A Cut Above
Oscar Udeshi has a soft spot for the classic suit. The designer talks to Georgina Wilson-Powell about the inspiration for his menswear label and his passion for reinventing the brand.
Despite the disposable nature of modern menswear, some things do not go out of fashion; they simply evolve. The suit is one such item, consistently attracting designers to reform, to perfect and to reinvent the wardrobe staple for the demands of the modern man. Menswear designer Oscar Udeshi is one of the new guard, creating unique bespoke suits (and ready to wear menswear and accessories) for the 21st century. The location of his appointment-only London boutique in Mayfair, not Savile Row, is telling of his forward thinking; as the youngest-ever chairman of the British Menswear Council, his influence is not to be underestimated.
An ex-banker, Udeshi changed careers after a bad car accident gave him the motivation to live to work, not work to live. He had always been fascinated with men's clothes (and admits to owning more than 400 shirts) but he could never find the perfect suit. As he puts it, "I either needed therapy or I needed to make this my profession. So I did the latter." Udeshi, the line he launched a decade ago, is dedicated to ensure that each product created is unique to the brand. His combination of function and flair has attracted attention from an unusual corner - various military organisations across Europe commissioned him to design pieces for the Austrian Army, and bespoke raincoats for a ceremony honouring the 100th anniversary of the Entente Cordiale between France and England in 2004.
Udeshi elaborates on his popularity among the traditionally less fashionable crowd. "My pieces are very functional, they fulfil the purpose they were intended for, using the appropriate materials, using good but simple design, that is strong where it needs to be, and flexible and light otherwise. My philosophy background comes in useful? One looks at the problem, looks at the existing solutions, and then analyses their strengths and weaknesses, and thinks what the problem really requires, what qualities are needed, and what possesses these qualities. Sometimes one has to go outside of the box, and hopefully comes up with something better, that fulfils all the needs."
With parents from Austria and Zanzibar, a childhood spent in Hong Kong and a degree in economics and philosophy, Udeshi is the product of an unusual mix. "From my Austrian side, form follows function, and an appreciation for Bauhaus and good design, and the relevant structure needed. From my Zanzibar side, I get my love of the exotic, the extreme and colourful, such as our re-coloured vintage paisley designs. And from Hong Kong, I take the business part."
As with all designers, the biggest challenge for Udeshi is in developing his brand and keeping it fresh. The focus has to be on reinvention, something he is passionate about. "The basic suit shape hasn't really changed in 100 years. There's a constant evolution, but the jump isn't as big as seeing the original Wright plane and an Airbus A380. You keep it modern by playing with all the elements that make up the suit; the fabric, its weave, its weight, its colour, its construction, the way the jacket is lined, and what it's lined with, the pockets, their placement and how they are constructed, the length of the jacket, the style of the shoulder..."
The dazzling potential of a suit's variables were shown off by a recent exhibition, Singular Suit, at London's Somerset House, in which artists and designers collaborated to push design boundaries. The British sculptor Antony Gormley worked with designer brand Aquascutum on a suit made of metal, while cult designer Henry Holland created a leather suit with Marc Jacobs's personal tattoo artist, Scott Campbell.
In this vein, Udeshi also sees the suit as a blank canvas. "There can be inspiration in everything. A turn-of-the-century dressing gown for a collar detail on a coat, a shade of purple from a Renaissance painting," he explains. But he doesn't just look backward. "A new cutting technique that makes components for Nasa is used to cut our labels." Udeshi's interest in technological innovation enables him to move forward constantly, expanding his brand across the globe. With 20 stores set to open in the next four years, including stores in the Middle East, he is here for the long haul.
"If I thought there was no need for what we do, then there would be no reason to stay in business. You have to bring something new to the table."