Universal Utility is one of those subjects where it’s hard to know where to begin. You really have to see the clothes to understand them and even then, you’ll be left with the feeling that there’s much more to discover through wearing them. While some fashion designers, Hussein Chalayan and Vivienne Westwood for instance, may have ‘concept’, ‘drama’ and ‘intellect’ as their USPs (Unique Selling Points), others, such as Alice Anderson and Martin Margiela have serious materiality, craft and ‘technique’ behind theirs. Universal Utility, however, does not seem even to know what a USP is and is all the more ‘authentic’ for it. The most striking part of the designer Carin Mansfield’s Universal Utility clothing is that you get the same quality, feeling and thrill as you would with a genuine piece of 19th century workwear (in an astonishingly good condition) – thicker, simpler, sturdier and more intriguing than practically anything you could make today. Having carefully sourced pieces “that weren’t complete sacrilege to cut up”, Carin’s cuts are inspired by garments you might otherwise find in a museum: but their true quality, or character, comes from the fact that Carin makes them the same way they would have been made 200 years ago – French seams and all. In the 19th century, pre groaning wardrobes, globalisation and techno-fabrics, clothes were made to work hard in and to last as long as their wearer. They and their labour-intensive process seem today sculptural and deeply seductive (for anyone at all tactile) in themselves. Furthermore the stories and lives that they allude to are enough to make anyone remotely sentimental go weak at the knees. It’s no surprise that Carin wanted to remake them her way. It’s just astonishing that she does, given the amount of work, time and care needed to reproduce something to that quality and presence when easier options are so readily available. JOIN US Tuesday 5 July 5.30-7pm, £12 Polly Leonard will be talking to Carin Mansfield of Universal Utility, about slow fashion, being a shopkeeper in the age of the internet and the role clothes play in all our stories. Enjoy a glass of prosecco and an evening of inspiration. Carin will bring a selection of garment for guest to admire try and buy. Selvedge, 162 Archway Road, London, N6 5BB This is an extract from Grace Warde-Aldam's article the Southern issue of Selvedge.