Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Style Salvage Speaks to... Universal Works

We are currently searching for the best British design and craftsmanship to feature on the blog as we feel that despite there being so much talent out there it is often over looked and neglected. Last week we stumbled across a new label, Universal Works which aims to produce well made, well considered, easy to wear, affordable menswear. Spurned on by the recent discovery of Old Town we were after quality, British made workwear inspired menswear and Universal Works certainly fits the bill. After many years of working in the fashion industry David Keyte and his team wanted to make something they were proud of, not over-designed but well cut and craftsman-made. All garments and accessories are made in small, highly skilled factories and are designed for purpose and to live way beyond one season of fashion. A pop up store showcasing the AW09 collection opened last week at 47 Lambs Conduit Street for one month only but will also be available all autumn winter from the Oliver Spencer store on the same street. The street (as profiled by Monocle last year) symbolises what can be achieved in retail areas as it champions a real community spirit and this pop up store fits in nicely. Inside, the classic collection of British workwear-inspired menswear sits alongside art work by Kay Van Bellen and features special edition t-shirt prints designed for the event by Kay. We caught up with David Keyte as he manned the store and chatted excitedly about the launch, Josef Beuys and menswear of the 50s and 80s...

Universal Works takes over Cube

Style Salvage; You have worked with companies such as Paul Smith and Maharishi, what drove you to set up your own label?
David Keyte: I have been lucky to work with great British fashion companies, working for many years with Paul was the best education in British fashion you could get. Slowly I realised I was less interested in fashion and more in the function, fit and cut of garments. Always inspired by work wear and military clothing I wanted to explore this more and decided the only way to do this was for myself. And what better time to start a new business than in the worst recession for a generation! Anyone know a good bank?

SS: Describe the collection in your own words
DK: It's a very British look, loosely based on work wear, simple honest fabrics, practical knitwear, a collection for a man who doesn't need to follow fashion but cares about how he looks but does not have try too hard.

SS: Can you talk us through some of your inspirations?
DK: I was always inspired by old guys who seem to always have on too much of their mismatched wardrobe at the same time yet look weirdly stylish; my grandad who could wear his work jacket with a pair of pleated wool baggy trousers, a fair isle slipover, a hearing aid and still look good.

SS: What are your favourite pieces from the collection?
DK: The trousers are a favourite as the fit is great (I think) and the suit waistcoat, not really part of a suit but a good looking classic. Two heavy jersey pieces; the Bomber jacket lined with light weight jersey and the climbing pant (which is not really for climbing but the perfect track pant) yet looks like a normal trouser are also favourites and are selling well.

Left: Hand Embroidered wool scarf, canvas unlined jacket. Right: Knitted Work Jacket in milano wool over knitted L/S waistcoat also in milano wool, blue oxford cotton work shirt, pleated chino pants.

SS: Is there a Universal Works man/muse?
DK: Me... or is it my granddad!?

SS: You've recently opened up your pop up store on Lambs Conduit street, what has the reaction been like to the collection?
DK: Really good, I love the street and there are some great men's stores here like Folk, Pokit and Oliver Spencer so there is already a customer for interesting men's wear coming here. Also Oliver is carrying the collection for the autumn.

SS: Provenance, craft and a sense of purpose seem to be integral parts of the label. All of which are rare traits in the industry, which other designers/brands do you admire?
DK: I have always admired the late Masimo Osti and for a British aesthetic Margaret Howell. Current favourites are Junya Watanabe, Diaki Suzuki in the USA, and Post Overalls from Japan. They all have great integrity in their work.

SS: How do you see the Universal Works label developing over the next couple of years?
DK: Continuing to work with great skilled factories and craft people and find a few more British suppliers and working with good independent retailers and maybe selling enough product to pay the mortgage.

Left: Work Jacket in cotton, white poplin classic shirt, heavy jersey climbing pants, soft wool bobble hat. Right: Bomber Jacket in heavy jersey, sand cotton pleated chino pants, work waistcoat in cotton, stripe poplin classic shirt.

SS: What item of clothing (if any) do you wish that more men wore?
DK: Hats

SS: What is inspiring your own personal styles at the moment? Do you have any style icons (long or short term)?
DK: Josef Beuys. a man who knew how to wear a hat... and a waistcoat. A recent trip to Japan was very inspiring, they still have a great love of craft and quality and they all look so damn good.

SS: If you could go back in time and experience any fashion/style moment, what would it be?
DK: I love the menswear of the fifties and also of the early eighties (well more Joe Strummer than new romantic!) but I prefer to live for now and am happy to be living my own style moment.

SS: Finally, have you got any recommendation that you'd like to share with our readers? (shops, hairdressers, designers, websites, bars, cafes etc)
DK: Dover Street Market is still one of the my favourites and Oi Polloi in Manchester has become a great northern institution. Bikefix another great store on Lambs Conduit St. Monmouth Coffee for the best caffeine fix in London and Grindleford Station Cafe for the best greasy spoon breakfast, but you will have to go to the Peak District to enjoy it. For websites, apart from your own great site, JJJound, detourdesign blog and acontinouslean are always good to look at and hyr collective is another good site.

Left: Work shirt in grey checked cotton, l/s henly tee in grey marl, suit jacket in herringbone brushed cotton, chino pants in same, hat in soft wool. Right: Waistcoat in herringbone brushed cotton, chino pants in same, grey check cotton work shirt.


James said...

Great to hear about a new label like this. Keep the interviews coming guys!!!!!!

Michael said...

Some very interesting pieces, especially the knitwear and I love that grey scarf.

Nick said...

Recently purchased the Oxford Work Shirt from Oi Polloi, beautiful garment. Great blog post!


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