We discuss the L E J capsule collection with designer Luke Walker, and our very own Michael Hill.
“L E J was inspired by a specific set of blueprints, a technical aerospace drawing made by my old man in 1966. The pre-digital, pre-metric precision blew me away, and very much chimed with how I approach design: in the minutiae. I've always been about allowing the make and function to inform the look, and so this engineering approach was interesting to me.” So says Luke Walker, designer behind the L E J project, with whom we have collaborated on a capsule collection of rugged, masculine work shirts.
This collection – comprising one shirt in four distinct colours – was born out of a conversation between Luke and our very own Michael Hill, who bonded over a shared love of fine food and fine clothing. “This project came out of a desire to make something that I felt I couldn't find in the market at the time,” Luke explains. “A quality, hard wearing, casual shirt, that was a result of deeply considered design. The kind I'd seen on the backs of incredible artists, or powerful photographers.”
“I came to Michael initially looking for a maker, and luckily he found it to be aesthetically and ideologically interesting. He proposed that we might work together on it, and so a collaboration was born.”
The shirts are made, as ever, in our dedicated shirt factory in Somerset. They share similarities with our classic point collar shirts, and our utilitarian overshirts, but are something new for Drake’s. “Luke approached me with an idea for a shirt, and as we have our own factory it felt like a great opportunity to make something we’ve never done before. Something that is innately in step with the feel of Drake’s, but which takes influence from some unexpected sources,” Michael adds.
They have a generous, slightly boxy fit in the body, and two large patch-flap pockets on the chest, while these rugged elements are offset by an elegant and expressive point collar. This bringing together of disparate influences means these shirts take up a unique position, with one foot in the ‘workwear’ camp, and the other in the ‘classic menswear’ camp. As Luke points out, this makes them highly versatile: “They're solid, they're boxy, and they've got big pockets which makes them great for getting out in the woods, making fires, getting one’s hands dirty while keeping one’s cuffs clean. However, the shape of the collar means that when paired with a jacket and tie they become reasonably dressy. In fact, I’ve worn one to a wedding!”
Cut from a sturdy, tactile cotton twill, the shirts will take anything you can throw at them. The mid-weight of the cloth means it can be worn as an overshirt, or as a standalone piece, tucked or untucked – however you like, really. They also boast some understated yet pleasingly eccentric details that will make a nice talking point should they be spotted by any particularly eagle-eyed acquaintances. The placket buttons are made from the finest Australian mother of pearl (which has been sustainably sourced), while the pocket flap buttons are made from a subtly contrasting galalith. This is a nod to the wartime practice of contractors using whatever buttons were available, often leading to a hotchpotch of buttons on each shirt. “I have a collection of military and civvy uniform shirts that have a lovely medley of buttons on a single piece. Ordinarily these buttons would be made from plastic, maybe rubber, polythene, Bakelite, kryptonite – so our choice of mother of pearl and galalith elevates the piece, while keeping it rooted in militaria.”
As you can probably by now tell, this is a shirt of eminent practicality, but which also has a story to tell. Wear yours with denim and a tailored jacket, or thrown over a classic piece of knitwear with some casual chinos. There’s no wrong way to wear a shirt like this.