The London Designers Adapting Menswear Staples for Women

Inside a workaday warehouse in Battersea, London, Pip Durell, the founder of With Nothing Underneath, stands in an office next to a rack of button-down shirts—striped seersucker, cotton, linen with a dropped shoulder—in a panoply of yellow. There are mood boards leaning against the walls, pinned with snaps of lounging women in sharp tweeds, close-ups of bare legs and loafers, and the odd 1990s J. Crew catalogue cover. A production calendar shows photographs of clothing about to drop. At a desk nearby, a colleague thumbs through sales figures for the pieces on the rack; she’s prepared for a conversation with Durell about cutting back a little on yellow, which looks great in photoshoots, but is a less energetic seller than, say, blue. “She’s reminding me of what I already know,” says Durell. “We’re a data-driven business and I’ve seen the numbers.”

Durell launched her shirting company, known as WNU, in 2017, while she was still working full time at British Vogue. “I was earning peanuts,” she says, “but I needed to look presentable, and the plain women’s shirts I liked were way too expensive. They were £300 and up. So I started buying men’s shirts, which were cheaper, and I liked that boxy, oversized feel. That’s when I got the idea for WNU.”

Courtesy of With Nothing Underneath

The first WNU shop opened in Belgravia, London in 2022. The concept is straightforward: button-down shirts in a handful of smart cuts, made in a range of materials, sold at an accessible price. (“Our margins are slim,” says Durell, “but we sell a lot of shirts.”) Shirting is a business that has long served professional men, and to Durell, it seemed like women were being shortchanged on what should be a hard-working piece of clothing. “Menswear has always been rooted in practicality,” she says. “It has to perform for them. Pockets, and structure, and what are they wearing it for, and how are the clothes going to serve that purpose? While I want to keep WNU feminine and gorgeous, I am also focused on that practicality.”

WNU’s revenue grew by 130% in the past year, according to Durell. “What I didn’t realize,” she says, “is that by creating a shirting brand, we would end up getting the kind of loyalty that a menswear company has. Men find something that they like and they keep going back to it. Our returning customer rate is huge, because the customer finds a shirt that works for her, and comes back season after season.”

An unusually faithful client base has also been critical for Daisy Knatchbull, who opened the first women’s tailor on Savile Row, The Deck, in London’s Mayfair neighbourhood in the autumn of 2020. “At the first opportunity, when it looked like retail was about to reopen, I was able to negotiate with Savile Row to open the first shopfront for women,” she says. “And we attracted the world’s press, because everyone thought, who is this bonkers chick, opening a 2000 square foot store on Savile Row?” The Deck now has around 2,500 customers. “My repeat order rate sits between 40% and 60% within any one month,” Knatchbull says, from on a low sofa in the back of the shop. “Our youngest customer is eleven, and our eldest is ninety-four.”

The Deck primarily produces made-to-measure clothing, which accounts for about 80% of the business, and launched a ready-to-wear collection in late 2023. Though the clothes are designed for women, Knatchbull embraces elements that are more common in menswear, like the flattering double vents at the back of a jacket, or a patrician double-breasted waistcoat with a shawl collar. In the ready-to-wear collection, buttons and zips are placed on the left, as they are in men’s clothing—a nod to the heritage of the street. Still, female bodies are at the forefront of Knatchbull’s mind. “Our house style is a very strong shoulder, nipped waist, and a longer length with a one-button front that draws the eye into the centre,” she says, “and slanted pockets that make one appear longer and slimmer. Traditionally you’ll find a lot of shorter jackets in the ready-to-wear industry. I believe in a shape and silhouette that elongates women and shows off the waist.”

Sarah Corbett-Winder, the founder of Kipper (argot for the first women to work as tailors on Savile Row—they used to come in pairs, like kippers, to protect each other while on the job), a ready-to-wear suiting company that launched in 2023, has zeroed in on improving fits for women, too. “I was desperate to create a pair of ‘Miracle Trousers,’” she says, “which make any-shaped woman feel fab. We created a high waisted, straight, wide-leg trouser. If you fill them they look fab, and if they hang off you, they look fab. They hold you in all the right places, and have an extra 6 centimetres in the hem, if extra length is needed.”

Kipper suits have limited production runs, and a price point similar to brands like Theory and Vince. The pieces are made in London and vary in personality—from “Chips,” a refined, sleeveless linen waistcoat and trousers, intended for summer, to “Electric,” a single-breasted, cobalt blue corduroy suit that wouldn’t look out of place under a spotlight in a nightclub. “I didn’t want to follow trends,” says Corbett-Winder, “I wanted our designs to be timeless, forever pieces.” The through line, at Kipper, is the cut. To wear atop the Miracle Trousers, there is one blazer shape: “single breasted, long line, slightly oversized and boxy,” says Corbett-Winder. “I always think a blazer looks more expensive and chic when it’s a little bit oversized—think French girl oversized, rather than huge shoulders oversized.”

In June, Kipper introduced a floral suit in collaboration with Liberty, a Victorian-era department store known for its botanical fabrics. The new cotton suit with a notched lapel—called “Carousel”—is patterned with ditsy blue cherry blossoms. It’s dandyish and eye-catching, and Corbett-Winder is wearing it at the 8:30am launch event, held in an oak-panelled room on the hushed 3rd floor of Liberty, not yet open for business. Some of the guests, all women, are wearing Kipper. They pump up the stairs from the school run, locker rooms, straight out of bed.

Corbett-Winder often says that putting on a good suit is low-lift and high-return, and the sleek, early rising crowd seems to prove her point. But maybe womenswear, more broadly, could use a pragmatic shot in the arm. “Menswear is about getting things done,” as Pip Durell pointed out, days earlier. “That should be us too.”

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top