Design, of a fashion
This clothing company have been on a journey of self-discovery and re-invention over the last year or so, changing shape and location all while trying to keep things fresh and customers happy. We had a chat with main man Christopher Gove to better understand how a small business, with one foot firmly in the design world, has coped with what 2016 & 17 had to throw at them.
Percival has changed shape, location and size over the years – how do things look for 2017 and beyond?
Since November last year we’ve had huge changes, we went from a team of 8 and a shop in Soho to a team of 3 with a website! On the face of it that looks like regression, but in fact things couldn’t be better. The shop initially allowed us to build the brand, but the logistics and manpower of a running a shop are overwhelming, the amount of times we chased theives, had leaks in the roof and rat problems – you end up running a shop and not a brand. There was no room to grow Percival because you are paying lots of wages and unforseen property overheads, and not looking at press, marketing and garment development.
We had a round of investment funding, but unfortunately at the same time as Brexit happened, noone wanted invest in anything, especially fashion! The main 4 founders (inc myself) were at a loss, then the rent on the shop went up by double so we had no choice but to close. Basically everyone decided to go off and get their lives back, buy houses, start families and pursue things that generally didn’t give them insomnia!
I decided to give it one last go and built a new website that was centered around the ethos of small special edition runs, produced every other month in London. I managed to get some good press around the launch of the new platform and its been working ever since!
I love the Japanese forest shots you created for the Cuban Collars collection. How did you go about landing on that idea & how do you realise such an idea? (presumably on a budget)
Shooting in a studio gives hyper-real context to the garments because you are recreating natural light and using such flat colours as backgrounds. With this season I really tried to play off that by adding more natural elements and ramp up the dream like quality. I’ve been using a lot of fabrics sourced and printed in Japan, I wanted to hint to their origin with a natural texture but not overpower the patterns. After a bit of research Birch logs felt like the right colour balance. We test shot in a real forest, but there’s just too many textures and changing light, it felt contrived.
You recently brought back some classic items for the Archive Room Lookbook – is this something you’ll be doing more of? Presumably you don’t hold loads of old stock – do you bring items back due to their popularity, or demand?
I tend to bring popular items back in, sometimes in different iterations, tweak colours fabrications, pocket positions etc. When something works, personally I want to wear it again or have an updated version of it. I still like to push the boundaries though, im proud of our gold velvet vincent zip jacket that sold out almost straight away! It makes me happy when people are instantly attracted to a garment, especially in menswear. It ratifies the fact im not totally mental.
How do you design new collections? (commercial considerations, trends, costs, marketing opportunity, what takes your fancy, innovating etc.)
A new collection is like any other design brief, it has to have elements of design innovation, but still be accesable to the modern man. You’ll have an outline of what’s selling, what sold well last year, what the weather did last year (ie all your own data) then balance that with what you want to wear and finally how much money you have to spend on a collection! I don’t generally look at trends, if any designer did it would probably be out of fashion by the time you finished manufacturing it. Inspiration can come in the form of many things, for a year or so ive been obssessed with 70’s sports wear. I try to take shapes and patterns from older references and ignore what competitors are doing.
‘Celeb’ endorsements are clearly important to Percival – can you tell us your thoughts on that?
Percival is a tiny brand in the grand scheme of things, if influencers, celebs and actors want to wear it thats perfectly fine with me. Any sort of exposure that cuts through the noise is great press and content. Im not sure how much it directly leads to sales, a scatter gun of demographics seeing Benedict Cumberbatch (name drop) on a talk show for example. What helps the brand more if like minded people are seeing the brand. The designers, visual horders and people who also run small business that might be reading this blog are way more relevant.