The state of independent menswear in the UK
By Lucas Nicholson.
With the closure this year of the Oi Polloi shop in Manchester by its owners, JD Sports, it felt like it was an appropriate time to talk about the state of independent menswear stores in the UK.
This is something of a passion of mine. I spent a large chunk of my time as wholesale manager at Drake’s visiting UK stores and trying to find potential partners - and there was just less and less out there.
It’s easy to understate their importance. Historically these multi-brand stores were the ones that developed subcultures, that eventually become movements, which become fashion. They and their visionary owners had an effect on the mainstream that few consumers realised.
You might be familiar with the concept of Gorpcore, where outdoors-focused clothing is worn in an urban setting. Arguably this is something Oi Polloi had been pushing for 10 or 15 years, and what was once an obscure subculture has only just emerged into the mainstream.
Yes, the look came from the terraces, where the practicality was driven by a need to stand outside in football stadiums in the bleak rain and chilling wind. But Oi Polloi had an undoubted influence, and in other areas too.
They were one of the first stores in the UK to stock the French footwear manufacturer Paraboot, for example, at the beginning of what can only be described as their meteoric rise in popularity. Oi Polloi were constantly on the search for great brands around the globe, and were willing to take risks on them.
Having worked in menswear for the past 16 years, and taken an interest in a number of different styles, I often found Oi Polloi content (above, below) the most inspiring. I looked forward to their emails: they were refreshing and had an authentic voice.
This is something big department stores and chains rarely do: there is no central taste, no guiding intelligence.
And to clarify, when we say independent menswear, we don’t mean a local outlet that sells Eton shirts and Canali chinos. There’s nothing wrong with these shops, but their chief selling point is convenience - they’re largely providing local access to bigger brands like Moncler, Paul Smith or Ralph Lauren Polo, and selling based on that brand appeal.
Independent stores sell off their own personality. Their range is based on the tastes and interests of their founders. And without the burden of bureaucracy that comes with being part of a chain they can take chances, breaking brands into a market based on nothing more than a feeling - a never-ending quest for something interesting and new.
Because they’re not relying on big brands they also often spend more time telling stories, and are more deeply invested in them; being small means everything is a risk.
Take the enigmatic owner of Trunk, Mats Klingberg (above). Trunk is such an outward representation of Mats's style and his personality. When Trunk opened no one else was selling Incotex, Boglioli or Common Projects. Today they’re everywhere, but the store still has that same aesthetic. It’s a window onto the life he leads or wants to lead. The customer senses that: the focus on travel-friendly clothing, the minimalist expression and the trinkets picked up along the way.
Or Basile and JB at Beige (below) in Paris, who in my humble opinion are the modern voice of Parisian dress sense. When you visit the store (myself and Simon were there the other week) you are immediately taken by how the store is designed. Not just the product, but how it's all put together. They were the first store I knew that sold Rocky Mountain and Doek, and now those brands are everywhere.
Actually it reminds me of a conversation I was having at Pitti with Simon, the Rubato guys, Jamie Ferguson and Alex Natt (apologies for the name dropping!).
We were talking about the importance of a symbiotic relationship between creation and curation, between brands and retailers, designers and critics. It became incredibly impassioned, because I think everyone takes this so seriously - it is the lifeblood of a healthy industry. We need stores to unearth interesting brands and take a risk on their stock, just as much as we need the people that create those things in the first place.
The only way these places will survive is if we support them as consumers.
Let me give an example. I recently took a trip to Mexico with my parents to celebrate my Mum’s birthday. For the trip my Dad needed some swim shorts, and he’s a fan of Patagonia Baggies. (I think they could be the perfect swim short, but I digress). He came and asked me where he should buy them.
Baggies are ubiquitous and can be purchased from both ASOS and Mr Porter, but as I knew my Dad wouldn’t be bothered about saving a few pounds on a pair of shorts I suggested he check out Peggs and Sons in Brighton.
I met Ian Peggs (below) during my time at Drake’s and was always impressed by the store but also by the man himself, his no-nonsense approach; he didn’t fluff and make grandiose statements about buying and then not follow through. He knew his business and what he could do and couldn’t. (Peggs also had some of the more interesting colours of Baggies, ideal for a tropical vacation!)
The shorts arrived the next day nicely wrapped. The service was excellent and timely. Now e-commerce can be a great leveller, enabling small stores to compete with the big boys, but it’s also easier for bigger players to offer discounts, or free shipping.
It's important to remember that behind that website is a small store that may need the extra pounds to pay for their store, which can be a gateway for guys to get into clothes in a particular city, provide a level of community that can’t be replicated online, and add a different voice to the world of menswear.
In order to try and help PS readers support these good, independent menswear stores, I though I’d list a few of my favourites.
The list below is by no means conclusive, so if you have any to add please do so in the comments. Some may also be more focused on styles that do not relate to you, for example by being more casual. But I think it’s important to include them - most of us will at some point need some shorts like Baggies or a Sunspel T-shirt, so why not buy through them?
Not all independent stores are worth celebrating, and some bigger stores are great too.
But the UK used to have a thriving independent scene and it increasingly doesn’t. Small stores have closed, bigger ones like Oi Polloi are going too, and the ones left are often turning to own-brand products or taking fewer risks, simply stocking what someone else has made popular. Ultimately monopolies are no friend of the consumer.
Here are my personal favourites in the UK. Feel free to list others elsewhere in the world, but bear in mind my points about what makes an independent select store - the unique brands, the point of view. And support this crucial part of what makes menswear enjoyable and vibrant.
Trunk - PS favourite, located in Chiltern St, London. Trunk delivers on modern classic menswear, with a mix of tailoring brands and more interesting casual wear options such as Arpenteur.
Peggs and Sons - Based in Brighton, Peggs sells premium menswear on the more casual end of the spectrum. Though it does have some more elusive brands for the UK, such as Visvim, Kapital and Arc'teryx Veilance.
Dicks - Located in Edinburgh and previous winner of a PS award, Dicks has been selling high-quality casual clothing for a while now. Think practical but well-made things such as Harley shetlands and Valstar
Kafka - Another Scottish menswear outpost, in Aberdeen and focusing on the workwear end of things, stocking Yuketen, Orslow, Snow Peak.
Local Merchants - Recently opened store in Leigh on Sea; when I spoke to them last they were trying to find brands that don't have a presence in the UK, which ended up with them becoming the first UK stockist of Informale and trouser brand Berwich.
The Bureau Belfast - Iconic menswear store with some niche selections. Their Alden Collabs are a thing of legend. They also have a special Engineer Garments line.
All Blues Co - Mano the proprietor has been digging up South Korean brands for the last few years and mixing it with classic French workwear - think Vetra jackets and JM Westons.
Clutch - Known and loved as the London outpost for all things Japanese-y. Heavy on the workwear and cowboy angle but also some classic replicas and Scottish knits.
This is a unique and a fantastic post.
Thank you for giving Belfast and Northern Ireland a mention here, The Bureau Belfast … great!!!
Thank you Lindsay!
For those who live in London or visit regularly and are familiar with Chiltern Street, I’d be curious to hear their thoughts on the proliferation of independent (mainly menswear-focused) stores there. It feels like a new shop is popping up there every week or so and, while they all have their own identities, there are enough of them now that some of the clothing being sold feels a little bit homogeneous. It’s a far cry from when Trunk opened up – I wonder if this many independent shops can thrive in such close proximity to each other.
Do you think they feel that similar Alex? I don’t really feel that, but maybe it’s just being closer to them or there more often.
Does anyone else feel the Trunk look is a tiny bit dated now? The slim cuts and luxe sneakers, for instance? My common projects feel out of step a little.
Bit sad to see Oi Polloi go, although when I heard a few months ago that JD had bought them out this might happen. Lovely selection of shops there, I’ve not heard of Local Merchants before so will have a look
Hi Darren, great! Glad you found someone new through the article!
Think you captured all of my “go-to”.
Clearly on the more denim oriented end of the spectrum there’s Rivet & Hide and Son of a Stag.
I don’t think there’s been a loss anymore than there has been a gain of these multi-brand independents. I think there’s one called Badgers in Brighton which stocks G Star etc, there’s also Profile, and that’s really my point, the market for what a PS reader is likely to find appealing is so small and typically the product so much more expensive that you’re going to have a reducing number of outlets that can survive to specifically service that niche in the first place.
Fun read anyhow.
Rivet and Hide and Son of Stag are great shops!
I completely understand your point on the niche-ness of the interest as well which is why I wanted to write this piece as I think its important to try and shout about the guys who are doing it.
Some stores stick with what they like and what they see as “style” which is entirely subjective anyway and then others follow the market, nothing wrong with either tactic in my eyes first and foremost you are a business owner and if you can’t sell the stock you have that leads to not surviving.
This really is a fantastic post, thank you for highlighting the fact that it is in fact ultimately the consumer who misses out in a narrow monopoly. Slightly tangential – I’m fortunate to have a family house in rural Italy and there is zero problem like this. Literally every small local town has somewhere you can find independent retail for, inter alia, good and interesting men’s clothing. Do you have an explanation for the difference to the UK – is it linked to more items being made in Italy, or do the Italians just have a better approach overall?(!)
From what I understand the major factors are multiple urban centres in Italy (France has a similar problem, with one bit city in Paris, like London in the UK) and the way land ownership works. For menswear the number of Italian (brands and makers) certainly helps, but there are a lot of tradtitonal British brands and makers that get most attention in Japan, or sometimes in multibrand shops elsewhere
I hadn’t realised Oi Polloi had closed. Having visited the store and purchased online from them on a number of occasions, I always found them to have an interesting selection of brands and pieces that didn’t seem to be available elsewhere. Hopefully they will find a way to relaunch at some point.
I used to live close to Trunk, it was my introduction to brands such as Arpenteur, Barena and Gitman Vintage.
Have also purchased from Kafka, The Bureau and Peggs and Sons. Always found the customer service (online rather than in person) to be excellent, and on the rare occasion when I have had to exchange items, it is always done quickly and with a personal touch.
As a Midlander, I would add Liquor Store Clothing in Birmingham. They always have a great collection and carry smaller labels that you don’t come across in many other places. The team that run the shop are incredibly friendly, welcoming and knowledgeable. There is never any pressure on you, and they get to know their regular customers and the style of clothing you like.
I think choosing an independent store is similar to choosing a tailor, find one you like with great people, which represents how you like to dress, understands your taste and shares a common approach to clothing in general.
Good suggestion on Liquor Store, thank you for adding. Agree about the personal touch it is something bigger companies are constantly trying to replicate but ultimately it is hard to!
I don’t agree with the article which is, in my opinion, rather elitist and patronising. There are lots of independent menswear stores around the country that sell the brands mentioned above plus others. In London, there are several that have mentioned regularly by commenters on PS. Examples that spring immediately to mind are John Simons, Brycelands, Stuarts London, William Crabtree, Cordings, American Classics, Son Of A Stag and Nigel Cabourn. Btw, Dymchurch Lifestyle in Northampton, a footwear retailer, has the biggest range of Paraboot that I’m aware of.
Around the country, the independents serve as the main retail outlets for international brands such as RM Williams, Gant, Hugo Boss, Hilfiger, Brax, Fynch-Hatton, Robert Charles, Seidensticker, Olymp, Florentino, Giordano, Eton, Meyer and Falke. My local menswear store is a classic example and the stock (several of those brands) certainly reflects the personality of its owner. Most of it is not to my taste but (like the most PS readers) I’m not the target market. Having survived the pandemic, the business model obviously still works. The owner should be congratulated rather than dismissed as a local convenience store.
Gary, the article is about multibrand stores – so not Brycelands, Cabourn, William Crabtree, Cordings. But as Lucas says, it is a personal list and by no means complete. Thanks for the useful additions.
As to local shops that sell bigger brands, Lucas specifically says there’s nothing wrong with them. They’re just not the focus, and while I’m sure some do have great personality, they don’t tend to in the same way as the stores selling brands no one has heard of.
It’s significant that you associate “great personality” with “brands no one has heard of”. If know one has heard of those brands, it must be a massive challenge to sell them which probably explains the decline of stores that sell them. Brand recognition is a hugely important in establishing a retail business. Customers tend to stick with brands they and their peers know and trust.
It maybe easier for brand owners to display “great personality” by establishing stores close to their target markets, e.g. Brycelands, Nigel Cabourn and SEH Kelly. That, however, is no guarantee as Private White VC and the Real McCoy have shut their London stores recently. That would suggest that not enough people had heard of them. Perhaps you can provide more information on their demise.
FYI, Cordings is an actually multi-brand store: it sells Grenfell, Schoffel, Le Chameau and Tusting. It certainly has a very distinct personality which reflects the ownership of Eric Clapton and Noll Uloth who rescued the company and turned the business around. The same applies to Oliver Brown under the ownership of Kristian Ferner Robson. IIRC he bought it following a huge theft and insurance problem. They are competing in a hugely competitive market with multi-brand retailers in London and around the country.
I know the background to both McCoy’s and PWVC closing but can’t really talk about it publicly. It certainly didn’t have anything to do with brand recognition.
Shops like Oi Polloi were very successful for a long time by being the first with new brands. It’s only more recently that this has been a problem.
Cordings certainly sells other brands but it’s not what anyone would call a multibrand store.
I feel the closure of McCoy’s is a real loss. It was a wonderful shop.
Me too. They are planning a return in one way or another though
That certainly wasn’t my intention, as Simon mentions this wasn’t meant to be a complete list just some of my favourites and hopefully a resource for people in the UK and visiting the UK to be able to search out some interesting menswear. Please feel free to add any of the stores you know off so readers can find them in the future.
American Classics above is a good shout
Agreed an icon! And John Simons.
Starting a comment with elitist and patronising is lazy writing and is in itself elitist and patronising. We can disagree without, in my opinion, being mildly insulting. I wouldn’t take it seriously or be put off Lucas. It was an excellent OP on your part.
Good morning..excellent article..in my hometown suburb of NYC I buy all of my suits from a local store..the service is excellent and the atmosphere is outstanding..alterations 4 me is free..why you ask????the owners say because i treat them with great respect..manners as we know is so important…everyone enjoy your week. Peace
Thank you for your comment, sounds like an ideal way to shop!
Totally agree. Good manners are free, go a long way and should always be appreciated.
Great read – enjoyed it very much
Thank you Ted!
Such a relevant issue! And a great piece. I think the point about online retail is especially key, as that extra 10 pounds to buy from someone who cannot compete with the big guns is probably well spent. Might a list of these shops be added to the PS website, alongside a short resume brands stocked? Might be a logistical nightmare but would be really useful! Especially if the list could added to as and when!
Glad you enjoyed the article, I think for the moment the plan is to leave it here and see how the comment recommendations go. As you mention the logistics of keeping those sort of pages up to date is tough!
I’d like to give Indigo & Cloth a shout out. They are located in the heart of Dublin and do a nice job in curating a small line up of brands that you don’t get everywhere.
Another good recommendation, I met with those guys at a fair but was unable to visit the shop, just seen their website, looks like things are going well for them which is good!
May as well chuck in Cultizm
Interested to hear your thoughts on the ‘evolution’ of END clothing. From (arguably) at the forefront of streetwear, to being acquired by private equity, and now seemingly adopting a ‘SELL EVERYTHING’ approach (their website has 10,443 tee shirts!). In my opinion they’ve lost their way, but there are still big queues outside the store near Carnaby Street and they have strong relationships with major brands for collaborations. Do you think the hype train may die off quickly like brands such as Supreme, or can one size fit all and they take on the major department stores like Selfridges?
Thats a great question but it might have to be a story for another day!
I think the main difference with a company the size of End is the data they can collect and how they segment it for targeting email adverts etc. They can show you a very small section of what they have to reduce the overwhelm that they know you will be interested in.
Just last Wednesday I noticed a new menswear shop has opened near me, Uniform Buffalo. On the glass they list some of the brands they stock (Merz B. Schwanen, 3Sixteen, Superga, Stan Ray) which caught my eye. I went in on Thursday and it was good chatting to the guy, they’re very much still unboxing in there but there was a clear aesthetic goal and he had knowledge, I very much hope he succeeds and will see about buying something at some point.
Great! Glad to hear about a new store, hopefully it goes well for them!
I was going to post to shout out this place too! I only found it a few months ago when I was walking along that road getting depressed at how bland and unappealing all the stores are in Chelmsford’s supposedly “higher end” shopping street. Just chain stores selling mass-produced fast-fashion posing as luxury. Then saw this place had opened advertising a load of brands in the window like the ones you mention, that I read about on PS but rarely get the chance to see in the wild outside of London.
Anyway, it’s my go-to now, and if I want to buy something from one of the brands they stock I go and get it there, even though the fact I only get into town once a week at the most means it’s often a slower process that ordering online. When a shop like this comes along it’s worth going out of your way to support it.
Looking forward to visiting the shop up the road in Leigh, now the article has made me aware of it, too!
Do you know how he is for ordering things in that he doesn’t have in stock from one of the brands? Most of his Stan Ray things were the made in Turkey items which he said were better made and finished, but I prefer the colour of some of the MiUS items, particularly the sateen ones.
A very interesting article and love letter to independent menswear shops. I was surprised and saddened by the Oi Polloi closure. I don’t live in Manchester so have only seen the really interesting range online- one of the few UK stockists of Kaptain Sunshine (interestingly also stacked by Pegg and Son and hopefully will stock the coats again this year). I didn’t realise they were owned by JD Sports so technically less of an independent when they closed.
Whilst I agree we should support independents of various types of stores where we can, there is a significant downward pressure on disposable income for many people at the moment, which makes for a challenging retail environment.
For me personally investing in some good outerwear from Coherence, The Real McCoys or Drake’s OCBD shirts, is balanced, for example, by a perfectly wearable denim shirt from Uniqlo. I would never consider north of £250 for same. That said we should do what we reasonably can.
A good list of suggestions, I particularly like All Blues Co, where the – to me – unknown Korean brands look great and at a competitive price point re my point above on disposable income.
A couple of honourable mentions from me: 1) The Curated Man (and Woman) in Richmond Surrey (inc. Frizmworks, Monocle Eyewear, Woolrich). 2) John Simons on Chiltern St London, specifically for keeping Ivy alive and relevant and the collars soft!
Thanks again Lucas and hopefully you’ll grace PS with another article in the not to distant future.
All the best.
Thank you so much, glad you enjoyed the article, I completely agree with the mixing of the two shopping styles. And nice recommendations definitely both worth checking out!
Fab article, and I completely agree. This feels like another local pub conversation: I want a local pub, don’t go to it, and then complain when it closes. The reality of smaller men’s stores are that things may seem expensive, in the sense that similar clothes can be sourced elsewhere for less, but they need to invest in having staff who know what they are talking about and be able to take a risk and stock new ranges. These can’t come for free. Once they go, they go, and then what?
Haha yes its a classic conundrum! If not me then who?
In response to both Charles and Stephen S comments with regards customers ‘investing’ in local independents (whether fashion or other areas of retail and hospitality). This is a really key conversation at the moment I feel. As mentioned, if people are either not willing or able to spend money, these places cease to exist. I completely understand and appreciate that for many, spending a three figure sum or more on an item of clothing is simply not a reality. However, for those fortunate enough to still be able to do so, I think we do need to carry on supporting independent business where we can. As Stephen says, balancing out investment pieces with more affordable everyday items is a good way to proceed. I know I am not in a position to buy several pieces each year (as much as I would love to), but if I can look to pick up a couple of new items then it helps.
What about John Simmons?
I presume you mean Simons, Noel? Yes, mentioned above by readers, a great addition
Rhodes Wood(Harrogate) is perhaps better known for tailoring,but the shop is well worth a visit .They often have quite an eclectic range of luggage.
Michael Jondral for those of us not uk based (which I realise is not the point of the article)but sits well with the other companies mentioned.
I’ll echo your comment about Rhodes Wood. As Leeds, once the capital of the British tailoring industry is now a menswear desert it’s good to have it nearby.
With the notes or exception of All Blues of course!
I’ve had some bad experience from the stores in your list. While pre-sale customer service is great, the post-sale customer service (at least 4 of those stores) is absolutely terrible. Returning items is a fuss, resolving issues with wrong orders, mistakes, damaged items is made difficult. And the stores always hide behind the ‘We’re a small business…’ defense. I also regularly buy from Mr Porter, Matches etc, and while product knowledge may not be half as good, if something goes wrong, and it has done on several occasions, the resolution is incredibly swift and fuss-free. I will now only buy from these independent stores if they stock an item/brand which cannot be bought elsewhere.
Thanks Zo. I’m offering no excuse for bad service, but bear in mind that those bigger shops have much bigger customer teams, and can also afford to essentially take losses – for example, by sending you a new item before they’ve received the one that is to be replaced, risking it not coming back or coming back damaged.
Again, I’m not excusing anything that was actually really bad, but allowing some more leeway for small shops’ timelines is part of the same point – if you don’t, all you’ll be left with is places like Amazon, and prioritising convenience over everything else.
Sure, agreed, some leeway is to be allowed. But on two occasions, I found the shops putting the onus of a damaged/missing item on me (the customer). On two more occasions I found the shops fussing over returns and timelines, only to be reminded about UK consumer law. I recall having to pull out Royal Mail receipts and tracking signatures and what not, which was very annoying. A couple of times I’ve had the wrong item or the wrong amount refunded, and I’ve had to write 10 emails just to get it corrected. And each time the apology comes with ‘we’re a small business..’ excuse. All of this just sours the experience.
I can certainly see that Zo, and it sounds like much of that has no excuse. As long as you are genuinely giving them leeway that’s always going to be fine. Just keep in mind what you’re comparing them too – eg a good small company, not a massive one
“Independent stores sell off their own personality”. Or, in the case of nouveau Drakes, it sells off the personality of RL Rugby.
It seems that Drake’s is copying large parts of the Polo Ralph Lauren and RRL ranges too. Then there are the bizarre collaborations with the likes of Aime Leon Dore. The D flag logo is hideous and further demonstrates how the brand has lost its way in recent years.
It’s pretty narrow to say they’re copying Ralph ranges, Gary, especially as the ALD products, whether you like them or not, are often quite different from RL
I stopped buying from Drakes about 6 years ago. Quality falling and prices rising is not a good equation.
I thought that my comment was clear that IMO the ALD products are quite different from the rest of the range. ALD apart, Drake’s casual range is similar to Ralph Lauren’s (e.g. rugby shirts and corduroy shorts) but often even more expensive.
The other products are similar, and also more expensive, to those of other retailers, e.g. William Crabtree and Anglo Italian. It’s hard to see how Drake’s adds value. Losing previously loyal customers, like me and David G below, is a risky strategy.
Thanks Gary, apologies I misunderstood on the ALD reference.
Totally second Gary’s comment. Drake’s lost the way, and it is a very sad thing for those who appreciated what their initial incarnation brought to the table. Do you not see this change, Simon?
I absolutely see the change in manufacturers and the price increases. I know though they went through a tough time and, like a few brands in the past few years, things like this and the number of sales were driven by necessity rather than desire. They’re gradually doing fewer of them.
I guess it’s also important to separate the style from the quality/price points. Much of what they do (eg sweats and the ALD collabs) isn’t my taste, and I miss that, but it’s also a different question. We should also bear in mind that there are far more smaller brands doing that kind of clothing now than when Drake’s started – it’s much easier to access.
I also think they still do some genuinely great, unique products, like the games blazer I have which is the best I’ve seen of that type anywhere (even if, again, expensive)
For Stockholm you have Nitty Gritty (more urban) and Second Sunrise (more denim/workwear), great stores, great curations(!) and great staff!
Very important article. Support your local (or not even local) independent. I have always admired Trunk, very much like Kafka and know the guys behind The Local Merchants.
Shopping in great independents was a rite of passage in my earlier years – running the gauntlet of too cool for school staff in Jones in Floral St, Duffer in Covent Garden, Moda 3 in Bermondsey (a great little shop in a very non traditional retail environment, that later moved to Blackheath), missing conference lectures to walk the then great shopping streets of Nottingham, buying Issey Miyake in Square in Bath, Andersons in Emerson Park (my first venture into Stone Island, Boss, Emporio Armani), and the menswear floor of Liberty which was always (and still is) more like an independent menswear store.
Plus similar shops in Europe, like A Gi Emme in Como, and Harrison Oscar Edition in Bergamo.
Maybe look a little further. It’s really sad news about Oi Polloi, they were fantastic but there are still fantastic proper independent menswear stores out there. Your list is the usual suspects. Canopy in Derby has been going over 30 years stocking cool Indy brands way before many other bigger stores stocked them, plus it’s family run so a real personal touch. I hope OP come back in a different guise and can recreate what they were as recently it just wasn’t the same.
Firstly, thank you for the enjoyable read Lucas.
Of the many shops I’ve bookmarked here are my favourites which all have a very clear vision and are possibly lesser known than others. They all do a good job of showing how, outside of formal contexts, wearing tailoring nowadays is a spectrum. I think the below are good examples along that spectrum ranging from unique colours and design details to alternatives like tebas and workwear etc.
Wools Boutique Uomo, Rome: Classic but different. Amazing vast selection of Francesco Marino ties, Caruso tailoring (all with jetted pockets), outerwear including Schneiders loden coats, more Caruso and Valstar. Rounded out by Rota trousers, Cruciani Knitwear etc.
l’officine Paris, Paris: Similar but some more informal/unique items. Ex. tebas and work jackets. More own brand items, but also tailoring from Luigi Melluso who I did not know before, Lardini. Good selection of RTW Neapolitan trousers and colourful accessories.
Garodkin, Frederiksberg: Like a capsule for tailoring on an Italian vacation. Extremely curated selection with just a handful of items in each category but from great makers in great materials and colours. Orazio Luciano, Stile Latino, Edward Green. In the winter the likes of Sealup peacoats as well.
Bec-Fin, Toulouse: Slightly more workwear like a French Frans Boone. Alden, Tricker’s to Italian shoes/sneakers. Baracuta, L’impermeabile and Aspesi outerwear. Tailoring from Lardini, Tagliatore, Doppiaa, The Gigi. Bennett Winch bags. Italian and Scottish knitwear. Fortela and Haikure Jeans.
I’d add in https://recallclothing.com/ in Geneva. Mostly work wear but good quality well sourced stuff – Stevenson, Viberg, GRP and the like.
owner is also very knowledgeable and engaging.
What a great article.
I first became interested in clothes in 1964 and growing up in the North East during the mod era saw me a regular at Newcastle’s Marcus Price.
This fabulous boutique was owned and curated by its namesake who had impeccable taste and was always the first to bring great brands to the region. From Levi’s and Ben Sherman thru’ to YSL and Armani, it was always Marcus who launched first and who fastidiously helped the happy few develop their own style which always reflected his own impeccable taste.
His boutique in Grey street was the go to hangout for the NE’s flaneurs. Bryan Ferry and The Animals were all regulars and of course, when Bob Dylan visited it was no surprise when Alan Price brought him in to introduce him to the scene. Naturally he departed with a jacket that he proudly sported that very evening at his City Hall concert.
Everybody revelled in Marcus modernity and his bonhomie. He could talk to everybody about everything and his interests ranged from music to football, art and food. His contribution to the regions cultural development was significant.
He ran his business for more than three decades and when he retired, the business folded.
Of course, we have lost something hugely important with the demise of these iconic multi brand outlets and they certainly will never return. Sadly Mr Porter and the cyber world will never be as interesting or indeed as much fun. Halcyon days. We had the best of it.
This Thing of Ours in Manchester won’t be for many readers here (it’s gorp / tech vibe) but they have an authenticity and style which reminds me of Oi Polloi of yesteryear.
MAN 1924 (España).
Well, a lot of these places sell expensive clothing which is part of the problem. They are selling to a niche crowd willing to pay those prices. Coupled with the current world economy, inflation, and, perhaps mismanagement, I can see why these shops are struggling or closing.
That’s definitely part of the problem, though a lot of online places (such as Mr Porter) are doing very well selling expensive clothing too
Simon, do you think that is in large part due to the much wider global reach of an online company such as Mr Porter (or END Clothing as another example)?
If people are still buying clothing at the higher end, price wise, it would be interesting to know why they would choose online rather than a local shop (obviously factoring in those who do not have easy access to a store that carries brands they are interested in).
You would think that the customer service, ability to see/try clothes in person, the overall retail experience, would outweigh the apparent ‘ease’ of online shopping, particularly for those of us who take a lot of interest in our clothing (as I would expect the majority of Mr Porter, and similar online retail customers would do).
True. I think some of it is the fact that, although products on Mr Porter are expensive, they’re mostly selling off the brand power of others, and brands that don’t need that much explanation or personal involvement.
It will also be interesting to see how the space plays out as competition increases online.
MrPorter also does high/low retail very well and due to the initial tag price of clothing and the nature of the brands retailed they can do some pretty aggressive sales.
I don’t think it’s the best comparison for the article but appreciate you didn’t raise.
Mr Porter has the huge benefit of being part of a huge conglomerate to support it, especially in hard times. Going by the lack of brands on the website in recent months, it seems that The Rake is doing very badly at selling expensive clothing online. Any thoughts on that, Simon?
The Rake has its own particular problems. They bought far too much and got into cash-flow problems. They still owe a lot to small makers
Good point. Mr Porter, however have huge reach and excellent marketing well beyond the reach of smaller independents. That said some of the stuff seems eye watering expensive designer brand (by which I mean the bigger more established brands)) items.
I’d add John Simons on Chiltern Street and Burrows & Hare in Oxford as personal favourites. I’m a big fan of All Blues – well worth a trip to Leeds.
I hope I find you well!
I can’t help but notice that you have not still got a piece nor reviewed Steed Bespoke Tailors and Redmayne 1860. Their attention to detail and craftsmanship is truly exceptional, resulting in suits that not only exude elegance but also fit flawlessly. And I can bravely say that their work and cut, in recent times, are even better than Anderson and Sheppard’s and they deserve a proper appreciation.
I will be very glad if you fulfil that request of mine.
Fantastic article, and so true that the most successful are those that bring the owner’s personality to the offer, not just the big brands
The Bureau in Belfast is definitely a place to avoid,total disinterest in the customer,
in fact if you want to be totally ignored The Bureau is the place to go ,it is a shame
as they have some great products.
Colony Clothing in Singapore have done an outstanding job of creating a fantastic independent menswear experience in a city dominated by high end designer retail. They have introduced many interesting brands to Singapore and developed an eclectic selection of styles that cater for a small but growing discerning cohort of men (and women) in Singapore. I’m not affiliated with the store or even live there anymore but they were a breath of fresh air and delight to deal with when I was there.
Maplestore in Balmain and Newtown in Sydney, Australia. Pop in if you’re here. Lots of other independent stores in Newtown.
Also Blue Works in Darling Harbour/Haymarket. Plenty others that Sydney locals could post too…
Oxford Shirt Company in Burford is worth a look.
Great piece Lucas, you certainly speak from a place of knowledge on this subject.
We all need to support independent stores (and like your father) overlook the discounting and free shipping bigger brands can offer.
The truth is landlords and the government need to do their bit too to allow independent stores (be it clothing, records, food etc) to survive in their first few years while they build their client base and refine their offering. Rents and rates are just too high and with all the best efforts many just do not survive as soon financial realities take hold.
Landlords need to look at easing brands in with scalable rent packages, or a mixture of commission / rent agreements to get these small companies started. It sounds like those overseeing Chiltern St have the right idea but I’m only guessing.
Looking forward to your next article.
Glad you enjoyed it Jolyon! I agree the rents are incredibly difficult to get around especially when landlords look for short term gain.
For those of your readers that have occasion to be in New York City, I wanted to recommend a visit to a delightful men’s store in Brooklyn called Kai D. Utility. (kaidutility.com). The address is 230 Grand Street, in the Williamsburg neighborhood – just one stop across the East River on the L line. I purchased a Mondrian jacket, beautifully made of heavy dark green linen. Kai D, the owner and designer, was most helpful and made me feel welcome. His clothes are all made in New York City. I will return in the fall to purchase his Shoreline coat with a waxed outer surface.
While not cheap, his clothes are a great value, well made, original and unusual designs and materials.
His site advertises “Tools & Clothing for Artisans.” He carries a small line of sketching pencils, notebooks, and stationary. I bought several soft lead sketching pencils that I have found to be perfect for sketching. And he does have some great accessories so I had to get a bandana.
It is an unusual store in a great neighborhood, near some great restaurant.
I’d no idea Oi Polloi was owned by JD Sports and sad to read it’s gone. I like the post and the knowledge of menswear very much and I’m going to visit some of the stores up when I’m in London next.
JD sports also bought the independent store Wellgosh in Leicester during the pandemic as it did with Oi Polloi. It helped it expand into Nottingham and Birmingham then in the last few months closed down the whole business. There’s been a change in leadership at JD in the last year and these events look like a result of that. It seems that soon when ever you walk into a high street shop in the UK it’s going to be a business owned by either JD sports, Frasers group or Next.
Yes between JD and Sports Direct they went on a sweep over the last 5-10 years and have hoovered up so many great independants.
One of the most important articles I’ve read in a long time. It should be expanded to cover other countries. For London itself, I think I would have included Anglo-Italian for its tasteful point of view.
Thank you Bruce, and that would be a great project. Worth noting we were only talking about multibrand stores here. Perhaps that could have been clearer
Honoured, thank you Bruce!
Great article, and a really important one too. Small, independent shops like the ones you mention here play such an important part in the community/eco-system of men’s clothing/fashion/whatever you want to call it. In a world where having an online only setup might well be the most economical (profitable?) approach, these provincial outposts do so much heavy lifting for the menswear scene outside of London.
From personal experience, living in Leeds and stumbling across All Blues was a bit of a gateway into a more considered and discerning take on men’s clothes. Being able to stop by the shop, chat with the owner over a coffee and just let the aesthetic “wash over” me (without wanting to sound too pretentious!) constantly introduces me to new brands and ideas. It led me down the path of Cordovan Aldens, Resolute Jeans, niche Korean Brands- but maybe more importantly a deeper appreciation for quality and craftsmanship. I just wouldn’t have developed this in the same way browsing blogs and shopping online. Massive respect to All Blues and all the other small, independent retailers for fighting the good fight!
Thank you Finn! Glad you enjoyed it. I think your story echos the point of when you have access in these areas it can really add a third dimension rather than just looking at pictures online and then the products appear!
Very good article and I agree wholeheartedly. As a Manchester resident I was very sorry to see Oi Polloi shut down (you’d have to blame the curse of mainstream ownership who don’t ‘get’ menswear). I hope it relaunches. Elsewhere, good to see All Blues in Leeds get a mention. Definite point of view there. Quite a few independents go all-in for workwear so it’s nice to see an outlet taking a very different tack (not sure what the right term is – ‘global ivy’, maybe?). There is such a thing as creativity in retail. A piece from the heart. Thanks to Lucas.
Thank you Sao, glad you enjoyed it.
HI Lucas and Simon, I suspect there may be greater emotional value when clothes are bought from many of the clearly well loved multiband shops mentioned above, leading to more considered purchases that are destined to be cherished/ repaired . by their loyal customers.
So glad to see All Blues here. Genuinely don’t think there’s a shop like it in the UK; you can get Westons and Alden in the same place as esoteric Korean brands no one else carries, it’s fantastic.
Hi Lucas. Enjoyed your article. I wasn’t aware of Local Merchants who are quite close to me. As an addition to your list how about the Academy in St Ives ?
Yes Academy is a very nice little shop in a gorgeous town, great addition!
I recall two pivotal moments that changed how I dressed. One was the casual purchase of “Gentleman, A Timeless Fashion” by Bernhard Roetzel in a book shop in Bath during a weekend city break. The other was coming across Oi Polloi’s website in the early 2000s. It is easy to forget her fresh Oi Polloi’s approach was back then. The fantastic weekly newsletters updating you on new brands. The chance to leave written feedback on every purchase. Of course, none of this would have made any difference if the brands they were stocking did not live up to the hype, but of course they did. Woolrich, Norrona, Fjallraven, Engineered Garments, Filson, Yuketen, Gitman Brothers, to name but a few, were all new names to me, but a definite upgrade on what I had been wearing. As some have mentioned it did change, but what a pioneer in those early days. You sensed that staff were wearing what they sold and cared about what they were doing. I sometimes wonder if their commitment to quality might have played a part in their downfall, in that everything lasted a lot longer. I am still wearing many things I bought from them, and they have only got better with age. It is sad to hear they have gone, but in some ways they set the benchmark for what to expect from an independent. Thank you for this piece Lucas. A nice trip down memory lane.
Glad you enjoyed sounds like a similar journey to me re Gentleman to Oi Polloi pipeline!
I am still endeavouring to find a balance between the two Lucas. Permanent Style is definitely helping!
A vote for Canopy in Derby – still fighting the good fight for the independents – have web site but not as extensive as store stock
“ It’s the economy stupid”. Retail is suffering from less money in peoples pockets & higher costs being past to the consumer. Independent retailers are particularly vulnerable & in recent years their prices to customers have escalated & customers are deciding to visit them less or downgrade their budget. Drake’s seem to r3cognise a less buoyant market with a reduced spring/ summer range.
I think that’s only a minor part of the problem, Steve, as this trend has been going on for at least 20 years
I could not agree more with the sentiment of this article. Kafka is a great favourite of mine but often shop in some of the other independents you mention. What they all offer is something a little out of the ordinairy, an opportunity to buy clothes that enable me to express something of my personality and creativity. And that is where so much of the fun of menswear lies.
Nicely put Jo
So sad to hear that Oi Polloi is closing. Thank you for the list. I totally agree with it being worth it, choosing the independent store vis a vis the major ecommerce or departement stores. Especially if you have been to and feel a certain relationship to the brick’n’ mortar, but even if you have not I so much more enjoy the ”shopping experience” online from a well curated indie store. I live in Sweden, but do still shop stuff from UK stores, despite added post-brexit hassle. Sometimes from places I have visited and often times from those that I just like the curation and overall vibe of.
And here are the three Stockholm stores that I think are doing it the best:
— Nitty Gritty
— Lund & Lund
Enjoyable on location and online!
Great article – and too bad to hear about Oi Polloi. Not my style, but a great retail store with a tight story.
Overall, I have always been puzzled by the lack of menswear retailers in the UK, and in London in particular. Trunk is lovely, but for a city the size and global nature of London, shouldn’t there be at least 10 or 15 similar stores, compared to other markets?
Take Japan for example, where even secondary Japanese cities have United Arrows (with its sub-brand retail formats), Strasburgo, Beams (also multiple formats), Ships, Edifice, Isetan Men’s, all carrying a mix of streetwear, tailored clothing as well as the more popular of the Italian ‘sartorial casual’ brands like PT01, Rota, Lardini, Boglioli, Finamore, Bolzonella, Danolis etc plus a myriad of options for shoes, belts, socks, ties, bags and other accessories in different styles and levels of formality etc.
Even in Germany, not really known for its sartorial prowess, you have multi-story menswear-only retailers like Braun, Eckerle or Breuninger that carry a good selection of the above brands (in addition to the ‘usual suspects’ like Canali, Eton etc) While they don’t fit the definition of this article, they at least make these brands available.
And of course Italy, which was mentioned by another reader.
Is there simpy no (local and global) demand in London, or are there structural barriers that make it difficult for stores to carry a slighly broader edit of brands – not quite the indie store of the article, but also not the mono-brand and store-label desert of most department stores and high streets?
Have a look at the top of these comments, Torsten, we did talk about this. It’s mostly the way real estate works and the concentration of the UK in London, though also there is less of a tradition in the UK of this sort then most foreigners realise. Traditional clothing is more embedded in places like Spain and Italy, despite the UK’s traditions and manufacturing
Lovely article. I’ve a soft spot for Tonic on Portobello Road – introduced me to John Smedley and Japanese denim, and started me on the journey to better, high quality menswear. And the owner is a lovely. Further afield I stumbled on Uniform Research in Woodbridge, Suffolk and spent a happy hour on holiday there. Just a lovely discovery. And then the shopkeeper store (https://www.theshopkeeperstore.com/) with its ethos “To offer a handpicked collection of products from around the globe, with a focus on quality and craftsmanship”
A good article to start with, thanks Lucas and a useful list is building up here.
A couple of other stores to consider are Porters in Harrogate and, again in Harrogate, Lynx.
I’m going to say something that I imagine could be controversial here – The service at Clutch is mostly awful .
Perhaps if you’re a menswear personality, wholesaler, or patron with extremely deep pockets they are nicer, but they have sadly created an incredibly unfriendly environment where they follow you around the store , with a unique suspiciousness, sigh constantly if you do not immediately purchase something worth 6 months rent and try quite a hard sell at the public mirror.
Private cubicles to assess the items you are considering purchasing should be as standard and this applies to rivet and hide , son of stag and others too.
For me, if this is what shopping independent is like, I will often choose larger, more private stores where I can make less pressured decisions.
Sadly, Have to agree on this as I’ve bought a couple of great items there. The shop is a bit of a mess at the moment tbh. Needs a good clean and tidied up.
Although it is sad to see an independent retailer go I feel Oi Polloi made a couple of mistakes IMHO. Firstly, opening the London store. The brands they stocked were just too utilitarian for down here. Also, the staff both in London and especially Manchester were unrelentingly miserable.
A good article that will always stimulate an argument about peoples favourite stores across the country.
it clear that the industry has been going through major changes in the past 5 years. The whole JD and Sports Direct dick swinging by rivalling buying up stores got out of control and has now, with the sudden u-turn by JD, meant we have lost a good number.
I for one will not ever say anything against those stores that sold to either of the companies, many I have done business with over the past 20 years and now how hard they tried, day in day out, to keep their business going.
I predict a new boom in the UK independent but it will take a few years to develop.
I will point out the obvious attempt at subterfuge by some of the comments – quite clearly being posted by the stores themselves – to garner some kudos, and why not.