London, so the saying goes, is a city of opportunity – a place filled with creative potential and dream-realising prosperity. To many people, this manifests most clearly in the success stories behind some of the biggest designer brands on the planet. Some do this well, some don’t. Spend any time wandering down Oxford Street on a Saturday, and you’ll have to contend with more throwaway high street fashion than Mary Portas.
What, then, does London hold for those of us looking for something a little less disposable? Step outside of the West End’s glittering boutiques and you’ll find independent, passionate one-man-bands are burgeoning in the capital; creatives who do something for the sheer love of it, by hand, with the luxury of time on their side. These five are something special. Here’s why.
Scott Fraser Simpson, designer
Fraser Simpson is a sartorial polymath. To be precise, he’s a vintage menswear collector, dealer and all-round aficionado, a classic-scooter fiend and a clothing designer, too. He creates limited runs of quirky menswear staples based on mid-century designs for his own label, Scott Fraser Collection, available to buy online.
‘Launching “SFC” came about by chance,’ he says. ‘I was looking for a new duffel bag and couldn’t find anything that worked for me. The answer was to design and make one in London. Things snowballed from there.
‘I’ve always been into mid-century design, and the aesthetics of different subcultures – the Mods or the Teddy Boys, for example. Today, I work hard to get across the stories behind my designs, and to create clothes that help people to think, dress and be the best version of themselves.’
Charlie Borrow, leathersmith
Charlie’s bags, for those in the know, are something of a menswear gem. He makes them in his own bijou workshop on Columbia Road, by hand from start to finish. He has a particular knack for finding and transforming hard-wearing military deadstock materials, too – from bridle leather to ripstop canvas.
‘I’ve been on a great journey,’ says Borrow, cutting through a thick tan coloured leather hide at his workbench. ‘I started by attempting to make a tote for my mother. That went well, so I made some pieces for friends. Today, I use some of the best leather, fabric and hardware. All the bags are made one at a time, by me.
‘I think having transparency as a craftsman is really important. I want my customers to see the tools, the process and meet the person who makes their products. When customers come to the shop, I talk them through the materials I use and how I work. Supporting independents is an education as well as an experience.’
Alice Walsh, jewellery designer
Alice Walsh founded Alice Made This in 2012, to give British jewellery design a breath of fresh air.
‘My husband, Ed, wanted some simple, design-led cufflinks for our wedding and he struggled to find any. I was keen to do my own thing, and these two moments just sort of collided.’
Today, Alice Made This creates modern jewellery using independent craftsmen, and her creations are informed by a fascination for unusual skills and manufacturing techniques. She calls her approach ‘engineered simplicity’ and whether using precision-turned metalwork or the electroplating technology used in aerospace engineering, her British-made jewellery mixes purity of aesthetic with an inventive approach to craftsmanship.
Michael Browne, bespoke tailor
Michael is, in our humble opinion, one of the most talented bespoke tailors in London. A former cutter at Savile Row stalwart Chittleborough & Morgan, he opened his own house, simply called Michael Browne Ltd, just over a year ago. He hasn’t looked back since.
Although Savile Row-trained, he thinks of his work as couture design – a philosophy informed by the artistic eye with which he approaches his craft. ‘I feel extremely lucky to be able to create clothes that enhance a person’s body; make them feel taller, slimmer or sharper than they are,’ he says. ‘I opened my atelier because I wanted the freedom to serve whoever I wanted, and to create clothes at the highest possible level.
‘Having something made for you by an artisan – a person who loves what they do – is a unique experience. These days, it’s the only way to obtain something truly personal.’
Juan Junca, furniture maker
‘It’s the mix of aesthetic, structural and utilitarian elements that make furniture special,’ says Junca, sipping a steaming mug of tea in his Bermondsey workshop. ‘It’s like architecture on a smaller scale. It’s a way to apply creativity to tangible objects that have a clear purpose. I enjoy the problem-solving involved in making it.
‘Makers like me are driven by something you don’t find in large-scale production – craft pride. I care about what I produce and I hope this translates into higher quality.’
Junca’s work certainly supports this theory. He only makes in wood, creating elegant pieces inspired by iconic 20th-century furniture designs and the rolling landscape of his native Patagonia. He’s won several awards, but that’s not what motivates him. ‘It’s important to our city’s culture that we keep traditional crafts alive.’ We couldn’t agree more.