Luxury Topping met Charlie Stockwell at the Warr’s of Harley Davidson exhibition in Chelsea Habour Hotel, where Charlie spoke with passion and detail about the bikes on display, his career at Warr’s and about those rare occasions when he isn’t in the workshop.
Charlie was recently crowned for the second time in as many years as the ‘King of Custom’ by Harley Davidson. The custom designer has invested his life into the two-wheel world and has propelled himself and the Warr’s Harley Davidson dealership in Chelsea to regal status amongst an ever-diversifying motorbiking community. As a Chelsea Football fan as a boy, sweeping the floor at Warr’s, he never dreamed that one day he would be designing bikes for Premier League players.
Did you have a mentor who particularly inspired you?
Charlie recalls his initial desire for Harley Davidson arising through the guidance of his brother in law, who was working as the Head Technician at Warr’s and introduced him to the industry. Charlie regards the engineer Bill Healing as his mentor through his early years with Warr’s, through whom he developed crucial skills and learned techniques and practices that are now considered ‘lost arts’.
Which project stands out for you?
The freedom in each project is something that is symbolised by the Burning Man, which Charlie notes ‘you can see how different each bike can become even though they started with exactly the same bike.’ He had the freedom to build a bike based on the ‘Burning Man theme of Mad Max meets Star Wars.’ This he considers his seminal work, working with an unlimited budget and 18 months build time he produced a very functional bike with high end components but a bike that was entirely a ‘one off.’
Were you ever split between turning a profit or taking on a challenge?
‘If we were to only build bikes based only on art, my boss would have stopped me building bikes a long time ago.’ Charlie emphasised the importance of the experience at Warr’s allowing for them to be profitable on all of their bikes while producing these wonderful pieces of art.
How has the industry developed since you started with Warr’s?
‘When we started doing it, this industry wasn’t apparent to anybody.’ Commencing originally with the Orange County Choppers TV show in the early 2000’s, to more recently with Sons of Anarchy, Charlie recognises the importance of these shows in increasing the popularity of custom bikes. Understanding that 40% of their customers are international now, Warr’s streams some of its building online so that the international community can follow the process. Charlie uses external partners, highlighting the skill of his painter, chromer and welder in creating the best quality final piece.
If you could make one trip on your bike, what would it be?
Having been offered very tempting trips and rejected them, Charlie certainly prioritises his work and the mutual loyalty between himself and Warr’s. Inspired by his friend Charlie Boorman in the Long Way Round, he suggests personal intention to combine a documentary and a philanthropic trip through his girlfriend’s home country of Thailand.
Charlie has been at Warr’s for all of his working life and has combined a range of techniques to develop his own, well-respected style. The increase of demand for their bikes has allowed Warr’s to progress with a site expansion. The future for Warr’s and for Charlie is as impressive as these luxury vehicles.
Written by Hugo Lock.
All images courtesy Charlie Stockwell.