We recently stopped by the studios of OAK Exclusive William Watson where we were treated to a preview of his colorful Spring 2014 collection, and we were able to talk with the UK-born designer about the roots of his inspiration in Northern England, his method of creating modern menswear by rebuilding the basics, and how his Noah shirt (available here) ended up in Jay-Z’s music video for “Picasso Baby.”

Shop William Watson at OAK.

OAK: The concept behind your line is to break down menswear and rebuild again from the classics. Can you elaborate on this process?
WILLIAM WATSON: I take a piece, for example, a classic blazer and think about how I can make this better [and] more interesting. As a designer, I never want to make just another 2-button blazer that can be in any line. The challenge of course is to find a balance and to not overdesign.

OAK: What about your upbringing in Northeast England inspired your desire to begin designing menswear? How do your collections reflect that influence?
WW: Growing up in a small mining community up North where most people never leave their hometowns, my pastime and passion was always drawing and movies.  The movies showed me what’s out there beyond my world and led me to leave home at 16 for art school in London, where I found my calling in fashion design. I think my designs are rooted in the ruggedness of my working-class up bringing. The elements of the classics with a twist of fantasy are from the movies I loved so much as a lad.

OAK: Which movies specifically inspired you?
WW: North by Northwest, Aliens and Taxi Driver to name a few.

OAK: What about your current environment plays a role in your work?
WW: My environment challenges me to think about not just the aesthetic of my designs, but to always keep function in mind.  For example, the Rhys sweatshirt and the Finley shirt both can be worn as a turtleneck or be pulled up over the face to create a half mask for the cooler weather

finleyWilliam Watson Finley shirt.

rhysWilliam Watson Rhys sweatshirt.

OAK: Most of your pieces find a synergy between subtle detailing (the cross stitch at the knee on the Charlie trouser) and bolder concepts (the blocking on the Noah shirt, the extended necks on the Finley and Rhys shirts). How do you reach this balance, and when do you know a design is finished?
WW: I consider myself an artist first; so all the designs, details, and balance between the garments are always worked out on paper first. I find that if I cannot make it look right on paper, it will never work in the garment. So a design is finished when I have a sketch I really love. A lot of concepts have been lost because I could not get it to look right on paper.

OAK: When we visited your studio, we caught a glimpse of your upcoming Spring ’14 collection, which incorporates prints and brighter colorways, a departure from your current collection. When beginning your work on a new collection, where is your jumping off point?
WW: When a new season comes around, I usually already have 10 to 20 ideas that have been swimming around in my head.  A theme will organically form through these ideas, which will then help me flush out the rest of the line. As you mentioned, my upcoming Spring ’14 collection is more colorful.  I knew I wanted to incorporate some prints into my Spring and Summer offerings, so I went to Liberty of London and got some great prints for shirting. They’ve also been working on some new ideas printing on knits, which is a departure from what they are known for.  I really loved these new articles and was able to put them to work straight away, so sometimes it’s just about being in the right place at the right time.

08.21.13men5633-2William Watson Barnaby mac.

OAK: Can you tell us more about your beginnings in Milan?
WW: After seven years of studying menswear at university where you are taught to design anything you wanted, then having my start at a big fashion house like Moschino was a big reality check on the commercial side of the fashion business. I definitely became disillusioned for a while, but it really helped having my schoolmates around. They all worked close by in Milan for other fashion houses, and were having a lot of the same discoveries and experiences.

OAK: When you’re not working, where can you be found?
WW: At the moment, I work on three different lines, two of my own and a third, where I am the full-time creative director. So when I am not working, I am sleeping for 3 to 4 hours on the couch, occasionally I make it to the bed and very occasionally I get a little Japanese manga in before I pass out.

OAK: What are you most looking forward to about Fall in New York?
WW: The summer heat is not kind to my Northern English complexion, so I much prefer the cooler weather and of course getting to layer!

noahshirtWilliam Watson Noah shirt.

OAK: The Noah shirt was recently featured in Jay Z’s music video for “Picasso Baby.” What are you currently listening to? What influence do you draw from music?
WW: I constantly have rinse.FM, a London based dance music station on all day. Being English I grew up with this music, so it’s great that it’s finally come over stateside. The music keeps me moving, its like caffeine for me. Currently I’m listening to Hypercolor, Plastician, Nervo twins, Toddla T, Bingo players and Hot since 82.

OAK: Our sneak preview of Spring 14 aside, what’s next for William Watson?
WW: We are working on expanding my other line: Death to tennis  and to continue to focus and perfect the William Watson line; we are also exploring possible shoe and leather goods collaborations.

08.21.13men5560cross stitch detailing on William Watson Charlie trouser.