Recently back from a stint at Festival No. 6 – a trip which saw Universal Works quietly release a series of branded tees and jackets in collaboration with the Welsh festival – founder, director and designer David Keyte is telling Clash about the label’s AW15 mainline.
“I was really thinking about the fact that each collection is a development of the last and sort of passing over, not a clean sheet design process but an evolvement,” he explains. “We wanted to celebrate the ‘passing on’ of ideas and thoughts and even actual garments from season to season, and generation to generation. The name ‘The Pass’ came as we started to work with an artist, Billy Craigan-Toon, on creating a piece of work to showcase the collection at LC:M.”
Launched from Keyte’s kitchen table in 2008 – the same year Christopher Shannon debuted his contrasting menswear line; five years before the BFC introduced a men’s only industry event – Universal Works has since been producing polite pieces of a refined nature, summed up in the brand’s tagline as Real Honest Menswear.
“We have been ‘showing’ at LC:M for around two years now, but the AW15 show was our first presentation as such,” continues the designer. “We wanted to create something that was more interesting than a few static models, and maybe with more excitement and, we hoped, more humour.”
The result, here, was a choreographed performance of men stood in a circle, literally passing on their coats. Inspired by Craigan-Toon’s degree work at Nottingham Trent’s Fine Art show, titled ‘Painters’, the performance indeed offered an interesting disparity between those of other brands. “We are very proud of the products we make, but then there are a lots of good products in the world,” Keyte notes, quite honestly, “so LC:M is an event we can both showcase great product at, but do it in a way that will then get noticed among all the bigger brands.”
Proudly independent, the label’s foundations are defined by David’s youth, spent in a provincial midlands town during the 70’s: “Part of a working class family that loved to dress well,” states the brand’s press notes, “seeing his dad and uncles in their work-wear and also when dressing for the weekend (inspired Universal Works)”. Time spent as a sign writer’s apprentice during the 80’s, followed by 30 years in the fashion industry with brands such as Paul Smith and Maharishi, confirmed the label’s identity.
“Today it is influenced as much by travel to Tokyo or New York,” he counters, “as the midlands in the 70’s. There are products that are influenced by that part of the UK, but it only makes up part of the mix. I think the way (that history) translates is really the fact that no matter how may new shapes and cuts we introduce, the product remains wearable and honest.”
Aesthetically, Universal Works shares a stable with the likes of Oliver Spencer and YMC, A.P.C. and Sunspel; the colour navy is consistent, similarly thick cottons and fuss free design wildly apparent. Essentially of course, all clothes are wearable, that is their advantage over say art perhaps, but where a silk frock or velvet pantaloons have a preferred time and place, the variables restricting Universal Works’ clothes are pretty non-existent.
The notion of universality elsewhere strikes in the brand’s casting, with men of different ages and races visible across its projects, though Keyte is quick to point out most of their models are friends: “We do like to use a diverse group of people, but they have always been guys we knew, it’s been kind of UW policy, I guess.”
For the AW15 collection, pictured above, the brand returned to a friend they first worked with six years ago. Says David, “We decided to use an older guy for the look book based on casting for LC:M – we decided for the presentation to use younger guys, again, all friends, so we wanted to balance that with a guy who looked older.”
With stockists from St Ives to Seoul, plus two own brand IRL spaces in London (the company still works out of Nottingham), Universal Works is currently working on a plan, which, clarifies its figurehead, is not to have a plan. Heard it here first.
Words: Zoe Whitfield