Friday, 22 October 2010

Covert Coats on The Portobello Road and Beyond

At the time when I was selling second hand clothes, I would regularly visit Portobello Road on a Friday morning at the crack of dawn just as the stallholders were unpacking, in order to pick up the bargains. Out of black plastic bin liners would appear all sorts of goodies.

One morning I spotted the edge of a velvet collar attached to a khaki coat. I pulled it out of the bag and discovered it was a covert coat. I gave it the once-over, checking for condition and general wear and tear. I immediately knew it was a bespoke coat, so I checked for a makers label, which would be sewn discreetly inside the inside breast pocket. There I found the name of the renowned Savile Row tailor – Huntsman. It cost me all of a tenner.

Later back at the shop, I would sort out my haul from the market. What would need repairing, what needed to be laundered and what I would send to the dry cleaners. My customers were aware of this weekly ritual and they would often be waiting for the shop to open to see what new old kit was on offer. No sooner than I had unlocked the door, a man pounced on the Huntsman covert coat and asked how much I wanted for it? “Oh give me a hundred pounds” I replied casually, and the deal was sealed.

This was the manner in which all the covert coats I found were sold - in a flash!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Wool Week & The Campaign for Wool

An invitation from The Prince of Wales to attend a meeting at his country residence Highgrove was an opportunity not to be missed - even if the visit was not a social one.

The meeting had been called by the Prince to discuss the perilous state of the wool industry, and what could be done to improve the situation. I have to say that it had never occurred to me that there may even be a problem. In my business, I annually buy thousands of metres of tweed, flannel and worsted material to make into men's jackets, suits and overcoats.

In a passionate speech, the Prince pointed out that sheep were no longer being sheared, as the price for the raw material was so low that it made no commercial sense for the farmers.

It was then that the campaign for wool was put in place, headed up by Conde Nast's MD Nicholas Coleridge. The campaign has been created to raise the awareness of this wonderful natural fibre that is not only used in clothing but for carpets, insulation and bedding too.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Fair Isle Sweaters and Slipovers

It must have been around 1970 when I left school and home to set myself up in the attic flat of a Georgian terraced house in Old Clifton, an area of Bristol which is similar to Bath (but was a little less gracious at that time).

Close by was a small boutique which sold clothes (in those days nobody spoke of brands) that came all the way from London, which of course I found very glamorous.

One day when passing by, displayed in the window were a pair of Oxford bags made by Cockell and Johnson of Kensington Market fame, teamed with a hand knitted Fair Isle slipover (more commonly known as a tank top). It bared the label Jean Howell, whose sister went on to create one of our most revered English brands, Margaret Howell.