In a world that feels increasingly unstable, steady friendships bring us all a dose of much needed joy. That buzz of connecting with like-minded folk keeps our wheels turning and puts a spark in our step. Good mates make life better and over the years, Universal Works have made some belters. Those companions form the basis of our new Universal People series – On the Map. Don’t panic – we’re not swopping killer chinos for cartography – these maps are people plotting devicess and are our take on a city guide of sorts; they're a way of us sharing stories from our international community kingpins, who, in turn, use the maps to shine a light on the local businesses that make their lives brighter.
Kicking off the series is long-time UW pal and collaborator, Phil Hazel. Birmingham dwellers will already recognise the name. He’s the founder and brains behind the inimitable Liquor Store on Colmore Row. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the partnership between both brands and so to celebrate, we’ve come together to create a (very) limited edition run of 10 special garments, split across 2 iconic Universal Works styles, in two colourways a piece. These will only be available to buy at Liquor Store, so be sure to get your skates on to secure your little piece of UW history!
As Phil is officially the first cog in the UW Map machine, we thought it would be a good idea to sit down and talk about life in the midlands, all things independent menswear and grab details of the regional relationships that have made Birmingham the place we should all be visiting this summer.
With a decade of friendship under our UW belt, we thought it might be good to ask Phil to share the memories of his first encounter with Universal Works. Grinning, he remembered, “I was first introduced to David at a trade show in London. A friend who owned a store in Manchester introduced us. It was a very brief encounter, but when I opened the original Liquor Store, David dropped in to say ‘Hello’. As well as his down to earth, humble character, I was struck by the fantastic olive-green coloured worker jacket and trouser combo he was wearing – these things stick with you! We talked about my store, Universal Works and the industry in general. David had a genuine interest in me and the business I was creating. We were such a small wholesale account for them back then, but that didn’t matter –what did though, were my views and my thoughts. I met Steph a few years later (oh wow! – that woman knows how to dress) and we’ve enjoyed good chats ever since. There’s a real sense of openness with both David and Steph that makes it very easy to work with them and makes me proud to have a growing UW presence in my store.”
For the lucky types who live nearby, the Liquor Store is a haven for really great stuff. Regulars treat the place as part outfitter, part social club – an accolade that Phil is only too happy to accept. So much so, that alongside the top-notch clobber and high-end homewares (think Aesop hand-wash and mellow incense sticks) the Liquor Store has its very own speakeasy. Access is strictly invite-only; it’s definitely not the kind of place you can just stroll into and order a beer. Birmingham’s best kept secret, Phil never advertises. Instead, the bar, the glassware, the booze and the cocktail shakers stay behind (secret) closed doors until a reservation is made. With no information on social media, entry is via a phone number on the back of a playing card.
Intrigued? We twisted Phil’s arm (not literally, don’t worry) and begged him to tell us more. “Truth be told, we’d always wanted to offer this concept. I’d sampled it in New York a few times and felt it would work perfectly. Liquor Store is a community. We know our customers so well, that they’re our friends – so why not offer them a beverage? Or preferably a Mark Pickford, which is one of our Forgotten Classic Cocktails from the 1920s. We hand out the playing cards sparingly. Customers who call the number are given a secret password and instructions on what to do on arrival. We only cater for 15 guests, which keeps it small and authentic. The interior is a stark contrast to the shop; it’s dark and moody with the flicker of candlelight and jazz/blues or soul music playing softly in the background. House rules mean no photography allowed, which explains why you’ll never see what it looks like on Instagram. We want to keep it that way, so the experience stays special. I love seeing customers browsing the rails on a Saturday afternoon, trying to work out where the distant noise is coming from. If they ask – we slip them a card and say no more.”
With drinks on ice, we turn to talking about the limited-edition collaboration products. The capsule Liquor Store collection of Dockside Overshirts in Cotton/Nylon and Military Chinos in Japanese Back Sateen and Kuroki Twill, have been cut with a unisex audience in mind. Sizing stays true to the UW standard, but Phil is also keen to make clear that each piece has been designed to look great on everyone – regardless of age, or gender. Phil pointed out that
“Too many times over the years I’ve seen brands collaborating with other brands, but the end product they create together just doesn’t hit the mark. Teaming up with UW though, we know we’d be offering the customers something meaningful. Birmingham is a city that’s close to David’s heart and his upbringing – so as well as us joining forces to create a small bunch of (very) limited edition pieces (only 10 items each!) we thought it would be an excellent opportunity to shine a spotlight on some of the other brilliant independents we know and love across this sprawling city. On the Map was born!”
Over the coming months, the UW Birmingham Map will focus on five of Phil’s favourite locals in a bid to highlight the strength of true community spirit. There’s pub grub maestro Adam from The Plough at Harborne, florist extraordinaire Katy from Bloom Collective, Michelin starred Brad from Carters of Moseley, scissor wizard Dale from Hazel & Hayden and great outdoors loving Marlon from We Go Outside Too. We’ll be speaking to each inspirational entrepreneur to uncover the role of independent brands and businesses within the UK's second largest city. These handpicked members of the Liquor Store’s extended family are living proof that there’s far more to Birmingham than Cadbury’s, the Bullring and Spaghetti Junction!