Fashion: A Man’s World
Menswear is booming with lines forecast to out perform womenswear by 2022. Lisa Millard talks shop with three menswear designers making their mark in fashion.
>> Workhouse England
Workhouse England was born from an appreciation for the hidden beauty in old things – a love affair sparked by the building that is now home and HQ to the Suffolk-based menswear label. “Our brand is named after an old Victorian slaughterhouse we found through word-of-mouth in Bury St Edmunds back in 2004,” says Peter Leveritt, known to friends as Iggi, who owns and runs the Workhouse England with his business partner Ryoko. “We bought it immediately and soon started to renovate, repair and restore it by ourselves with the help of a friend. After 18 months of painstaking work – each brick scrubbed and re-set, each board kept as original as possible – we were able to call it home.”
Workhouse England captures this appreciation for craftsmanship beautifully. A distinctive aesthetic pays homage to a time when clothing was made to last, worn with pride and cherished rather than disposed of after a few wears. It’s a clever mix combining a meticulous eye for detail and the ability to magically blend traditional fabrics and palettes with contemporary and wearable cuts – Workhouse England is something rather special.
“I’ve always been drawn to images of the Victorian street, and particularly fascinated by unposed photographs of street traders and musicians and what they wore. Garments were hand-made, formal wear was worn informally, old with new, contrasting fabrics and textures – but all worn with a certain swagger. I wanted to craft garments that captured this,” says Iggi, who cuts a dapper figure himself. “It all began with the ragged clothes of Victorian Londoners; garments worn in tatters, shaped by the way they lived. Exploring people this way can lead to so many different places, from impressionist painters in the 1800s to petty criminals of the 1920s.”
Specialising in tailoring using British cloth, Workhouse brings time and expertise to mastering fit. “Our pattern cutter was trained at Huntsman on Savile Row. We relish this process, exploring which methods work for a particular design, and how best to combine traditional approaches with new. Sustainability is important to us and we try to build local supply chains. Workhouse is more than just a business – we strive to forge relationships with like-minded individuals and believe these commitments are what make our garments unique.”
Clothes have always been on Iggi’s radar. “One of my earliest memorieswas visiting a neighbour called Osta Page for tea and a chat. She would often comment about the clothes I wore and would always be thrilled to see me and enjoyed how I dressed. From then on I became more and more interested in clothes.” A graduate of the London College of Fashion, before launching Workhouse in 2012, Iggi worked for a number of fashion houses, including Nicole Farhi, Arts & Science, Roger Dack and Nigel Hall, but always wanted to launch his own.
“With Workhouse we really do our research when we explore historical fashions – to tell as much of the story as possible behind the garments and hope that it comes through in the collection. But research only takes you so far before you have to think right, where does this design go next, how do we make it exciting and that's when the creativity comes in. It brings the garments into the now, otherwise you just imitate the source material,” says Iggi. “Inspiration can now really come from anywhere, as long as there is a story to tell and a culture to explore.”
The expertise of Workhouse, which trades as Hackney Union Workhouse in Japan and has a presence in China, Germany, Holland, Italy and the US, was recognised recently when they were asked to design and make clothes for the BBC2 television living history programme The 1900 Island. “We designed and produced clothes for four families who lived on Llanddwyn Island (Ynys Llanddwyn, in Anglesey, Wales) for a month as a small welsh fishing community. We have built up quite a body of designs and styles and cuts of jacket and trousers, waistcoats and coats over the last decade and we had samples and prototypes for the BBC to see and try on. It was great fun when we were introduced to the families and sailing crew armed with a range of trousers and shirts. We were allowed to use the Workhouse look and sometimes deviate away from a costume drama approach.” Iggi says the success of television drama Peaky Blinders has helped pique interest in the heritage look: “There are many people looking for clothes made with a provenance or using good materials. People are concerned where things are made and where the cloth comes from. We have many customers from young 20 year old students to architects, other designers or creators, actors, high rollers or just anyone who is looking for a little more out of their clothes.” It’s not only men who buy Workhouse menswear: “I am not able to create a women’s collection as such, but ironically we have sold to many women. They have been buying the smaller sizes and just a few weeks ago we sold trousers and a jacket to Minnie Driver who we met at the Wilderness Festival.”
While running the business presents its challenges – “to grow any company especially in fashion once you have created your own unique design handwriting, the hardest job is being able to finance the growth or just plain cash flow” – there are exciting times ahead. “We are going to open our studio around Christmas time and everyone is welcome to come and see what we do. We are also talking about doing some pop-up shops in London – in either Shoreditch or Soho – and taking Workhouse to London on a horse and cart. We have been invited to present Workhouse at the Welcome Edition show in Paris in January next year, along with Barbour, Filson, and Nigel Cabourn. It’s a big opportunity for us to be put in front of a new audience to show our autumn/winter 2020 collection.”
Whatever the future brings Iggi’s passion and respect for the authenticity, craft and skill involved in making Workhouse England remains steadfast:“It is important to make our garments feel English. To have this special feeling the clothes have to be made here. I think the term Made in England is starting to mean something again. You simply cannot craft high-end, quality work long distance – you have to be working close to your makers. The makers are the heartbeat of our business.”
>> Workhouse England can be bought by appointment at the showroom at 44 St Edmunds Place, Bury St Edmunds, IP33 1JL and online at workhouse-england.co.uk. Workhouse is also at New Street Market, Woodbridge, Suffolk. See newstreetmarket.com.
>> Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
“I never set out to be a fashion designer,” says Paul Brown, the man behind the brand and eponymous Bury-based shop Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing (WISC). “Initially I just wanted to make well-made clothing as I was really fed up with the low qualityoptions available on the high street.I started making shirts in my parents’ garage back in 2009 and launched my first capsule collection in 2010.” Turned out that Paul was not the only person appreciative of a beautifully made shirt and his determination to produce high quality items continues to drive his business model and attract customers.
“Initially the designs were quite simple as the focus was on quality materials and construction but over time the shirts have become morestylish, especially with the use ofLiberty London fabrics inside the collars and cuffs.”
While Paul’s menswear designs (he makes womenswear too, ladies) tends to attract a more mature customer base he has noticed changes of late. “Generally older generations buy my menswear, but I don’t think that’s a reflection on thestyling or the designs – more the high price points. That said, we are increasingly seeing younger customers buying our clothes due to media coverage of the true costs of cheap fast fashion. Our clothes are all made in Suffolk using only natural fibres and should be seen as an investment.” The WISC collections have grown to include signature shirts in a range of colours and finishing touches, made-to-measure hand-made suits and waistcoats, chinos, jeans, polo shirts and luxury boxer shorts which are now all made in Suffolk since Paul brought the manufacturing away from Italy closer to home.
“Like many labels still do, we used to have to place orders in Italy
months in advance with large minimum orders which was a nightmare aswe could never accurately forecast future demand” he says. “Often we would runout of our best selling shirts early on in the season with no chance of getting new stock made in time. At the same time we would also be left with shirts that for whatever reason didn’t prove popular that we had to then discount. Now we manufacture small quantities of each design and test the market each season. Those that prove popular are remade with a lead time of just two weeks. As a result we no longer have to worry about cash tied up in unsold stock and running out of popular designs too early in theseason.”
Overseeing the making of his designs has led to Paul developing new skills. “Having your own production offers great flexibility but also has thegreatest challenges. Over the years I have had to learn how to fix andmaintain many of the machines we own which are used for specific partsof the production process. Many of the best machines are alsothe oldest ones and getting replacements parts can be challenging so sometimes we have to improvise.”
Paul divides his time between the manufacturing and shop floor, where he can be found most Saturdays. “Bury is a beautiful market town with a great selection of independent stores which makes the town special. My shop is on St John’s street which is where nearly all the independents are and has the feel of what a traditional high street use to be – something sadly lost in many other towns.”
Sourcing high quality fabrics is central to Paul’s success. “We always start with the fabrics when designing a new collection buying from only the best mills in Europe – many of which sell very classic styles that don’t change much between seasons. The key is taking a traditional cloth and using it to create a new type of, say, coat or waistcoat that offers something different and unique while not losing sight of the aim to produce timeless clothing that can easily transition from season to season, year to year.”
This year has seen Paul collaborating with a Japanese distributor to launch a capsule collection in Japan for spring/summer 2020. “It’s been both an exciting but challenging period as the styles and cuts are very different from our British collections.” Paul’s favourite item from this season’s offering is a field jacket.“It’s made using the latest waxed cotton from the famous British Millerain mill.The jacket is so versatile that is looks equally great over a suit or with a pair of
>> Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing is at 7 St John Street, Bury St Edmonds, Suffolk.See wisconline.co.uk
>> Marmaduke London
Taking the long form approach to fashion attracted designer Ruby Vestey to menswear.
“I have always felt drawn to the timeless nature of men’s fashion which is so much more sustainable than the fast-fashion obsession in womenswear. I also love the fact that a father and son will wear the same thing, and that beautifully made garments can be handed down from one generation to the next,” says Ruby, who hails from near Newmarket and graduated from the London School of Fashion.
In 2017 Ruby pursued her instinct launching the menswear label Marmaduke London showcasing a core collection of signature designs including the Nehru gilet, the casual shirt, and the silk tie. As the well-dressed label has grown so has the range which now includes a Nehru jacket, boxers and squares.
“We source the wools for the Nehru gilets and jackets from Yorkshire, and this in itself is a huge source of inspiration with the colours woven into each wool reflecting the Yorkshire landscape. I then design our own prints in my London studio – the print for the silk ties, the cuff linings for the shirts and the linings for the gilets, which is hugely enjoyable creating contrasting and complementary colour schemes. The overall look is traditional British, but with a fresh, modern take.”
Ruby was determined to use UK workshops to manufacture her garments. “I want to know the companies and the people who make my clothing, I want that relationship to be meaningful,” she says, “for example my gilet maker is London based so not only can I pick up the phone to him, I can pop round the workshop and we can solve issues and refine a design on the spot.” Marmaduke’s shirts are made in the Midlands – nice touches are the horn buttons, sourced from Scotland, to create a vintage-inspired feel – and Ruby uses a small workshop in Kent to make her ties, which remain her core seller.
Sustainability is important to Ruby who uses only natural fabrics in her collection. “Washing polyester is so bad for the environment, she says. “Our tailor is based in London and all our fabrics are British, cutting out thousands of air miles. And most importantly, we have spent so much time perfecting the design and construction of each garment, to ensure it lasts for years to come.”
Marmaduke attracts customers of all ages and Ruby describes them as “men who appreciate traditional British clothing and quality, but also enjoy our fresh, modern take to look at home in either town or countryside. About 50 per cent of our customers are women who buy for their husbands, sons and fathers.” She loves getting something right and hearing from a delighted customer (the gallery on the Marmaduke website has many a happy chap looking resplendent at a wedding or day out at the races). “There’s nothing better than the good feedback we hear from customers, seeing photos of them wearing Marmaduke ties on their wedding days, our linen shirts on their holidays and so on. It’s immensely satisfying. And I do love a well-dressed man.”
There’s not really a typical day or week running Marmaduke, but one daily daily task requires Ruby’s full attention. “Every day starts with wrapping each order we’ve received; a lot of time and care goes into this as I want to ensure each item arrives in the post utterly beautifully wrapped. I visit our tailor in east London once a week, and the remaining days generally revolve around collecting new stock from him and preparing the fabrics for the next batch of designs. Other than that, it completely varies; one week I’ll be setting up at a fair like Burghley Horse Trials, while another week I’ll be visiting the mills in Yorkshire or organising our next photo shoot.” There’s the occasional trouble shooting too. “As anyone who runs their own business will know, you face challenges daily. When a supplier lets you down by sending the wrong items, the wrong colour, or is delayed, it sets off a chain of further issues for which you’re solely responsible for solving. However, as time goes on I figure out ways of constantly solving these issues with more and more ease.”
This autumn sees six new Nehru gilets launching, including a dark green velvet number following the huge success of the label’s navy and burgundy velvet designs, and there will be a Marmaduke pop-up shop on London’s Portobello Road from Tuesday 25 November until Christmas. While Ruby has her hands full making all this happen, she has her eye on one particular prize. “The dream is to open a shop full time – watch this space.”
>> See marmadukelondon.com
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More by this authorLisa Millard