It might seem a bit off-key to comment on Brexit in a mens fashion journal, but I think I can say I was among the many saddened by the result. Like many Irish I have familial and cultural ties to the UK that are extensive and the idea that we’re no longer part of a larger community is a shame. More relevant to this journal though is one of the facets of UK culture that has been the biggest influence on me—fashion.
I love seeing dandy tailors on the streets of Naples in their beautifully cut trousers and lighter than air jackets. I also admire severe French movie stars with their unmistakable élan and even those frosty minimalist Scandinavians who rarely seem to have a hair or thread loose have my admiration but… and it’s a large but, I can’t see myself as any of those archetypes. I’m a bit odd looking, very self deprecating and rarely very neat, so England’s sense of style with its humour, tradition and inventiveness has always seemed so much more of a natural fit.
I’m not talking simply of the conservative Saville row tradition that’s fetishised throughout the rest of the world—as admirable as it is—but rather the tradition of taking subcultural influences and combining it with a history of clothing that dates back to the 18th century to create something both creative and charming. From Beats to Mods and Skinheads to Raves. I think the UK also shares Ireland's inferiority complex when it comes to Europe. We admire it and borrow from it liberally to make up for our perceived shortcomings but always with a sense of fun and an outsiders perspective.
Few brands are doing this tradition more proud at the moment than Universal Works; founded by Nottingham-based designer David Keyte. Keyte is from one of the less fashionable corners of the England—read not London, Manchester or Brighton. He has an understanding of what works about British style and has also spent a career working with heavyweights of the UK clothing industry like Paul Smith and Margaret Howell, a serious pedigree. Universal Works’ clothes draw on a unmistakably English mixture of town and country—thankfully without the usual Downton Abbey clichés—where monochromatic Walsh trainers and tapered loose fitting trousers are paired with tweedy work jackets or nylon parkas.
As someone whose followed the brand since their start in 2008 it’s great to see them go from strength to strength without fundamentally altering the DNA of their aesthetic. Their current collection is based on the tradition of the autumn fun-fair coming to town with a bit of boxing thrown in. It’s a familiar blend of street wear and tailoring with some lovely melton-wool blazers alongside technical raincoats and corduroy overshirts. The palette is shades of navy, grey and that great British military olive green-almost brown. While they were never ones for the skinny trend, the brand has definitely gone for a more relaxed silhouette with a notable piece in the collection being a pair of fatigue trousers—based on the Vietnam-era US design—rendered in a Japanese olive wool-cotton. Other notables are their Baker jacket—a work jacket-come-blazer that buttons to the neck— and some natty patterned neckerchiefs.
Perhaps whats most admirable about the brand is seven years into their run, when the pendulum has swung strongly against the heritage trend towards urban, tech and 90s influenced minimalism they still make traditional styles look fresh and accessible. While there is a respect for the past with Universal Works you won’t look like an extra in a period drama while wearing them and It’s also not the sort of brand to make you look like an ass if you’re over thirty. It’s this universality that makes them worth watching season to season and I’m excited to see what they do next.