Oliver Spencer and Dumi Oburota of Disturbing London
Designer Oliver Spencer and his friend the music manager Dumi Oburota are kindred spirits. Both share a love of music, fashion and the London. Both have grown their respective businesses from the ground up, through sheer grit and determination. In Oliver Spencer’s case, leaving art school behind proved to be a fundamental lesson in marketing and communication. He left the student world before graduating in favour of running his own stall on Portobello Market, laying down the grassroots of his menswear brand.
Similarly, born and bred Brockley boy, Dumi Oburota, began managing his friend Tinie Tempah in 2003. This was several years before his first record deal in 2009. He invested student loans and the proceeds gleaned from trading second hand cars into his fledgling music company. His hard graft paid off: he established Disturbing London in 2007.
Today, the East London-based record label also incorporates a streetwear brand, and acts as a mentoring platform for promising protégées in the footsteps of Tinie Tempah, who is a shareholder in the business.
Oliver Spencer launched formal wear brand Favourbrook aged just 22. This was followed by the Oliver Spencer brand in 2002, which fuses workwear shapes with surprising details and prestige fabrics. The Oliver spencer label is defined by its casual approach to tailoring that takes its cue from London’s vibrant streets and music’s diverse history. Spencer has been rethinking the idea of lookbooks too. Rather than producing the customary portfolio of key looks styled on anonymous models, he has for the last seasons chosen to dress his friends in his collections (including Oburota for Autumn/Winter 2015), with photographer Rankin behind the lens.
Oliver Spencer and Dumi Oburota met at the Mondrian Hotel in London’s Southbank overlooking the Thames to discuss fashion, music, their favourite brands and the ebb and flow of business as self-taught entrepreneurs in Britain’s capital city.
OLIVER SPENCER: We met about three years ago, I guess?
DUMI OBUROTA: Yes, through fashion. I always loved what you represent. I always really enjoyed the shows at LC:M; you can see that music heavily influences what you create. I always liked how you cast people walking the show. Normal but edgy men. They don’t all have to look the same.
OLIVER SPENCER: I think the key thing here is that they are all individuals. You can see their characters shining through. Character, for me, is the most important thing. It’s just natural. All these people are very natural. I’ve got this kid who had a business in London. One day to the next he moved over to Paris and opened it up there. I really admire that spirit in people. You studied physical education or something?
DUMI OBUROTA: Yes, sports studies but I didn’t finish. As my dad always says, ‘No knowledge is lost knowledge.’ You can always transfer it. I feel that with creatives. People that get up and go, you’ve got a natural connection. You understand exactly how long it’s taken to get that point. These are long journeys. I officially registered my company in 2006 and I was doing it for a year before that. My breakthrough was getting booked for Wireless Festival. Because T [Tinie Tempah] wasn’t signed then. When I’m looking for new talent I really look for – I know it sounds cliché- but authenticity and that Xfactor. If you’re authentic, I think you have star capability whatever genre you’re in.
OLIVER SPENCER: I’ll never be bored of clothing, but I feel as though I am ready to do something else. I suppose the breakthrough moment for me was the first runway show. It was before LC:M. It was like that moment; a big jump. Shows naturally have a massive cost effect. They’re expensive, they take a lot of time, and they’re difficult to organise. If you get them right, they’re amazing. Suddenly everybody reacted in a different way, everybody took me seriously. What had I been doing? It was a total light bulb moment! Why hadn’t I done this before?
DUMI OBUROTA: Food, fashion, and music – all of those things are necessities and things people can’t go without. You need to be clothed, you need to eat, and you like to socialise. That’s why I feel in that sector they all do interlink. When you’re a designer you listen to music, when you’re out you want a choice of restaurants. It’s almost like a tribal instinct. There are tribes of people that do the same kind of things. You dress in that way, eat in that place, and listen to that type of music. It’s passion isn’t it.
OLIVER SPENCER: We’re so lucky! I just get up in the morning and it’s all about passion.
DUMI OBUROTA: You wouldn’t really be here if you didn’t have the passion. You said, ‘OK, I want to set up my own clothing line’. If you didn’t have the passion you wouldn’t do it because you don’t make money. Everybody sees the success, nobody knows the lows.
OLIVER SPENCER: The thing is, people say to me. ‘You’ve been around a bit’. I have been around a bit, but look at my competitors! They have all been going for 30 years. It takes time finding your handwriting and developing your language. While you’re doing that, there will be some lows. And the only thing you do with lows, is you sit and write down the mistakes.
DUMI OBUROTA: Of course! And keep it moving. Now everything is so rapid and instant, even creativity and business growth is quicker.
OLIVER SPENCER: We have been in London the last ten years. It’s a big, bold environment. So many different communities and it’s evolving the whole time. It’s a good time to be a Londoner. London is like no other city in the world. We’ve evolved so much, with a rich heritage in men’s wear. It goes back to Savile Row, military uniforms, the way you dressed for dinner, your school uniform. You get things passed down to you. I suppose the most important thing is that we’re individuals. That’s what I love about London, everybody has a different thing going on.
DUMI OBUROTA: I am from South London. I grew up in an area called Brockley, which has now become a cool area. Growing up one of my big heroes in the music industry was Puffy. We were calling him Puffy then, now I don’t know what his name is – Mr Combs? Growing up, his music was a major influence in my teen years because he took over the airways. I live in Hackney now. London is a melting pot. You can be inspired by anything! A market, the stalls, people hustling and bustling. Just kids. In Paris I can look at kids and figure out what kind of music they listen to. In England, that’s quite difficult. You can’t read it, you could never because everybody expresses themselves in a different way. Even in Paris, the street level is very much influenced by America. Our street music isn’t specifically Hip Hop, you could be into Electronic, Reggae, Drum ’n’ Base, anything. And it’s not really a look. London sound is forever changing. So is there a particular London sound? No not really. Obviously you’ve got the grime sound, you’ve got all the electronic. We’ve even got our own kind of soul going on. At the moment, the 90s seems like it’s coming through a bit, that’s what I can see. I grew up in the 90s so that’s the reference I can see. I definitely see it in streetwear, there’s definitely a strong 90s resurgence.
OLIVER SPENCER: I’m from Coventry. When I first moved to London, I lived in Peckham. It was a good time to be in London, the end of the 80s. From the beginning of the 90s, you started seeing street wear coming through. Everybody would dress up to go to clubs. It was all still going on like that.
DUMI OBUROTA: Music and fashion move exactly in the same way. Music and fashion are like brother and sister. It’s the same thing but just expressed in a different way so everything comes back around in circles. Old music becomes relevant music. Old fashion becomes relevant fashion. It works both ways.
OLIVER SPENCER: It’s more playful music at the moment, isn’t it? I mean the stuff the boys are playing in the shops at the moment. Fashion can be a moment right now. Individually there is just so much coming out, especially here. I’m really proud of what’s going on, my contemporaries are doing an amazing job over here.
Story by Felix Bischof
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