Fashion designer Oliver Spencer on backing bricks and mortar
Fashion designer Oliver Spencer banks on bricks and mortar
Oliver Spencer thinks a lot about what men are actually wearing and are going to be wearing in the future. He is largely in the business of providing live/work staples, well-cut casualwear for the creative classes. Actors, artists and architects are particularly loyal and it’s a very nice business, thank you very much. But he now sees a chance to address and dress a wider audience. The world of work is moving his way. ‘The suit is dead,’ he says. ‘I’m thinking about how menswear is going to change over the next ten years, what the new work uniform is going to be. I want to affect the way people dress and the way they are in the workspace.’
Of course, creeping casualisation is not the only change afoot. The fashion industry is undergoing its
own disruptive, uncertain remodelling, as full of pain and potential as the upturning of the music industry and print media. It’s not just what people are wearing that is changing but where and how they are shopping. Spencer is up for the challenge: ‘I think we are doing business at a very exciting time. I’ve actually been sitting around for five years, waiting for disruption and change.’ Well, not just sitting around.
He has just opened his sixth store, in Notting Hill. It’s another foothold for Spencer in one of London’s menswear hubs (he also has two stores in Holborn’s Lamb’s Conduit Street, and others in Soho and Shoreditch, as well as a store in Toronto, a partnership with a local retailer). The opening completes a circle for Spencer, who started out at 19 with a market stall on nearby Portobello Market in the early 1990s, and then spent a decade building the more formal Favourbrook brand before establishing Oliver Spencer in 2002.
Spencer has worked with furniture maker Another Country since 2014. The British brand created the new store’s bespoke fixtures and fittings, and is also working on a dining table, among other things, for a house Spencer recently bought on the Isle of Wight. ‘It’s like a bad 1970s block at the moment, but it’s in a good spot,’ says Spencer, a keen sailor. He is also plotting a restaurant opening in Shepherd’s Bush this autumn, Another Country again likely to help with the interiors.
Despite digital disruption, Spencer is a committed bricks-and-mortar retailer. ‘Retail for retail’s sake is disgusting, but if there is meaning behind it, if you are getting a lifestyle, then it becomes great.’ But he is also aware of the potential of e-commerce: ‘Mr Porter is my biggest customer. Ahead of Selfridges, ahead of Liberty, bigger than the sales of all my stores combined.’ Ironically perhaps, it was the brand’s success online that led Spencer to open in Notting Hill: ‘I was thinking about who the Mr Porter customer was, and they told me that a lot of mine were in west London. So I thought, I need to open a store there.’ Mr Porter has also pushed Spencer’s profile in new markets. ‘We sell all over the world with them, and we’re doing really well in California – that is the real growth area for me.’
Last year, Spencer also started selling directly from the catwalk, during a presentation at a Soho car park. And he is now running with the idea. ‘We are going to take it on the road, hopefully in LA and Berlin, but we aren’t going to do it during fashion week. It’s all about going straight to the customer.’
For the moment, though, Spencer is enjoying being in his old stomping ground, reconnecting. ‘Walk the Portobello Road, all the sights, the sounds, the smells, the diversity. You can’t get that online.’ ∂ 19 Kensington Park Road, London W11, oliverspencer.co.uk
‘Retail for retail’s sake is disgusting, but if there is meaning behind it, then it becomes great’
OLIVER SPENCER IN HIS NEW NOTTING HILL BOUTIQUE. IT FEATURES BESPOKE SHELVING BY SPENCER’S LONG-TIME COLLABORATORS, BRITISH BRAND ANOTHER COUNTRY
ABOVE, A HANDWRITTEN NOTE HANGS ON THE WALL ABOVE A JACKET FROM THE S/S17 COLLECTION. IT REFERS TO THE FACT THAT SPENCER STARTED HIS CAREER WITH A STALL AT NEARBY PORTOBELLO MARKET
RIGHT, ‘AMBLESIDE’ TRAINERS AND SUMMER SHIRTS AND JACKETS ARE DISPLAYED ON ANOTHER COUNTRY’S WOOD AND STAINLESS STEEL FITTINGS