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A conversation with Oliver Spencer

A conversation with Oliver Spencer

It's fair to say that buying clothes in 2020 is in stark contrast to the early '90s when Oliver Spencer began selling second-hand clothing from a stall on Portobello Road. Today, instead of strolling through said stalls on a brisk weekend day, we largely find ourselves scrolling through online shops from the comfort of our sofas – most of us shamelessly clad in what can best be described as glorified PJs.

But for the London-based designer, the meaning of getting dressed hasn’t been minimised by a year turned upside down. Instead, this year of minimal events and maximum Zoom time has made him appreciate getting dressed even more. It was via one of those now ubiquitous Zoom calls that we recently spoke to Spencer about the importance of making your wardrobe feel more considered right now, his go-to gift for the Christmas season, and why the year of dressing up might soon be upon us.

On designing both formal and casual clothing

My designs started off more formal and merged into casual, which felt quite natural. That said, I never stop learning new things, that’s the great thing about fashion. Something I am learning how to do now is merge a bit of sportswear into the whole thing. It’s really interesting seeing how certain athletic silhouettes can be worked into my aesthetic. It’s definitely helped to inform my loungewear collections, which I’ve been making for three or four years now and which are becoming more and more popular.” 

On how sustainability has always been core to his business

Sustainability has always been quite a natural focus for us within the business. We talk about the journey from the moors in Yorkshire to the spinners in Lancaster to the mill that actually makes the cloth and then down to London to our workrooms. And I just think thats such a great example of a natural pathway, one that reduces our carbon footprint. Thats how we just do business. It wasnt ever a point that I needed to shout about, it was just the way we did things.”

On making the most of your wardrobe right now 

I think its been a really difficult period for dressing, full stop. Most people are sitting on a Zoom call with a smart top and a pair of tracksuit bottoms. [At Oliver Spencer], we're making loungewear that you can wear inside and still look smart in while outside. Weve just got our new hoodies in, which the girls in the office have all ordered for themselves because theyre so lovely. Theyre just so easy to wear. 

But people during the day have stopped dressing up, so what Im advocating for is if you are working from home, at the end of your day, dress up for the evening. Dress up for a cocktail; dress up for dinner with your loved one. Try and make life as normal as possible. Otherwise, life is going to become one big tracksuit festival.” 

On elevated pieces to wear right now

"Our velvet double-breasted number is really tactile and interesting – its also really soft and comfortable. That velvet jacket is just fantastic and easy to wear, as is our unlined corduroy jacket too. They’re fabrics that take a little breaking in, but over time they develop such a lovely handle and patina. Texture is paramount to the way I design, it’s the first consideration I make and it’s good advice if you’re looking to build out your wardrobe."

On the perfect item to gift this year

Im a massive fan of knitwear; its a really easy thing to give to people. And its flexible in terms of sizing too. You can buy a medium, and it can fit a whole variety of people. Its a really nice impressive option to give people. Its always good to give your partner something that you really like, so that you can wear it too – thats the perfect present!”

On looking ahead

"By the time we get out of this, so many people are going to have to go out and think about their wardrobes, because were not going to stay working at home. And I think theres going to be a bit of a revolution on that front. 

The other thing everyone is going to want to do is have a party. Theyre just going to want to go out and have fun. Were really looking forward to that because weve all had enough of being at home in our tracksuit bottoms. So that means that dressing up is going to be more and more important next year – I think well have the year of dressing up." 

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Words: Allison Pavlick
Photography: Courtesy of Oliver Spencer