Charles Chambers is a rarity in cycle clothing: a fashion graduate who relies on classical tailoring skills.
Formerly a butcher, with experience of breaking down an animal to its constituent parts, he has applied knowledge of anatomy and tailoring to the articulated and highly functional clothing of the Fox Wilson collection: garments for the urban cyclist that range from bamboo t-shirts to tweed jackets.
The brand is the brainchild of Ian Wilson, boss of i-Ride, the Ditchling-based distribution business that imports revered marques like De Rosa and Campagnolo to the UK, while Chambers’ influences include the ‘G-suits’ worn by fighter pilots in the 1960s, filtered through the experience of riding day in, day out on London’s unforgiving streets.
“The driving force was to create something that is very technical and well thought-out, but with a classic, simple, elegant aesthetic,” Chambers says.
When we catch up with Chambers, there’s a new garment on his tailor’s dummy (a development of Fox Wilson’s Serpentine jacket), a tape measure around his neck, and pins to hand, holding various sections of the jacket in place.
He has recently finished Fox Wilson’s first collection. Development work started 18 months ago, and, after a low-key launch on the brand’s own website last October, it has been picked up by heavyweight online retailers, Evans and Wiggle.
Much of the collection is made from bespoke, technical fabrics developed with Switzerland’s Schoeller, but it also includes tweeds woven on an 18th century loom in East London and merino wool 3D knitted in Leicestershire, once the capital of the knitwear world and a gathering force again.
There are two tailored jackets in the Fox Wilson collection: the flannel Ludgate jacket, and the Audley, a tweed jacket woven with a reflective yarn, imperceptible until placed beneath a powerful light.
The reflective yarn is sourced from America, where it’s cut into tiny filaments from rolls of fabric a metre-and-a-half thick. The raw fabric is treated with a Teflon coating and the filament wrapped around a yarn to create a ‘double coating’. The process is lengthy.
The fabrics for the tailored jackets are woven on an 18th Century loom in East London and the designs are partly inspired by shooting gear from the turn of the last century. The freedom of the tailoring in back and shoulder are as important to the cyclist as the huntsman.
Further evidence of Chambers’ methods can be found in the ‘action back’ on the denim jacket, which he likens to a pair of bellows.
“If you want to keep the shaping in the back, you add two extra layers of fabric, which concertina over each other. When you lean forwards, it gives you all that extra fabric to pull in. On the inside, we’ve added a mesh which allows everything to spring back; it doesn’t just pop out. We’ve also added a vented yoke, so it’s breathable.”
The same fabric, developed with Schoeller and described by Chambers as “performance denim”, is used in Fox Wilson’s jeans. “We’ve produced the fabric from the fibre upwards,” he explains.
“We take the thread and run it through silicone and weave it into the fabric. That way, the water repellency stays on the thread and the fibre, so it won’t wash off. You also retain the gaps between the warp and the weft, so you have a garment that is breathable, and you’re not getting hot and sweaty, where DWR coatings coat the whole of the fabric.”
The fabric is only part of the story of Fox Wilson’s jeans. Pockets are reinforced with a double layer of denim. The belt loop doubles as a D-lock holder. There are no sharp rivets to stick in the skin; instead, Chambers has used ‘bar tack’ - a strong piece of thread woven four times through the fabric at any of the traditional stress points in a pair of jeans.
An extra layer of fabric to reinforce the seat has been carefully placed.
“Instead of just laying it over the whole of the seat, which adds a lot of bulk, and not necessarily protection in the right areas, we put people sat on saddles and marked around the jeans, to discover where the saddle sits on the body and on the garment, and reinforcing those places specifically, rather than just putting a panel on there.”
In fact, the appeal in many of the Fox Wilson garments lies in the detail. The Serpentine jacket, for example, a belted, three-quarter length coat, has waterproof zips, magnetic poppers and subtle, black reflective detailing to complement Schoeller’s waterproof and wind resistant C_Shell fabric. The belt is reversible, concealing the reflective details entirely when required. Simply turn it over for the ride home.
The Camden jacket is very obviously a ‘Harrington’ and while the silhouette attests to Chambers’ original design principle (“very simple and very classic, without dilution”) it is highly technical (“waterproof, wind resistant, the whole shebang”).
The back has a vented yoke for air flow, and the wool cuff is fashioned from organic merino to meet the eco-friendly ‘bluesign’ standard. The chest logo is vinyl, not stitched. “If you stitch a garment, you put holes in it - not great for water,” Chambers laughs.
The Clapton roll neck jersey is 3D knitted from bluesign-approved merino wool in Hinckley. Chambers enthuses about the process. “You put yarn in one end of these huge looms, and you get a garment out of the other,” he laughs. "It defies belief. Just seeing it working is amazing. It’s the size of a huge industrial printer and set up like an X, with four shuttles.”
It is not merely technical wizardry that has drawn him to it, however. The technical benefits that accrue to the cyclist from 3D knitting are manifest: no abrasion points, ventilation, and the designer’s control over rib length allows him to engineer the stretch and support.
Fox Wilson’s t-shirt is, unsurprisingly, not your standard short-sleeve undergarment.
For a start, it’s made from organic bamboo - softer and lighter than cotton, and antibacterial - and the seams are bonded, rather than stitched, to eliminate abrasion points; see also the neck label, which is printed, rather than stitched.
They’re finished with subtle, transparent logos that become reflective under direct light.
“We’ve spent close to two years developing and testing this range and trying our damnedest to get it spot on,” Chambers says.
“It’s always been the view that if we’re going to do this, it has to be right. We’ve never put out a product that we don’t feel is ready.”
The city cyclist may come to value Chambers’ attention to detail.