Updated: Feb 20
As London Fashion week approaches and the new and old guard prepare to unveil their Fall Winter 2023 collections, one designer who'll be showing his latest works is Luke Derrick, whose path to feature as an 'on schedule' designer under his eponymous brand Derrick has been one less travelled than his peers. 5ELEVEN talked to the menswear designer about his journey into fashion design, taking a different approach to tailoring and how the events of 2020 brought him some of his greatest inspiration.
Words by Leigh Maynard.
Sometimes the little moments early in life indicate our destiny, small details that go unnoticed, hinting at what's to come, this could not be truer than for Luke Derrick. Hailing from Oxford, the 27-year-old was far more interested in sport in his formative years, spending hours on the water as part of his school rowing team, where hard work and banter are the norm, but attention to detail around their kit is less so. But the request to design a team jersey sparked Luke's interest, and a fortuitous meeting on his residential staircase led him to an internship with the renowned bikewear and accessories brand Rapha. And though rowing remained his passion for many years, his sartorial sights eventually superseded his love of the sport with an offer at the prestigious Central St Martins, home to some of fashion's most feted designers.
It was evident early on that Luke took a different approach to design, looking at garments from a functional and detailed context and drawing on his wardrobe." What I liked was the sense of purpose within things, which could have been in every way possible to avoid the fact that it was expression via dress. I am much more confident about that now, but at the time, I liked esotericism. I wanted a narrative and design-based justification: That T-shirt from that concert from 1978."
He cites Raf Simmons and RCA graduate Aitor Throup as early inspirations, describing the latter's designs as "really blokey and intensively technical, tailored sportswear." But Luke also looked outside fashion to artists like acclaimed graphic designer Peter Saville. "What I loved about Peter and Raf's work was that it was always derived from music or a subculture and that I could specifically latch on to much more tangibly because it was based on something from a moment."
This sense of purpose exemplifies Luke's design process, the effortless blend of beautiful form and function that underpins his work today. While many of his peers, particularly on his BA, looked forward, producing collections around trends and bold forms of expression, Luke began to explore heritage through an internship at Saville Row. At Morton and Sons under Patrick Grant, he was worlds away from St Martins' more experimental approach. His Saville Row employers asked him to explain that art school blend of fashion, a question that sparked the realisation he wasn't a typical CSM student. "They asked me what Craig Green was all about, and I thought, this is fantastic; I'm with my people. You meet people who are just as passionate about clothing as the people at Kings Cross, but it was just approaching it from a completely different place. And that suddenly was when I realised, I didn't completely fit that CSM mould."
Luke stood out at St Martins, sometimes ridiculed for his choice of dress and design. However, he remained steadfast in his wardrobe choice of vintage seventies suits, though he repeatedly questioned himself during projects and wrestled between what he perceived as the desired CSM style and his love of Saville Row's exacting standards. "At design school, they would ask you to do your tailoring project, and you say, 'this exactly how it is meant to be.' And they would say, but you are not a tailor, you are a designer. Suddenly there's this friction. The heritage of stuff gets so intoxicatingly reassuring that you can so get trapped in it. I have had to unlearn, and I realised, OK, yes, that was the right thing to be told, even though it took me years to understand. Now I am in a space where I do a lot of work that reassesses that traditionalism."
As the BA course neared its final collection, many of Luke's fellow students looked for sought-after positions with designers like Balenciaga while he accepted a placement at luxury Italian menswear brand Brioni, who sponsored his final collection. There, eminent head designer, Nina Nitsche (of Margiela fame), demonstrated a meticulous approach to design. "The thing about Brioni is the rigour she put into pursuing something traditional. She'd ask you to research every instance of that type of jacket, and everything was rendered in the most outrageously elevated version of that. And to experience that when you were 21 in Rome was a lot. It was this idea that you could be rigorous about everything."
Brioni informed Luke's highly polished final collection that referenced masculine archetypes tempered by playful juxtaposed elements. And though the collection didn't result in employment with a fashion House Fabio Piras at St Martins invited Luke to talk about an MA. "At the time, I thought, I can't do this again. I didn't want the MA at all. I put my stuff in front of him and leaned back. And he said, well, I am glad you made it. It would have been terrible otherwise. Nobody got it except him."
The MA course started positively but quickly halted when Covid brought St Martins to a standstill. "Suddenly, you are back at home thinking about what you are going to do. But it ended up being exactly what I needed." The duality of business wear on top, and joggers underneath, began a thought process that intertwined with Luke's previous thoughts about design and practicality. He reflected upon a project he won at the end of his BA that landed him a placement with the luxury goods brand Dunhill where he explored the practicality of clothing in an urban setting. From this, he explored the concept of traditional loungewear. "I looked at creating trousers that looked formal but were pull-on sweatpants with a belt that hid the fact that they were elasticated. It was this fun, playful 'getting away with it' dressing. It's about having to dress up for zoom then run around doing other things that complete flux of formality and social expectation." Delving further into this concept, he reflected upon his time in Italy and the traditionalist idea of sprezzatura or 'studied nonchalance', where you spend half an hour in front of the mirror and look effortlessly dressed. "What I love about the fundamentals of this is the idea of a paradoxically masculine perception of going out of my way to look like I don't care." It resonates with his own style, he says, and it's apparent when looking at his wardrobe. At a lofty six foot and counting, his rakish attire suits him and delivers that same air of 'put together' effortlessness.
This same diametrical approach informed Luke's work with shoe designer Oliver Sweeney, again, the result of that lucky staircase in his building. "I was working on my collection from home, and Oliver Sweeney were downstairs, so I asked Tim, their head cobbler, to look at my sketches, and he said, yes, let's do a shoe." The project led to a mule that, as Luke explains, "when worn under a trouser, 'looks like you are dressed up, but you're not'," a look Luke describes as 'faking it dressing.' Oliver Sweeney did a limited run of that shoe in September 2021, and its concept now underpins Luke's work under his label. He embraces his independent status, explaining, "we are moving towards a completely inverted marketplace where just as you like your favourite band, people have formed their own esoteric relationships with music or with food and art. Clothes will go the same way in a much less pretentious way."
What is notable about Luke is his unique approach to all elements of his work, from the influences to the production and how he delivers his collections with their slower, considered core with complimentary seasonal additions. He describes the past year as a painful but essential process where "you work out what you stand for, where your fundamental interests are and what you are trying to do." Today it's apparent there has been a metamorphosis in Luke, a sense that he is now comfortable with his design identity. "I am about to show my second 'quote' season with a video I've done for Discovery Lab at London Fashion week. And there have been some reassessments. There's this great Marco Pierre White video where he's interviewing for the Oxford Union, and he says, 'you are your own upbringing, and I think about this in terms of my work, fundamentally it's pretty English."
When asked what elements Luke has taken from his past collection to inspire the new pieces, he explains, "It's a consolidation and a refocusing; there's a bit of a reset regarding colour. I am moving towards a new elegance, looking at garments that aren't meant to be elegant, finding that in pieces like cargo pants. There's a slightly playful element you'll see in the film. There is a gentle tongue-in-cheek take and self-awareness, looking at technical or sporty pieces that you don't associate with that kind of wardrobe; it's fun. It's a rich way to approach it."
Working with heritage textile brands and silk screen printers like Adamley in Macclesfield, Luke continues this considered approach through his choice of materials. "With 200 years of archives, they are one of the last ones left. And I think, why did I have to seek you out? So I am working with them. It's about finding little stories, and I look at these questions as mini briefs." Some of these briefs extend to upcoming collaborations, "There's one with Richard James, which is exciting. It's revisiting Saville Row and trying to take some of my own experiences, which is cool, and then there's a continuation of my work with Oliver Sweeney. It's getting further and further away from my classical training and finding the aspiration of that within more day-to-day pieces, so this year has started in quite a crazy way, but fingers crossed, and keep moving!"
Luke is part maverick, part traditionalist who has found his path between the two spaces, questioning himself and his credibility—studying at an institution that pushed his perception of fashion design, asked for introspection, and compelled him to stand for his singular aesthetic. He sees formalwear's fallibility in today's contemporary settings and has adapted accordingly. At the same time, his use of textiles preserves fashion's heritage and brings time-honoured craftsmanship and traditional tailoring to a new audience. Derrick's DNA reflects its designer well, with strong silhouettes, adaptability, quality, and integrity with a serving of humour. It's a story demonstrating how our differences are sometimes our strengths, not our Achilles heel. When going against the grain seems counterintuitive, it ultimately delivers. Staying true to ourselves, our heritage, core beliefs and aesthetics eventually sets us apart, lets our talent shine and makes others stop, look, and admire. What true artist didn't find greatness without those kinds of challenges?