‘There’s a huge appetite to party this winter, and everyone wants to get dressed up again,’ says Oliver Spencer, the founder and designer of Favourbrook, the British label that specialises in a contemporary take on occasion wear.
Spencer began his career selling secondhand clothes on Portobello Road, and had his first foray into making his own when he bought a quantity of excess ecclesiastical silk. This he turned into waistcoats, and to this day Favourbrook still champions the idea of the waistcoat as a perfect way to spice up a more formal outfit. ‘I love a waistcoat,’ he says. ‘Especially under a dinner jacket – low cut in velvet or in a patterned jacquard. It sits right where the jacket breaks. Perfect. It’s a 100 per cent easy way to dress up a black tie outfit.’
From a stall on the Portobello Road, the business of dressing men for special occasions became Favourbrook in 1990. Today, it has grown to encompass three stores in London.
‘For 25 years, all I’ve ever wanted to do with Favourbrook is turn black tie on its head, and make it less starchy and boring. But I also wanted to keep the formality and elegance that comes with it,’ explains Spencer.
There is a good reason to turn black tie on its head, as it is a uniform. And Oliver Spencer does not want to look the same as everyone else.
The clothing Spencer creates for Favourbrook is conceived to allow you to both fit in to the occasion but stand out too because of your stylishness. And his secret weapon? Unusual fabrics that give an instant character to the outfit.
At the most formal and conventional end of the scale you will find morning coats for winter weddings made from black recycled cashmere, but Favourbrook will help you personalise it by adding, say, a red velvet double-breasted waistcoat. But the speciality of the house is outfits for dinner, and while you will find tuxedo jackets in black barathea wool for a traditional approach, the signature here centres around velvet.
‘Velvet is a natural canvas,’ says Spencer. ‘Black velvet already looks luxurious. But when you add colour, you just stand out instantly as possessing that touch of elegance and style. We do dinner jackets in British racing green and burgundy, for example.’
The styles of jacket range from Spencer’s choice – a peak lapel in grosgrain – to a shawl collar in black satin; he recommends both with a one-button fastening. There’s also an elegant Nehru style with four brass buttons at the front to channel a military look. ‘You can match any of these with a white cotton shirt and a bow tie in black grosgrain or velvet – and I do love a velvet bow tie.’
The outfit, particularly the velvet jacket, is a true investment piece. ‘The simplicity of the velvet dinner jacket is great – you can so easily dress it up or down. Wear it to a party or a dinner at the weekend with jeans or grey or black casual trousers and a white cotton shirt with no tie; or with a white linen shirt and no tie for a really relaxed look. Or even with a denim or chambray shirt. A rust velvet Nehru jacket with a denim shirt and black trousers looks amazing.’ And, he says, a velvet jacket will age well. ‘Like a great pair of jeans or a leather jacket, it will get so much better the longer you wear it.’