career in fashion and advertising, opening up a lot of doors and networking.
“When I was a graphic designer I became an art director but had more fun on shoots than on campaigns and so made the jump.”
He assisted established photographers around the world – in London, New York Paris and learned from masters such as Mario Testino.
So how did the underwear concept begin?
Debnam admits to losing passion and vision for photography, frustrated by the limited, two-dimensional nature of a photograph to tell a story.
“I am a functional artist. I like usefulness for my art. Taking something as basic as underwear and giving it a push. So I put my own images on underwear and suddenly there was a point of difference.”
The underwear started as a hobby (with business partner Johnnie Cass) and before he knew it, there were 3000 pairs of underwear sitting in his garage and a basic website for www.stonemen.com staring at him from his computer screen.
“I had a niche – people wanted something more artistic. I wanted something comfortable that also sits beautifully under a suit.”