Straight off the back of celebrating its 10th anniversary, Universal Works has showcased its seasonal line-up of contemporary classics in its Spring-Summer ‘21 lookbook. The collection presents a discerning reinterpretation of staples made with an eye for today's cuts, colours and styles.
We talked to David Keyte, head of design about how SS21 was inspired.
I am not big on "seasonal themes" as you know, I prefer a slower, more considered approach to developing things; moving on enough to be interesting, but familiar enough to feel comfortable and keeping to the U.W routes. Evolving pieces from the previous season's collection, on a continuous journey rather than an entirely new "look" each season. That said, there is often a colour, smell, or event that ignites that process and informs the season's thoughts. The design process of SS21 was made during the early months of the initial lockdown. Just before the world went into a standstill, I had been on a fabric trip to India where I was sourcing our Ikat fabrics, hand-dyed cloths and vintage textiles, and working with skilled tailors on creating new pieces for the season.
I got a call from a friend who lives in Delhi and asked him to join me at the craft market. He knows all the best local spots to go to, and after a day at the market, and in the cool of an Indian February, he offered me an intriguing evening to a full-on Reggae Sound System, outdoors in a ramshackle, funky community centre in a suburb of the vast chaotic city.
The soundsystem (and the crew running it) that I came to learn were ‘Bass Foundation Roots’, blew me away. In a time of much nationalism and political isolationism in India, and globally, they played amazing reggae to a backdrop of activism. For togetherness, for tolerance, for a sense of community and BFR's slogan of "no borders, no nations, just people" along with super loud dub beats, the messages were all positive. I felt the memories of the sound systems I had seen back as a young man in Birmingham. It was more like the feeling of an early ‘The Clash’ gig in London than a party night in Delhi. To see and hear the BFR with its enormous stack of speakers outside in the dirt yard with a youthful and eager dancing Delhi crowd was a revelation. All this atmosphere, all the cool night air full of deep bass beats was inspiring, feeling new and young yet with timeless sounds.
How the inspiration from this scene transpired into a collection is both an urgent need and a controlled slow evolving thing. I tried to use those memories and feelings to guide me; I wanted some of those camouflage elements, so beloved of the 80's reggae stars yet making it peaceful and positive. I wanted matching jackets and pants, full-on sports mixed with smart soft tailoring. Mixing colours like a Caribbean island, or mixing patterns like a Bollywood film star, combining feelings and aromas like a Delhi evening. Loose and slouchy silhouettes, pairing the richness of linens and softness of Terry with the core basics of canvas and twill. Combination of denim and chambrays, loud 50's Hawaiian prints, Japanese floral shirting and Indian cotton and Paisley weaves. Add in some hippie-like seersucker textures of those laid-back dub musicians in London in the 70's and 80's in their casual coolness.
The collection is a truly global mix that celebrates how I felt that evening, a very blessed Englishman in Delhi listening to Jamaican music with old and new friends, celebrating that sometimes we don't have to have borders or nations just people.