British sensibility: Oliver Spencer on and off the runway.
2012 marked the 10th anniversary of British menswear designer Oliver Spencer’s collection. However, Spencer’s career in menswear dates back to 1990, when he launched Favourbrook, a British line still sold exclusively in the U.K. This self-taught designer was recently nominated for Best British Menswear Designer for his eponymous collection. Unfortunately he lost (for the second time in a row) to Louis Vuitton’s designer Kim Jones. But Spencer doesn’t mind. “It’s a good person to lose to; he’s an incredible designer,” says Spencer humbly. Here, we chat about the current state of menswear.
Will London Collections: Men’s impact the fashion industry overall?
It’s already had a massive effect. The profile of British designers has completely shot up, especially in places like China. We have tremendous emerging talent and do an amazing job with avant garde clothing. Burberry is showing, which is like the brand at the moment. And the fact that Tom Ford chose London for his first runway show is a big deal.
Why do you do runway shows?
A few years ago I had lunch with Robert Johnson at British GQ, and he said that I should show. We’ve since had an amazing turnout of press and buyers, and that’s really the main reason. Before we started doing shows we had 65 stockists worldwide and now we have 102.
What can the American menswear industry learn from the British?
The most important thing is to separate the menswear fashion week dates from the women’s wear dates. It should be treated as its own thing. Honestly, I think American menswear is in quite a good place right now. I don’t think we’re going to be teaching you an awful lot. There’s a great sense of style in America and some strong American designers.
Guys are into dressing up and wearing quality, luxury sportswear. Men are confident and experimenting more. They don’t feel like they have to wear one label head to toe. They’re starting to mix brands—something British men do very well.
Who are your key U.S. retailers?
We sell to stores like Odin, Unionmade, Need Supply and Scoop. We’re not in any of the majors, and I’m not unhappy about it. The thing about the majors is that they break for sale too early. It’s a problem when you have one store in town selling your clothing at full price, and then find out that it’s discounted at a department store.
What can retailers do to make business better?
It’s important to be a shopkeeper and give amazing service. You must have great people on the shop floor. They’re the face of your brand. Customers need to feel welcome and get good advice. We do educational seminars with our stores. American retailers do visual merchandising really well, which is another critical part.
There’s also this trend right now where great brick and mortars who have a strong business suddenly think they need to sell online. They think they’ll do just as well online, but don’t always realize how much work is involved. My advice to everyone is to look after your shop front. The windows to your business are the most important thing and once you have that, the rest will follow.
Explain your collaboration with Mr. Porter.
We sell our main collection to Mr. Porter and we also do two exclusive cruise capsules (15 styles in three or four colorways; May and November deliveries). A good collaboration is an excellent way to get press. But that’s the most important thing: it’s got to be good. Collaborating is also a learning experience. We must create and we must learn while we’re creating.
Tell us about your fall 2013 collection.
Fall incorporates luxury textiles, color and modernism; the cut is clean and the details are strong. The Lighthouse coat is a key piece. It’s a DB coat with a detachable hood. We’re also showing cropped bomber jackets in sheepskin and cotton blends. We’re known to do brightly colored trousers, so we’ve got pop colors like indigo blue and burgundy. My favorite trouser fabric is a wool and cotton mix which we get specially blended from a mill in Lancaster. We’re also launching eyewear to both optical and menswear stores. We’re doing prescriptives and sunglasses, so we’ll be showing a lot of eyewear on the runway.