Words by Mr Chris Elvidge
"Christopher Raeburn, Katie Eary... I wanted to go to Christopher Shannon yesterday, but I was called into work... Astrid Andersen - I sat next to David Gandy, another Billericay boy," he adds, referring to his hometown in Essex, in the UK. It's the closing day of London Collections: Men, the start of the menswear calendar, and actor Mr Russell Tovey - with a level of enthusiasm that I will soon become accustomed to as the norm - is reeling off his attendance record. It makes for an impressive list, packed with emerging names, critical favourites and lesser-known designers.
"I just love the vibe of the shows," he continues. "The production values - the sound, lighting and music all packed into these tight, three-minute presentations. It's almost like a music video. Contemporary art is one of my major passions, too... I'm interested in emerging artists, and in the same way, I suppose, I love to go to these shows and see emerging designers. I see real parallels between the two."
I'm obsessed with certain brands - ones that I look good in, and ones that make me feel good
Mr Tovey has previously contributed to MR PORTER on the topic of contemporary art. The 31-year-old began collecting in his early twenties, after appearing in the acclaimed play The History Boys and its subsequent 2006 screen adaptation. "That was my big break, really, as it was for all us boys," he says of the film, which also helped to launch the careers of his co-stars, Messrs James Corden and Dominic Cooper. His art collection has been growing ever since - "it's getting there", as he puts it. "I visit art fairs, go to shows, try to build up relationships with emerging artists. And whatever country you're in, there'll be a gallery you can visit... I was in New York over New Year, and visited the Whitney Museum to see an exhibition of Wade Guyton's work - he's a young guy who uses ink jet printers in his art. Really, really cool."
"So, do you take a similar interest in fashion, then?" I ask, as he eyes the clothes rails around us.
"I'd say so, yeah," he replies, a little tentatively, perhaps implying that he doesn't want to appear to be taking himself too seriously. A silky, sage-green jacket from Japanese brand Kolor catches his eye, and he suggests a pair of tracksuit trousers to match - and, as if to demonstrate his point, begins tucking the ankles into a pair of chunky-knit socks. "I used to do this as a kid," he jokes. "Let's bring it back." The overall effect is some kind of luxe, slouchy throwback to mid-1990s park football, and Mr Tovey carries it off with ease. It's clear that behind this light-hearted demeanour lies a confident fashion sense, and a real passion for the subject: when the opportunity arises (which it often does), he speaks animatedly about it.
"I'm obsessed with certain brands - ones that I look good in, and ones that make me feel good," he says, using the word "obsessed" for the first of many times. "I particularly love brands with a take on sporty streetwear - I'm completely obsessed with Stone Island, for example. It's well-made, I feel cool in it, I feel masculine. Those qualities really sum up everything I love about clothes. Something that I can look at and say, 'Yes, that's me'. [Maison Martin] Margiela, too. And James Perse, I love."
And does Mr Tovey agree with the view that these are heady days for men's fashion? "Yeah - it's a really exciting time. Things have moved on a lot since I was a kid," he says, quoting the "David Beckham" effect - the influential footballer whose headline-grabbing, high-profile style choices arguably helped to push men's fashion and grooming into the mainstream.
Him & Her
Mr Tovey as Steve and Ms Sarah Solemani as Becky in the popular BBC sitcom
The Job Lot
Mr Tovey and Ms Sarah Hadland in the upcoming ITV sitcom about the goings-on at a West Midlands Jobcentre
The History Boys
From left: MessrsÂ Tovey, Sam Anderson, James Corden, Andrew Knott, Dominic Cooper, Samuel Barnett, Jamie Parker and Sacha Dhawan in the 2006 British film
Messrs Aidan Turner, who played a vampire, and Tovey, who played a werewolf, in the BBC supernatural drama, 2008
"I remember how it was before - taking care of yourself was seen as egotistical, effeminate, or both. If any man ever coloured his hair, or used moisturiser, it was seen as gay," he says, in his distinctive estuary English - elongating the word, accentuating its unfortunate, casually pejorative associations. "And the same was true for clothes. Wearing anything other than badly fitting jeans and a boxy shirt? Gay." As a man who has previously admitted to having had a difficult time coming out - he has been openly gay since his teenage years - this would surely be a topic close to Mr Tovey's heart, but his comments are delivered without resentment, as if he were recounting some absurd historical practice and not the reality of less than a generation ago. "I've used moisturiser my whole life," he adds, with the confidence, perhaps, of a man who knows that he was right all along.
So what's next for the actor? His new series, The Job Lot, premieres in spring; in it, he plays a Londoner who relocates to Birmingham with dreams of becoming an artist but finds himself working in a Jobcentre instead. And Mr Tovey hopes to continue Him & Her, the critically acclaimed sitcom showing the low-key domestic life of a working-class couple, which he describes as "his baby". I ask his plans and ambitions for the future, to which he replies, "just keep doing what I'm doing - I feel as if I'm on a steady path, and I'm enjoying it. I've got representation in LA, but can't see myself not living in London - at least for now, anyway." And does he have plans for his art collection? "Absolutely. I'm living in a rented flat at the moment, so I've got a few things in storage, but the dream is eventually to live in a big open space with everything around me."
And with enough room for a wardrobe or two, no doubt.