“Australian men are totally willing to get interested in clothing right now,” says British designer Oliver Spencer. We’re sitting inside the bright expanse of Incu’s Surry Hills studio space. Spencer is on the final legs of his first trip to Australia in more than a decade. While he’s been here, he’s swum at Gordon’s Bay, cycled across the city and has sat down for meals at Paramount Coffee Project and Nomad. But it’s our local menswear aesthetic that’s really got the designer excited. “I knew I’d feel at ease and at home down here,” Spencer adds, “but I wasn’t prepared to be wowed.”
A lot can change in 10 years. Spencer’s last trip was a holiday with his wife and children. This time it’s all about business. He is here with Incu, which has been the exclusive Australian stockist of his eponymous label for the past eight years. Launched in 2002, the brand originally grew out of a desire to bridge the gap between streetwear and the bespoke service offered by Oliver’s tailoring business, Favourbrook. Oliver Spencer is now stocked in more than 150 stores worldwide, with four stand-alone boutiques; three in London and one in Toronto. Last year, Oliver Spencer beat out international heavyweights including Dries Van Noten to be named by trend forecasting agency WGSN as menswear brand of the year.
“We make clothes that actually work,” says Spencer, summing up his brand’s global appeal. “That’s our view on life and clothing.”
But how does the Oliver Spencer brand translate to the local market in Sydney? “Our aesthetic is really about lifestyle,” Spencer notes. “Style in Sydney is the same. It’s lifestyle driven.” When designing in London, Spencer might draw on art, architecture and construction for inspiration. While in Sydney, it’s the vibrant restaurant and coffee scene that influences him. “Everyone talks about coffee here. Nobody talks about it in London,” he says, and it’s this love of being out and about, taking part in the vibrancy of Sydney’s culture that influences the selection of clothing shipped across the seas to the shelves of Incus, this season’s range featuring striped T-shirts, mustard-coloured shorts and plenty of shirts.
When it comes to the structure of each garment, Spencer’s strength is functionality, something that no-doubt appeals to the no-fuss Sydney man, and that perhaps contrasts with his London customer. Shirts feature interior credit-card pockets for convenient safekeeping and there’s a slick cycling jacket in the collection with iridescent accents that is completely water resistant. “It’s all about the details,” Spencer says. “The standard of shopping in independent stores in Sydney is really high.” He identifies boutiques and online shopping as key to the Australian market. “Stores like Incu are providing more of an adventurous range, but it’s not crazy fashion,” he says, noting his appreciation for Australian brands such as Melbourne cult-favourite P.A.M. and fellow Incu label Vanishing Elephant.
As Australian men get more and more interested, excited and confident with fashion, Spencer believes that the local market will enter its prime. "It's the beginning of the wave, and it's only going to mature," he says. "I think I'd be prepared to invest in this market." And what about personally? “Sydney is just on another planet! There aren’t that many other cities in the world that can match it for beauty,” he says. “If I didn’t work in England this is the place I’d love to live and work.”