The Mechanist: The Apex Interviews Hedi Sersoub
Our guest this week is Hedi Sersoub, a multi-talented photographer, model and founder of the automotive jewellery and lifestyle brand The Mechanists. He joined us to give an insight into the more creative and artisanal side of the car community, and to tell us about his journey in the scene.
Hector Kociak interviews Hedi Sersoub for The Apex by Custodian. Recorded and Produced by Jeremy Hindle and Guillaume Campos. Transcribed by David Marcus. Edited by Hector Kociak & Charles Clegg.
Could you tell us a bit about how your passion for cars arose, and how you got into it?
Like probably 95% of the world who love cars, it's from family heritage. We all have an uncle, grandfather or a father who had a special car I guess, and my dad was a big car enthusiast. His father was a mechanic, and my dad worked in the oil industry for a French brand, selling oil for cars and all sorts of agricultural machinery. So from a very young age I was around classic cars. I liked Formula 1 racing cars most of all, but for me I was mainly around the old stuff that my dad was working on most of the time.
So as a kid you’d find yourself in the workshop, just looking at what people were doing?
Yes, my dad would work on his car at home, doing everything himself. There were seven brothers and one sister in his family, a big family, and most of them were able to disassemble an engine and put it back together in a day or two on their own. Like, these guys were fricking good! There was a lot of do-it-yourself, basically. I wouldn't say that I am a good mechanic; I can do a few things but I didn't grow up in the same environment he did. So I guess my passion for car parts is not as developed as his(!) but I do appreciate the work by hand that I've seen in the garage.
You're the founder of the automotive jewellery and lifestyle brand The Mechanists - what drives the designs of the kinds of pieces you make?
The designs come from everything that marked my youth. I guess my inspiration all comes from that. The main thing that we started with in 2017 was the steering wheel bracelet, just a basic steering wheel. I was based in the UK for 10 years, and when thinking of what I wanted to do, I was like, well, I'm a big Jaguar fan (especially the D-Type). So the first steering wheel I decided to do was from something classic, the E-Type. The wheel is an object that means a lot; for most of our parents it was a symbol of freedom. Less now, because of course transport has changed a lot, but I'm always trying to create pieces that mean something. For example, we just launched a new bracelet which is based on the M6 nut. It’s very basic, but the nut is such a key engineering part of any motor or any mechanical object. Really The Mechanists is not just about cars. I love cars, but I also love everything mechanical: bikes, cameras, watches...
What inspired you to start The Mechanists in the first place?
I had gotten some experience in different business development strategies in the UK after finishing my studies over there; after 10 years of working in London I wanted to launch something and try something creative in my 30s. I had previously run the lifestyle department of the Hotel Café Royale, which is a five-star hotel in London. I really loved working there, managing a lot of lifestyle partnerships, looking after top clients. It was very cool and interesting. So then I was like okay - I like lifestyle, I like the car thing, I’ve always felt very connected to this way of living. With the budget that I had, I couldn't start everything - but I also needed to take some risk. Going to the jewellery business was a big risk (it's very competitive) but I'd seen people wearing boat bracelets and nautical jewellery and it looked like a simple thing to start with. I thought, what about around cars?
I did my research, didn't find much, and realised that it wasn’t about something too big and flashy, showing off that you have money and cars - just something more discrete. I thought that those anchors and nautical bracelets reminded people in a small way of things like holidays and good times. So then I came to the steering wheel idea, something with which you decide where you want to go, at the speed you want. It means so many things that today we sometimes take for granted.
It’s a subtle thing, a steering wheel on a bracelet. You might be in the office or doing something else, but it's there to remind you of what you really love.
It's a passion that is appreciated by everybody, even people who don't especially like cars. They are loved for so many different things. It can be for their engineering, for aerodynamics, it can just be for the look of them. Very often someone who doesn't appreciate cars for their mechanics, their purpose, or for their economic value will say ‘I still like that curve, that detail’.
Even if they can't really explain what they like about it. We were talking to Duccio Lopresto recently about the link between music and cars and the way that you can see a car and like it straight away or hear a piece of music and like it in the same way.
Yes, I'm pretty sure it comes down to your personal experience and expectation of what is beautiful or not.
Do you think the success of your brand owes something to an increasing trend for celebrating artisanal handicraft and getting to the roots of what makes machinery interesting?
To me success is authenticity in what you do and integrity in who you are. Those kinds of things are important. As car enthusiasts we can tell if something is damaged, we can hear everything in the car, so I think it definitely helps to be sympathetic to the mechanicals. However for me the thing I really enjoy about The Mechanists is that we can make the objects by hand. Everything that we do through the artisan shop in the UK is from Birmingham, the jewellery quarter. When I wanted to launch the company I visited different artisans; I really wanted someone who would do what I asked for with care, because it was my first project on my own and I wanted the care to come across in everything we did.
I found this little family jewellers’ doing amazing stuff for amazing brands - but there were still only 10 of them, compared with the other small companies I saw who had 80 to 150 people. So I went with them. And that’s the thing that I like - it’s not just what you do, it's the people you do it with as well. I think that’s something that applies to the classic car world too.
One thing I wanted to ask is about ‘lifestyle’ - we talk about it a lot in the car scene and it's always interesting to see what people are following or sharing. When you're looking through stuff like Instagram, what kind of things inspire you?
I mean that's the problem with Instagram - it attracts you. As soon as it knows you like something, it will feed you with it. You can see a lot on Instagram but I’d say that in terms of lifestyle, I think a lot of things that are out there we've seen before. They've been redone - like, how many pairs of driving gloves can you sell? It’s just insane - leather jackets, the copy of the copy of whatever brand did the original… so I don't take much inspiration any more from that kind of thing. I try to find something different.
Right now I'm really working on clothing. We have to go gradually before we are able to make everything ourselves, and to do everything bespoke the way we want it takes some time and learning, I would say. With the big car brands, what they're doing, I appreciate it more or less, but none of my inspiration is taken from there. It's definitely more classic stuff, and hopefully not what has already been done!
What's the last thing you've been looking at that's fuelled your creativity?
It’s going to sound strange, but the business models and practices of classic car dealerships around the world, how they do their business in different countries. I have been looking at what people do in the UK too, and how they share the ‘experience’ of cars, even just visiting the showroom or making a sale. Also, we’ve just finished some concours photo series; I've been inspired for years by that too.
In 2020 you co-founded the International Automotive Photography Awards with Amy Shore and Drew Gibson. How did that come about and why did you feel there was a need for that kind of competition now?
It was such a fast-moving, cool adventure last year. I studied photography (mainly for cars) a couple of years ago, and became very quickly addicted to it as a passion. I develop passions quickly - now I am very much into film photography. Living in London the best thing that I had access to was cars. I spent a lot of time shooting. It's not like I said, okay, now I'm going to be a photographer; it happened slowly. With The Mechanists, I was creating content every day too, reposting photos other people had taken, always giving credit to the author, and always trying to promote and to create a community. Early on it was like 90% of the accounts that you see right now on Instagram. But it was always content, content, content.
During the first lockdown I still wanted to create; funnily enough sales on The Mechanists went up a lot at the time, there was a lot of extra demand as people were spending more time on their phones. I wanted to create a new project, and had submitted some of my photos for different awards around the globe, but couldn’t really see anything to do with classic cars. I had an idea for a competition, something very easy to enter for anyone who had a good photo. With just your phone now you can literally snap some very good content, so then it was just a question of how we could attract the maximum number of people, and luckily we could do that as we have got a decent following on social media.
I had also always wanted to do some work with Amy Shore. Amy was one of the first photographers that I met in the classic car business in the UK, and she's been lovely since day one; she's just a gem, and it's amazing to have a person like her in the community. She thought the idea was great and suggested Drew, and he turned out to be amazing to work with too. So we started this project where you can submit as many photos as you want, professional or amateur. It's £2 per photo to enter. This competition is really there to promote people who might not even know how to use social media. We have a weekly theme as well, with a weekly winner, and it brings a lot of engagement, a lot of good comments as well. It's a very good way to connect with the audience.
We actually had Amy on this podcast a while back! Did you guys swap photography tips, or was it really discussions around judging?
Deciding how to judge was super easy in a way; we all have our preferences and you know that you are not supposed to be picking the best photographer in the world. Amy and Drew have a very different way of photographing as well. Drew’s work is totally a motorsports vibe, whereas Amy is a storyteller, very photo-journalistic. However they were both super open to new things. I actually really enjoyed the phone category, because a lot of it was street/urban photography. We had some insanely good entries and over 4,000 photos were submitted.
What are your future plans and vision for the IAP - are you going to grow it in size?
Yes, it’s still going to be part of The Mechanists, as we are the brand that supported it at the beginning, but I really want it to stand on its own. Amy and Drew will still be involved, and we are going to launch a 2021 edition. We'll see if we can print the photos and do an event this year for the winners. At the moment it's very difficult to see even three weeks into the future but we are going to keep going. It’s been such good fun, and we have many good ideas for future editions.
I think that if it wasn't for the photographers who continually post their work on Instagram and seek out interesting cars, I think a lot of the classic car world wouldn't see as many cool things.
I 100% agree with you. Also Instagram favours portrait photos - it will appear much bigger on your screen and you get so much more engagement - but for so many photos that we judged, the winner was actually almost panoramic. It's mind blowing how you can miss things that just don’t do well on Instagram but are amazing when blown up to a large size. I think the IAP has really helped to show some people that they don't always need to post what Instagram will promote.
I think we're coming up against time now, so I've just got some quick fire questions to end with. My first one is: what is your perfect road trip?
It will be a long one. Probably starting from France, where I am right now in Jougne, not far from the Swiss border. I would go down through Switzerland to Lake Como in Northern Italy, then go down to Tuscany, then come back through the Cote d'Azur and come back here. That’s probably 1,500 km!
Second question: who inspires you in what you do?
In what I do, the people that I work with. I get on with people who inspire me and people who have positive energy, like Drew and Amy. They inspire me a lot. I work a lot with Alex Lawrence right now as well. After that, someone closest to me, my girlfriend - she inspires me so much, she’s mentally on a different level, which is great!
And my last question is: what is your single money-no-object car, if you could just pick one to have?
I'd say a D-Type Jaguar.
One of the Ecurie Ecosse cars?
Yes, a D-Type Jaguar like that, or the 935 Porsche K3. Both did Le Mans, and both were quite exceptional. The D-Type is probably my choice of the two.
And with that, Hedi - it's been an absolute pleasure having you on today, and thanks very much for sharing your stories with us.
Thank you for your time, I very much appreciate it, and take care. À bientôt!
To find out more about Hedi and The Mechanists, you can visit their website at https://www.themechanists.com/.