When Luke Walker, founder and creative director of London menswear brand L.E.J., began thinking about his third collection (SS21), he didn’t envision having to rethink everything. “The beginning of this collection coincided with the beginning of lockdown,” Walker tells us, “So – as it was for many people – it was a heavily emotional time for me, thinking about the brand, what I wanted it to be, where it should go, and if it would even exist in six months time.” But like many, this sudden halt resulted in time to consider and reevaluate – ushering in a new mindset that may have begun through necessity, but ended as motivation.
“The collections up until SS21 had been heavily focused on shirts, which is how I began the project, and how I always imagined it to continue.” Having honed his craft at Lanvin, Dunhill and Drake’s, Walker’s knowledge of considered luxury detailing led him to the initial vision for his semi-eponymous brand: specialise in one very particular garment (a shirt) and see how far you can take it. Drawing from disparate references – from heavy Japenese work suiting to luxury silk loungewear and safari linens – Walker translated this moodboard into his own contemporary vision of carefully constructed shirting, designed to fade and age with its wearer – harbouring a uniqueness over time. “We want every piece that we produce to look better with time than when it left us,” reads Walker’s brand ambition, “And by better we mean worn, used, travelled, experienced, weathered, embellished, frayed and loved.”
But in the time between March and June, 2020, the world stopped and Walker was left surrounded by uncertainty, questions, and resources: “I spent a lot of time locked in my studio, surrounded by beautiful fabrics. I was able to get only limited newness out of the mills, so I relied on the articles which I had put aside for a rainy day, favourites which I hadn’t yet had the opportunity to use. Some of them were actually womenswear-focused articles I’d saved from my Paris days, when we in the men’s studio were lucky enough to be invited into the women’s, and vice-versa.”
The vision for L.E.J. became stronger, and the urge to create a realised vision beyond shirts really came to the fore. “It was a kind of surging energy which I couldn’t resist, even though all circumstances suggested that I should pull back, reduce the range. I literally couldn’t resist creating more.”
“I spent a lot of time locked in my studio, surrounded by beautiful fabrics. I was able to get only limited newness out of the mills, so I relied on the articles which I had put aside for a rainy day…”
From those initial shirt blueprints, Walker’s vision grew into a collection of wardrobe essentials that maintained the standards and ethos of the brand but gave room for more fantasy, more relaxation, more narrative. Where previous collections provided the L.E.J. man with a timeless vehicle, this season sees him open her up. “I wanted to take this concept further, and make the collection a lot more poetic than previous collections,” explains Walker, discussing the SS21 narrative. “I wanted to create a soft-focused dream world of rosé soaked lunches and warm beaches. I wanted the man to be a more fully formed character than I felt he had previously been. It should be softer, lighter, more relaxed, more flowing. We were lucky that lockdown was hot!”
Translated into clothing, this manifests across a collection imbued with summer dreaming: of soft linen shirting paired with salvaged denim, of louche silhouettes and easy layering. Serge Gainsbourg double denim mingles with revere collars and off-duty officer’s shirts come reimagined as “peaceful”, “civilian” uniform. Also in the mix are three new styles: “the Cat Posh Plage Coat, derived from an officer’s pyjama; the Plage Pyjama, from a similar source; and the Chemise Short, which references a pair of Italian Air Force sports shorts.”
“The collection is a modestly poetic vision of personal escape,” summarises Walker as a final takeaway – proving that when physical travel is no longer an option, a mindful journey can be just as exhilarating.