Tuesday, February 21
Naturalis Works #1
Oliver Spencer is a progressive modern fashion brand with shops in London, Toronto and New York, celebrity clientele and clamouring press attention. Yet at its heart is a man with the soul of a tailor who regards his work as a craft and upholds traditional values of fine workmanship, quality materials and attention to detail. It is this dichotomy that Oliver relishes, taking the best of the old and injecting it with a fresh energy to create his own inimitable collections — referential yet distinctively new, conformist but unconventional in attitude. As Oliver himself puts it, he has one foot in the past and the rest of his body in the future.
Oliver developed his love of fabrics during an early apprenticeship with a tie and silk specialist in Suffolk. This experience reinforced his lifelong belief that Britain's heritage in textiles and tailoring was a legacy to hold on to, and he taught himself the tailor's art to satisfy his passion for cut and cloth. But it was his exposure to London's restless riot of art and design innovation that would flick the creative switch inside the young designer's head.
His first menswear experiments included a moleskin suit with camouflage lining. Such deft juxtapositions of luxury and utility define his garments to this day. Through subtle modification to proportion, colour, fabric or detail, he reinterprets traditional garments to produce modern classics. He builds a bridge between popular streetwear and traditional style. The result is elegant, interesting clothes for the modern customer that are infinitely wearable, beautifully made and durable. His signature is the detail that he lovingly adds to his garments, such as a hidden newspaper pocket that adds function without disturbing the silhouette, storm guards around the neckline, the way that an inner pocket fastens, or a shot of contrasting colour across the button holes.
Materials first, garment second is Oliver's rule. Sheepskin is a perennial favourite. He prefers the wool to have a high, tight twist rather than a soft, downy texture. This has a more substantial, structured feel, and that is exactly what Oliver wants his garments to have.
He has a particular love for the durability, potential and feel of mixed fabrics, and creates his own blends with traditional mills. By using wool as his warp and linen as his weft, he alters the way that looms are set up, creating a new texture. This is innovation, but it entails reworking the traditional, not starting from scratch. Although Oliver admires the work of fabric technologists, he rarely uses synthetic fibres. His autumn/winter collections sometimes feature rubberised or Teflon coated cottons for water-proofing, but he prefers to use natural fabrics that shrink in the rain, making the surface less permeable.
Tweed is a symbol of everything Oliver holds dear about traditional British menswear. He is creating his own range of Lancashire tweeds, playing with colours, fibre blends and finishing techniques to add his signature twist. However, this is an area of design where he instinctively employs restraint; he would never undermine the intrinsic quality of such an ancient art. In his own words, “I'm not reinventing the wheel, the original wheel is brilliant”.
He also works closely with manufacturers to develop products for his specific needs. Oliver Spencer shoes are handmade by a maker in Northampton who works in robust leathers, grained hides and suede. Belts are made by a small company in Liverpool that hand-forges buckles to Oliver's own design. And when it comes to sundries, he considers the choice of button to be fundamental to the success of a garment. He uses a German button maker that works with horn, wood and a particular type of nut to produce classic styles. But by using them in unexpected places, Oliver sheds new light on their vintage charm.
The future for the man and his eponymous brand is bright. He creates his clothes with the UK in mind, but more stores in cities around the world is his goal — making Oliver Spencer one of a long line of great British exports.
Oliver Spencer at work in his studio
Film by Steven Mark Fisher and Sophie Pierozzi
Custom cloths unique to Oliver Spencer
Materials in the factory
Oliver examines materials