The September issue of Monocle has a great profile of Oliver Spencer, as part of a 3 part feature on innovative retailers. (The others are Melograno, New York, and Regent, Weissemburg). We've got the piece after the jump.
London's Lamb'sConduit Street
is a rare beast: an entire high street in central London that, apart from a lone Starbucks, is chain free. It is also home to a parade of menswear stores, including Oliver Spencer.
Spencer moved here because he found "a great shop with potential, a real sense of community". And then there are the potential clients. "There are a lot of badly dressed lawyers in the area," he says. The great potential he refers to was a big old greengrocers that was in a terrible state. Today, with its restored Victorian façade, it looks as though it's been lovingly cared for over many decades. Inside, Spencer's collection is hung among displays of butterflies and anatomical models. "I want it to be a cross between the Royal Geographical Society and a classroom - a little challenging," he smiles.
Spencer started in fashion retail in 1991 when he launched Favourbrook, a company that specializes in traditional wedding garb. Over time, however, he started making very different clothes for friends and favored Favourbrook customers. It was still very British clothing, often inspired by military and hunting outfits, but was also casual, unconstructed and in fabrics that looked good even when a little crumpled. Also it wasn't about fashion - the same garments often remain season after season.
Soon the collection - officially launched in 2002 - was being wholesaled. High-speed sales in the US led New York's celebrated retailer Odin to offer Spencer a store in the city - it opened in 2006. The clothes are made in the UK and Portugal; up to 50 per cent of the fabric is from UK mills. Mixed in with his collection are pieces by Margaret Howell, Nice Collective and Sunspel.
With several more shops rumored to be looking for premises on his new home turf, Spencer is cautious that the street could get too successful. He's also hunting for more space and hopes to open another London outlet soon.
As well as the lawyers needing a makeover, it would be good if the owners of London's department stores paid a visit. They might realize there's a vast market of male shoppers sick of trawling spaces that look like cheap nightclubs, where customers over 20 feel alien and staff know little about their product. This classroom-inspired space could teach them all a lesson or two.