Brand and shopping advice

Oliver Spencer: “Everyone thought I was a lunatic”

Oliver Spencer: “Everyone thought I was a lunatic”

Oliver Spencer – both man and brand – is a name synonymous with craft. The designer has been selling clothes for more than three decades, first with a market stall that he set up after giving up on studenthood, then with formalwear brand Favourbrook, which designed several of the jazzier waistcoats for Four Weddings and a Funeral.

In 2002 he decided to set out under his own name, with a brand built around distinctive takes on British casual classics. For 16 years, Oliver Spencer has created clothes that feel special but always wearable, elevated versions of things that you’ve probably already got in your wardrobe, but distinguished by unexpected details and beautiful fabrics. Unlike a lot of fashion brands, Spencer understands the importance of consistency – if you fall in love with a pair of trousers or a shirt, he wants you to be able to still find it in a couple of years, should you need to replace it.

It’s a mentality born from those earliest experiences selling salvaged clothing from a table on the Portobello Road – he’s a designer with a shopkeeper’s DNA and he understands how and why people buy clothes. His newest collection is a case in point, with easy-to-wear staples like chunky knitwear, zip-up jackets and striped shirts, crafted from materials that turn something simple into something extraordinary. To celebrate it arriving on Thread, we sat down with the man to talk inspiration, materials and how he thinks great clothing can help protect the planet.

Photographs of the new collection in Oliver Spencer's shop on Lamb's Conduit Street in London

 

How would you describe Oliver Spencer?

It’s about an individual, someone that’s got an appreciation of fabric. He wants to be seen but not heard, so we’re not a branded line of clothing. It’s definitely someone who’s quite confident within himself, who doesn’t follow the pack.

Fashion seems to moving somewhere very brash, obnoxious in some ways. Do you resist that?

I don’t think we pay a lot of attention. As a brand, we’ll go in and out of fashion, but we remain a lifestyle brand. Although we invite a bit of fashion in occasionally.

Does that mentality change the way you design, or the clothes you produce?

We’re not going to change the way that we’re designing clothes, we’ve just got to change that way that we approach the next customer. I’m looking to speak to someone who’s 25 to 35 and how we can get him into being what we’re doing. We’ve been environmentally concerned, now we’re becoming much more environmentally concerned and we’re going to start showing that in our clothing and our packaging in the future. We’ll become more ecological, more organic. We’ll have more sustainable packaging.

 

Spencer in the doorway of the Lamb's Conduit Street store he's run for almost two decades

 

It seems to matter to people more and more, which is great. Because it’s consumers who need to lead the charge.

You have to. We’re going to start with our packaging, because you can do things immediately with packaging. You can take the plastic out of a shirt, deliver a paper bag that can be used again and no plastic, none of that crap inside.

So much ocean plastic also comes from the polyester in cheap fabrics when you wash them. Do you feel that people need to understand the impact of materials better?

We have a huge sense of fabric. I’m hugely involved in what goes into the fabric in the first place. Even to the extent that when I was shopping for a hoodie for my kids in the summer, I went into a nice little shop in New England and it was all cotton-polyester mix and I said to the woman, ‘Why can’t you buy 100% cotton?’.

What inspired the autumn collection and what are your favourite bits?

I’m really excited about the ecological wool. It’s a totally natural wool colour, somewhere between beige and cream. It’s completely undyed.

Tweaks like that help the collection to evolve between each season, rather than being radically different.

It totally evolves. That’s what I like to do. Between this season and next it really evolves, so the trick now is to keep evolving but without doing too much. We’re in quite a good place.

Over 16 years, Oliver Spencer has expanded to include footwear, accessories and lifestyle products

 

What are the key pieces for this season?

I think shirts are going to come right back round. People are going to be wearing less jersey and more wovens. I think knitwear is very key at the moment – roll necks are bang on it right now. Also trousers – no one’s wearing denim, which I think is fantastic. And then the soft suit. I’m just starting to see them. Suits have had a really rough time.

It’s exciting to see suits being worn in casual, more fun ways. Now that guys don’t have to have this specific work wardrobe as much.

It looks really good on men. And they can be chopped up. We always design things as separates so you can wear the trousers with an open-neck shirt, or just a casual shirt. You can wear it as a suit, or just the jacket on your own. The whole way we think about a wardrobe is quite broken up, quite multifunctional. And we tend to do quite a lot of suits, but it was really just this summer that they started selling again properly. They’re the kind you can just bung in a suitcase then it bounces out when you arrive somewhere.

The weather is becoming increasingly unpredictable. Does that have an impact on the clothes you create?

We had a really wet winter, which is interesting. Then this mad summer. We took 250 shirts off the shelves in our shops and we cut the sleeves off. We cut the sleeves off and made them into short-sleeve shirts. It’s the first time I’d ever done that – all the shop managers looked at me like I was a lunatic. But this is how you retail, it’s how you shopkeep. You move with what’s going on.

Photographed (clockwise from top): Oliver Spencer Bailey bomber jacket (£359 – coming soon); Oliver Spencer Talbot roll neck (£179 – coming soon); Oliver Spencer Bermondsey bomber jacket (£215 – coming soon); Oliver Spencer Buck jacket (£279 – coming soon)

 

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