5 minutes with… Chris Gove

Percival Menswear Founder and Creative Director

The self-confessed ‘jack-of-all-trades’ on Percival’s origin story, subverting the classics, and not taking menswear too seriously.

Nice new website. Care to show us around?
The old site was very eComm-centric: here are the clothes, you can buy them. The new site is there to lead you down pathways of understanding why we’re doing what we’re doing: these are the people that make it, this is the personality of the brand… The editorial section will allow us to play with our storytelling, especially when we do collaborations. I guess we’re just trying to communicate the enjoyment of doing what we do.

So not super-serious menswear then?
Menswear got too earnest for me. I think it was during the big beard phase. We’re just putting the humour back in. I mean if you want to see that stuff of slo-mo videos of things being made, that’s also on the site. But, for example, we just shot our new collection as a reconstruction of Michael Buerk’s 999, if you remember that show…

I can hear his voiceover now.
Yeah, we did three reconstructions. Like one guy gets his head caught in a jumper, and a park ranger comes to save him, but it’s all really hammed up. The pastiche is bang on. It’s absolutely ridiculous. But within it there is all of our winter collection. You’ve got lovely forest Casentino wool that’s woven in Italy and then constructed in Tottenham at the Short Run, all hand-stamped… All that is in there, but we’re not explicitly talking about it.

Percival x Champion film starring Rick Edwards, Allan ‘Seapa’ Mustafa, Ed Gamble, Tom Davis and more.

That sense of humour really came through in the Percival x Champion film you did.
Yeah, I was proud of that one. It was great to watch that all unfold. I didn’t have any comments throughout that entire day filming, and the result was perfect. It was a collusion of everyone’s skill sets, like Rory, who plays the director: he works in our warehouse but he is a comedian. And it showed in sales because you can’t just make something amazing, and then not sell anything. We sold through that collection in seven days. So it’s like: “Here’s a collab. By the way, we had loads of fun making it. We love what we do.”

Percival clearly loves a collab. What’s your approach to collaborations?
I guess it’s a way of stepping out of your personality as a designer, and it gives you an excuse and a context to do something you wouldn’t have done before. So, for example, with Camden Brewery, they just are fans of the brand, and they’re like, “We’d love to do something with you.” Same with Penguin Classics, which we’re working on now. They’ve got this list of 10 books like Frankenstein, Lady Chatterley’s Lover and they’re like, “This is what we’ve got.” The brief on that is kind of interesting. So we might make some woven bookmarks, and make a woven book jacket, and maybe there is an overshirt that fits a book in…

“Menswear got too earnest for me. I think it was during the big beard phase. We’re just putting the humour back in.”
Chris Gove

Subverting the Penguin Classics.
I see what you did there.

Percival’s tagline “Subverting the Classics” – what’s that all about?
The mission is to get people who aren’t comfortable stepping out of their navy wardrobe to just take a chance on something else – like mustard, rust, forest green. We’re not sitting on the frontline trying to be conceptual because, at the end of day, it has to be wearable. So it’s always a subtle hint somewhere, whether it’s a fabrication, a lining or a color.

Finished by hand, in east London.

“The mission is to get people who aren’t comfortable stepping out of their navy wardrobe to just take a chance on something else.”
Chris Gove

Where’s Percival made?
A lot is made right here, in east London. I lived in a factory in Hackney Wick when I first moved to London. Now, my professional working life is back here. We must have made tens of thousands of pieces with this factory in Leyton over the years. Initially because it was convenient. We’re the only brand that has kept them going really. There’s 20 people working there.

There is a real English accent to the brand.
It has to have a sense of Britishness. It’s about looking back at what British style means and just making it contemporary, not boring.

Gareth Southgate, dressed by Percival.

And it doesn’t get much more English than dressing the England manager.
Gareth Southgate. Yeah, that was absolutely unreal. You’re actually watching the final, so engrossed in the game, and he pops up and someone goes “Is he wearing Percival there?” You’re like, “Actually, yeah, he is. Fuck. Yeah, he’s wearing Percival.” Against Scotland when it was raining, he wore our Sherlock coat and sales went crazy. It reached its zenith on the back of the gaffer.

How did you get you started in menswear in the first place?
By being smashed in the face and then making a yellow coat… I was working at a creative agency in London and one day I was given this really boring brief for a brand. We did this big brainstorming session and it was utter bullshit. I was dreading it. As I walked out of the building that day, this massive Victorian shutter malfunctioned and came down, hitting me in the face. It knocked me out, sliced an inch of flesh off my nose, total freak accident. I was in A&E, blood running down my face, but I was just so thankful I didn’t have to do that fucking work.

If ever there was a sign from above – even just six feet above in the form of a Victorian shutter – that was it. Where does the yellow coat come in?
I’m getting there. So I had to take a week off and my mum starts sending me these pictures of me as a kid. You know what mums are like, they go a bit spicy with the kids’ pics. There’s one of me in a yellow waxed Mac. I just thought, “I’d love to make that.” But I couldn’t find a yellow waxed cotton jacket in a mustard color. So I just contacted a mate who was a menswear designer, said, “Listen, I want to make this.” She was like, “Well, yeah, you can get this waxed cotton from British Millerain…” So I went down the road of making this jacket. I had to buy 50 meters of the yellow waxed cotton, so that made 25 jackets. I had to sell the 25 jackets to all my mates, and they ended up just buying it to help me out. And then from there I made a collection.

Gareth Southgate in Percival signature Sherlock jacket

“Against Scotland when it was raining, he wore our Sherlock coat... it reached its zenith on the back of the gaffer.”
Chris Gove

Did you study fashion?
I studied graphic design, illustration and marketing and then spent 10 years working in marketing, going through loads of disciplines, working out what I was really passionate about and developing a jack-of-all-trades skill set to start my own brand – from communicating an idea to designing a logo to building a website.

Last questions. Best-selling embroidery? Worst-selling embroidery? And seriously, what’s the deal with all the embroidery?
It’s an outlet for my illustration. Best-selling embroidery, and I don’t know why, is the octopus who is a sushi chef. Octopi are amazing. Worst-selling was a tin of sardines that said, “Percival” under the sardine tin, but I just think a lot of people don’t know what sardines in a tin are anymore. It’s a sad comment on modern-day society.

Percival’s best-selling embroidery… bizarrely.

Behind-the-scenes at Percival featuring the Kaffe Polo