We first came across Percival Clothing- a brand for the modern eccentric British gentlemen – when we went to their second pop-up store opening in Covent Garden on a Wednesday evening. Great clothes, chilled drinks and some good tunes combined with a lot of very attractive well-dressed young folks made our night and sparked a lot of interest for the brand and the people behind it.
The illustrators and graphic designers Chris Gove and Luke Stenzhorn, together with accountant Jacob Sorkin, formed the label in 2009. They got the freelance menswear designer Olivia Hegarty on board, who quickly proved herself as being an indispensable part of the design collective from London. Olivia came to London to work in fashion, she shares her love for crockery with the boys from Meadham Kirchhoff, and has a passion for records and German literature. After living directly on London’s vibrant Brick Lane for one year, Olivia and her boyfriend moved into an old school that was converted into flats near Hackney Road.
Before we met her for the interview, Olivia told us how she’s always been intending to do some work to the flat and how we shouldn’t expect too much. However when she opened the front door we found ourselves in a very impressive, beautiful, and unique space in the heart of East London. Her apartment is one of a kind – it’s the sort of place you never want to leave – jaw-dropping floor-to-ceiling old glass windows, vintage furniture, photographs, records, books and flowers. Perfect – simply perfect – we took a sip of tea and started talking.
This portrait is part of our ongoing collaboration with ZEIT Online who presents a special curation of our pictures on their site.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m originally from Dublin and moved to London about 7 years ago. I studied History of Art and Philosophy in Ireland and did a course in fashion for two years. I was always into menswear and decided to move to London for work.
Mainly because of the history of British menswear.
Did you always live East?
Yes. When I came with my boyfriend, we moved to Brick Lane. At the time I was working for the designer Pauric Sweeney, which was an insane introduction to East London – especially Shoreditch.
Why? What was it like?
It was the typical young London experience. I didn’t have any money because I was interning solidly. It was crazy and a lot of fun.
Do you think it has changed a lot since then?
Yes, of course – Shoreditch is so different now. Pauric kept saying – “You guys should have been here 5 years ago – that’s when it was really great.” Obviously everyone thinks when they were there it was their time – and their time was the best.
I see you have a very good-looking record player and a lot of vinyl. Is that your collection?
It’s more my boyfriend, Cian’s – I have some records but I don’t have a collection that represents my taste properly. It’s a bit random but I love them. For Cian’s birthday I put some money towards a new amp so we went into this store full of amazing old audio equipment where he went for the fancy 1980’s Sony. The guy in the shop sold it by the little tactic of saying: “When you change the volume there’s a satisfying click as you turn the knob”. So we had to buy it. Obviously.
Tell us a about the cups and saucers everywhere.
We lived in this shitty apartment on Brick Lane where no care was put into turning the building into flats – it was complete carelessness and greed. I wanted to surround myself with nice things so I used to pick up bits and bobs for £1 or £2. I used to buy stuff off this woman regularly and that’s how I kinda started a bit of a collection and got really into it (she laughs). I was working for these guys called Meadham Kirchhoff- they are doing womenswear now but at the time they did menswear – and they were also into collecting china and when you know someone who is into the same thing, it’s even more fun.
Also my Godmother in Cork, she gets me some bits every now and again – actually I have to show you this – it’s the greatest story – it’s for aristocrats who had opium addictions. The shape of the saucer keeps the cup stable through their shakes. It’s called ‘the trembler’ – I LOVE IT.
Why do you collect?
I guess to stamp out my territory somehow. Do you know Walter Benjamin? He wrote a great essay on collecting.
Any other obsessions?
Yes – I am kind of obsessed with German culture and language although I can’t speak it. Most literature and philosophy I like is written by German authors. I also spend some time in Berlin and loved it – especially the architecture. That’s what’s so cool about Berlin – you can feel the various eras and international ownerships of that city through the architecture as you are walking around.
Do you find it hard that London is such a fast-paced city where everything is constantly in motion compared to Berlin, for example?
Well, yes and no. I have been intending to do a lot to this place ever since we moved in here, which turned out to be more difficult than I thought – because London sucks up all your time and all your money. In Berlin the flats are better built and the quality of life is so much better because you get more space for your rent and you can cycle easily around the city. Berlin is a city of opportunity – because you have the freedom to create things without being under pressure. You can be who you wanna be and do what you wanna do – but the kick up the ass is missing, which we all love about London – things just seem to happen.
Now I feel like I have to buy a bike as soon as I get to Berlin.
Have you been cycling in London ?
No. Not really. I got a bike though.
It’s totally different here isn’t it?
I can only imagine. Jesus. I took my car over and drove everyday to and from work – people in London drive like lunatics and totally ignore cyclists so I very quickly decided not to cycle too much.
Haha. Yes. I think the only reason I got into it is because I go through London Fields and on the backroads to the studio everyday. It sort of changed my life a bit.
Well, I access and explore parts of the city I normally wouldn’t. When I’m on my bike I see everything at a slightly different level. It’s great! You’ll definitely enjoy being on a bike in Berlin. I’m sure.
I think so too. Before we start to talk about Percival – one more thing – what’s your favorite part of the flat?
I guess the windows – it has to be the windows. Although we have never washed them since we lived here. Haha!
Tell us a little bit about Percival and how it formed.
When I was freelancing as a menswear designer – which I still do – I was sharing a studio with – Chris and Bobby who mainly worked on their graphic design company called Telegramme at the time.
The boys were always into clothes so Chris and another friend – Luke – decided to make a yellow waxed mac, which I helped them design. Then slowly they thought about doing a menswear label, got the branding side of things down, I did the pattern making and product development and Jake the accounting – and that’s basically how it formed. Joined forces!
What’s the story behind the name?
Actually there was a different name in the beginning – “Boulevard Fear”.
Oh dear. It sounds more like a band!?
Haha. Yes, I know. It sounds like a skate-punk-band. Ugh!
What happened to that name?
We had the business cards printed and everything but one day Chris and Luke rang me saying: “Liv, we’re thinking about changing the name. What do you think?” and I said “Thank God!” (she laughs). At the beginning I was more guiding and consulting and wanted them to do whatever they had in mind. Slowly we started collaborating more which then developed into a three-way-process in terms of design.
With the name – we wanted a British connotation to the brand because the fabrics we are using are largely from England and Scotland and I pushed to have a local production. Another reason is that Luke’s granddad died around the time we were trying to find a name – and he was called Percival – which is a great name and he was a great man – so it was decided.
And what about the key as the logo?
The look of the first collection was defined by what Luke, Chris and their friends wanted to wear – and they felt that there was a gap in the market for that kind of style – a nice, smart and slim cut – but still casual. So the boys’ intention with the key was to open up their world to the people…
What is it like to be the only girl amongst the group of boys?
It’s fun. Most of the jokes are more about me being the only Irish person – and not the only girl – and because we are a design collective it’s good to have a girl’s point of view sometimes.
What’s your point of view?
I think I’m the objective one. I’m seeing the style of the garments in terms of the industry and trends in fashion.
And the boys?
For them it’s mostly about how they are going to feel wearing the garments.
Most of the collection is very classic. Do you guys get a bit adventurous sometimes?
Yes. Sure. Parts of the collection are more basic and others aren’t. Especially in the wintertime we get a bit more adventurous and wild. We work a lot with chunky knits and wool from a knitter in Nottingham where we generate the graphic artwork for and have it knitted to spec. This is where the background of Chris and Luke as illustrators/graphic designers comes into play.
Will there be a women’s line?
We haven’t planned anything yet – but people keep asking – definitely at some point though. We all have the same agreed stance on what we do – “let’s get one thing right and then work on the next”. We are still trying to make a sustainable business out of what we have already and then we will think about girls.
Any other plans for the brand?
We started to work with an US agent and will be expanding. We also want to open a shop in London – to bring people directly into out world – back to the key-in-the-door-thing. We are thinking of introducing more luxury pieces in terms of aesthetics and material – nothing over-the-top but maybe an embroidered fabric and a waxed wool on the same jacket. I think as soon as we can sell directly to the customer we can explore new processes and design more adventurous pieces.
Liv, Thank you so much for a fantastic day and an interesting chat. For more info on Olivia’s work, visit her site.
Interview: Carla Kaempfer
Photography: Owen Richards