Standing at the end of a row of residential houses in Bury St Edmunds, we find the studio we are looking for: a single storey building, half painted black, with wooden steps to the entrance. Iggi swings open the door and greets us with a beaming smile, introducing his wife Ryoko. They co-own Workhouse Clothing, working from the old Victorian slaughterhouse they have restored, repaired and reclaimed, since 2011.
We enter through on old door put together with close to 50 individual pieces of wood. In front of us is a re-used horse carriage, sitting under a hand-carved wooden ladder. The centre space is dominated by a large table where Iggi works designing the different ranges. Clothes are individually hung on rails and pegs around the studio and the classic Workhouse high top bowler hat sits proud on the window sill.
Workhouse is borne out of a renewed appreciation for the hidden beauty in old things. They create clothing with a certain swagger, mixing old with new, contrasting fabrics and textures, creating a look that is “formal worn informally”. The inspiration Iggi tells us “comes from the Victorian street, and in particular random photographs of street traders and musicians.” Looking around the room there are collections of these images pinned to the wall and next to them, press clippings, fabric tears and sketches… the whole studio feels like a den of creativity – and a very stylish one at that. One image that jumped out and followed us round the room was a shot of Oliver Reid as Bill Sykes in Oliver Twist, staring straight at the camera wearing a long coat. Iggi looks at the shot and says, “the silhouette from top to bottom is important to me. That’s why I collect old photos, I get really excited by the shape and the cut of a garment. These ideas I transfer into the Workhouse range but the trick is to not to replicate these garments – I am not re-creating a period drama.”
When he was younger, Iggi went to art school for a day, but left because… as he puts it “I couldn’t draw”. Later that year he took a trip to the London College of Fashion and decided to apply. “I borrowed a girlfriend’s shirt she’d made, and I pretended it was mine. They were really impressed and I managed to get in. You’ve got to take your chances,” he says with a smile on his face. Four years later, after graduating, Iggy entered the world of fashion, learning his trade under lots of different designers, in studios and on market stalls, finding his feet and his style.
Workhouse has been evolving over the last five years, steadily growing in England, Hong Kong and Japan. The ranges appeal to buyers who appreciate the style and the focused inspiration, which is apparent everywhere, from the workshop and the images pinned to the wall, to the ever-evolving clothes and fabrics. There is a lovely tactility about a Workhouse garment. Iggi is passionate about the fabrics he uses, where he sources them from, and how he and his close-knit team put them together to create unique pieces, that are both stylish and a garment for life.