Introducing “Universal Threads”: a series spotlighting "U.W classics" and exploring common threads running through each of our collections.
The format is simple: a category, a rail of products and a light-hearted conversation between U.W brand founder, David Keyte and design journalist, Leanne Cloudsdale.
For the secret enthusiasts amongst you, we also invited Leanne for a UW journal takeover, to give us some further context on what makes each of these categories so universally relevant to us. First up: Fleece.
Fleece is the original egalitarian insulator. It doesn’t give a flying Thermos flask whether you’re a hot-shot rock-climbing adrenaline junkie or just an average bloke who likes the odd country walk with a pint and some peanuts at the end as a ‘reward’. Fleece loves you for being you – and never asks for anything in return.
We’ve all got our reference points for this humble thermal friend. For me, it’s a blend of wholesome A Level geography field trip memories and blurry recollections of dancing to Xpansions in a farmer’s field at 6am. It’s hard to pinpoint who wore fleeces best during the pre-Criminal Justice Bill era. It was a toss-up between Mr Tanner (head of science) or the rave DJs playing records from the back of decommissioned ambulances.
Universal Works, Fleece swatches and sketches.
Happy Daze aside though, the 1990s were a magical moment for technical clothing. Weatherproof stuff wasn’t just for red-faced ramblers anymore, because the stay-up-all-night types had realised that a zip-up Berghaus or popper-front Patagonia were the best way to stay warm al fresco. Fleeces were brightly coloured, lightweight, moisture-resistant, unisex and comfy. Snorkel necks, elasticated cuffs and drawstring hems gave them a sporty edge; you always felt slightly athletic when you wore one (even just popping to the 24-hour garage).
Photography by Tristan O’Neill.
Speaking to David Keyte in more detail about the Universal Works fleece garments opened up a whole new level of appreciation for this timeless toasty hero. Neither of us can deny having a soft spot for a nice bit of outdoor kit, but when we get down to brass tacks, it’s clear the pair of us are maniacs for layering. David and I bang on enthusiastically about the versatility and reliability of fleece for the first in a series of films about iconic Universal Works styles. With the chills of December upon us, kicking off with fleece seemed like a good move, so we set up a rail and got chatting.
As a Generation X kid who steered clear of cardigans for fear of looking like my grandad (or worse still, Morrisey), it was good to hear David describe how the Classic Wool Fleece cardigan button-up is a clean-cut, contemporary, city-living version of the knitted variety, with added handy pockets. The merits of the fabric mean you never feel trussed up or bogged down, it moves with you and stretches in all the places you might need that extra bit of ease. This is a cloth knitted for people who like a life peppered with activity. I started the Great North Run wearing mine and finished with it tied around my waist – but that’s the genius of fleece; buttoned up or zipped down, you control the thermostat.
Book, Unexpected: 30 Years of Patagonia Catalog Photography.
In terms of longevity, it’s a hardy soul. Apparently invented in Massachusetts, the eureka moment happened sometime in the 1970s when a couple of textile boffins started playing around with the construction of terry towelling. They subbed cotton for micro-fine polyester and a prototype was born. Years later, in 1981, they did a collaboration with the mountaineering heads at Patagonia – and fleece (as we now know it) was born.
For Universal Works, every piece of fleece in the collection is designed as a laid-back, practical performance garment with a side order of street credibility. Anyone who knows the brand is already aware of their easily recognisable Zip Gilet and Zip Liners, which are available season after season in fresh pops of colour or plaid. The military taped two-way zips stop them feeling too outdoorsy and work brilliantly for moving around in (getting off the sofa or off your bike, we all gotta loosen up sometimes). For people who are wary of the wool-mix, there are alternative options. The Lancaster Jacket and Crewneck are still trusty enough for trekking, but perfect for a quick trip to Tesco.
The Wool fleece cardigan in Olive, first introduced in AW16, featured here in the AW18 look book.
What makes these easy fleeces so popular, I think, is that nod to nerdy nostalgia. The shapes are cut to look good when worn as a standalone piece or as an under-layering element of a beefier outerwear get-up. There are different weights and different silhouettes – take the Lumber Jacket for example, which is almost a Bakers Jacket on fleece steroids, pumped with enough pockets for a weekend of poaching. I suppose that’s the point. David’s designed them to suit a variety of personality and pursuit types. Universal Works cut the cloth, it’s up to you how you wear them.