Based in Long Eaton, Derbyshire, Sunspel have spent the last one hundred and fifty years perfecting the art of timeless clothing. Sunspel's clothes are handmade resulting in wardrobe staples that feel deeply luxurious yet have an understated elegance and sophistication. This national institution has been quietly making the finest English underwear and t-shirts since 1860. However, the label is best known for providing the memorable boxer shorts Nick Kamen wore in the infamous 1985 Levi’s ad. That said, throughout their long history they have experimented with new styles, fabric structures, knitting techniques and have collaborated with the likes of Paul Smith, Margaret Howell, Thom Browne and Kris Van Assche to name but a few. Despite being in our underwear drawer, it was the appointment of JW Anderson at the creative helm and the opening of their first stand alone store on Redchurch Street that really brought the brand to our attention.
For SS11, Anderson has introduced a womenswear offering to run alongside its expanding menswear range. After an impressive 2010 and a hugely promising future, we just had to learn more about Sunspel. Here we talk to JW Anderson about his role at the label, the fabric developments for SS11 and discuss his hopes for the future...
SS: Sunspel have spent the last one hundred and fifty years perfecting the art of timeless clothing. What attracted you to this iconic British institution?
JW Anderson: Exactly that, as well as their expertise in fabric development. I was also attracted to the close knit team at the factory in Long Eaton, it was fantastic to be able to interact with the people that are actually making the garments and I have learnt a lot from them.
SS: What does Sunspel mean to you?
JW Anderson: Quintessential timeless British basics of the highest quality.
SS: I recently read that your role at Sunspel evolved from an initial collaboration. Over the years the brand have collaborated with the likes of Paul Smith, Margaret Howell and Thom Browne to name but a few. This is no surprise really because their bespoke manufacturing skills, long experience and innovative attitude make them valuable partners. What was the initial collaboration?
JW Anderson: I was already a fan of Sunspel and approached them about maybe doing something with me for my brand J.W. Anderson. We never did an actual collaboration however, instead I started consulting for them, working on the seasonal collection and helping with the look of their first shop on Redchurch Street. The consulting worked well and in September last year they offered me the more official title of Creative Director.
SS: What was the starting point the moment you took up this position?
JW Anderson: I wanted to strip it back to it's core, in order to highlight the best parts of the strong heritage that Sunspel is well known for such as their great basics. I looked at archive pieces from the 1940s and 50s and introduced some elements from that time, such as the blue tipping on the new cotton/elastic range of briefs and the old Sunspel logo which we printed onto white Ts.
SS: How do you balance your own label menswear, womenswear and accessories ranges with this position? Do you ever sleep? Does your position at Sunspel offer a welcome respite from the world of catwalk fashion?
JW Anderson: Sunspel actually offers me reflective time. Working there has taught me the art of stripping back and the importance of refinement.
SS: Could you talk us through the first and last items you remember designing for Sunspel?
JW Anderson: The first piece I designed was a basic hoody but we produced it in the archive wool that was used to produce long underwear. I liked the juxtoposition of the archive fabric with a relatively modern staple - the hoody. The last was the salvage stripe shirt, which is going to be a key piece for Spring/Summer 2011.
SS: How would you describe the SS11 collection in your own words?
JW Anderson: It's reflective of the developments of new fabrics for the collection, while being stripped back and graphic. We developed a new weight in the Egyptian Cotton, which we call Q81. It is half the weight of the regular Egyptian cotton used on the under pants and T shirts. It was originally developed for the Sunspel women's which launches in March this year. But I used it on some of the men's making an oversized T shirt- which has a great sheer quality.
SS: Finally, how do you see the brand developing over the next few years?
JW Anderson: There will be considered growth, with expansion of new and innovative fabrics for basics. Quality British basics are synonymous with Sunspel and we are expanding into new product categories such as chinos, shirting and even shoes! There are also plans for new stores which is an exciting opportunity to further illustrate the Sunspel message to a wider audience.