For our third edition of the Behind The Counter series, we talk to Steven Quinn our Notting Hill and Shoreditch store manager about life at Oliver Spencer and his love for two-wheeled vehicles.
Hi Steven, really great to chat to you. Firstly, can you tell us how you ended up joining Oliver Spencer?
I started working for Oli just over five years ago shortly after I moved to London. I was always into my clothes - firstly from wanting to emulate my heroes in music and on film. As a teenager I was also a skateboarder - that’s a scene that has its own, distinct uniform. It’s a real counterculture style and that attitude still resonates with me today. Oli himself has always drawn his inspirations from artists and musicians; that was the main reason I was drawn to the brand. So when the opportunity to join arose it felt like a brilliant fit.
You actually live in east London close to the Oliver Spencer Shoreditch store and commute over to west London every day. You must be able to really see the differences between the two areas.
The most striking thing is how different the architecture is. The wide, open streets and white Georgian houses of Notting Hill are a million miles away from all of the new buildings that are springing up on every corner in Shoreditch and Dalston. But both have their unique charms. Some of the buildings that are going up in the city are - eyesores or not - incredible feats of engineering. There are similarities too. Ernő Goldfinger’s famous Brutalist blocks - the Trellick Tower and Balfron Tower - are close to each of stores and it’s nice to see that common thread even though London can seem vast and sprawling at times. Historically the areas are quite different too and you can still see that today. Portobello has the famous antiques market and was traditionally a hub for musicians and bohemians for many, many years whilst Shoreditch was more known for manufacture - everything from clothing to beer - so there are lots of old warehouses. In fact our store on Calvert Avenue still boasts an amazing independent upholsterer next door, Ainsworth Broughton.
Do you think there is a single thing that defines the Oliver Spencer customer?
They tend to be guys who want to dress well but don’t like branding and logos. They’re looking for labels that put a focus on the quality, materials and simplicity in terms of fit. They’re not looking for new styles forced on to them. It's always really interesting to see a customer taking one of our designs and then tweaking little elements to suit their needs - like shortening a sleeve or tapering a trouser leg just to give it a subtle customised element.
You have to traverse London to get to work every day. What’s your journey like?
Well, I either ride my bicycle or ride my motorbike depending on how fresh my legs are feeling.
Tell us about your motorbike?
I own a Triumph Bonneville. They're just incredibly simple and beautiful machines. I love the custom element to them too. They start as this British classic but a few tweaks and they're great for riding up mountains or sprinting around a racetrack.
Talking of racetracks, you were a competitive runner when you were younger, weren’t you?
Yeah, it was a big part of my life. I'd train three or four times a week then compete at the weekends. I carried on until I was 23 years old when an ankle ligament injury forced me to quit. I started as an 11 year-old with boundless energy - and for the first six or seven years I combined it with football as well. I have to say I'm eternally grateful to my parents for the amount of miles they put in driving up and down motorways to stand and watch me run for anywhere between two and 20 minutes at a time.
How has that formative experience shaped you as an adult do you think?
Running gives you a lot of time to think; as a kid I think that's probably fairly rare. It definitely taught me that I thrive when I'm competing against myself instead of constantly measuring myself against others.
Steven, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us today. Before we say goodbye; in the shop, customers must ask your opinion constantly. Is there one tip for dressing well that works for everyone?
Buy clothes that fit. You'll look a lot smarter than trying to hang on to a size you might have grown out of. And vice versa, if you drop down a size.
And lastly, one life lesson.
It's cool to be kind.
Photography by Thom Corbishley