Farewell sweet Summer – you’ve been a joy. This year we’ve been spoilt rotten, but gin and tonics must now give way to a warming brandy, as the cold, hard barrels of Autumn and Winter swing in our direction.
Now is the time for log fires, pastry and mash and breaking out the winter wardrobe.
Respect to Chris, one of my customers, who had the foresight to order this little beauty in August.
It’s a ‘covert coat’ which gets it’s name from the hardwearing ‘covert’ cloth from which it is made – a process which involves the twisting together of two threads of a similar colour (usually in faun or green) which results in a durable fabric with a slightly mottled finish.
This one is sixteen ounces in weight and was sourced from the cloth merchant Dugdale Brothers of Huddersfield. I can still remember the first time I pushed the bell on their highly polished door.
Based here since 1906 (in what used to be the main Post Office) history and heritage drip off every wood panelled wall. It’s imposing, yet warm, and everything feels utterly solid. There’s brass fittings, stone floors, solid oak tables and an iron lift that resembles a cage for Hannibal Lecter.
Introducing Keith ‘Robert’ Charnock, whom I’ve had the pleasure of doing business with since Michelsberg tailoring was born.
To me, he is the Fantastic Mr Fox of the cloth trade. Elegant, with a penchant for cashmere overcoats, he is charm personified.
A textiles man through and through, he’s a born salesman. A true hunter, with eye’s that twinkle with shrewdness, his energy levels are incredible.
He’ll jump up my stairs two at a time, and has more stories than an Italian grandmother. When it comes to tailoring companies, he’s seen and done business with them all.
He began in the trade as an apprentice with John Foster’s of Queensbury, before joining his father at the mill Kaye & Stewart in Huddersfield. These guys made cloth for all the top merchants including Dormeuil, H Lesser & sons (now owned by LBD) and Wain Shiell (now owned by Scabal).
It was here that he learnt, and fell in love with, manufacturing but was tempted away by the iconic tweed merchant, John G Hardy, who wanted to get into flogging wool worsteds and needed a man who knew the game.
After that, he joined Dugdale’s, and eighteen years later, did a Victor Kiam and bought the company from the last remaining family member, Betty.
Dugdales is a true ‘manufacturer without looms’ and in my opinion, is one of the best value for money merchants I deal with. Yorkshire is still the epicentre of UK textiles and the knowledge and relationships that have been built up by this firm, is second to none.
They made their name selling barathea’s, a fine textured weave with a pebbled effect, often used for blazers, military uniforms and dinner suits. Now, their range of fabrics is far more comprehensive, from the more durable Super 80’s and 100’s worsteds to finer luxury blends.
I’ve mentioned their over-coatings, but they’ve also got a cracking mohair bunch, cashmere jacketings, linens and cottons as well as a stunning selection of top quality cupro bemberg linings.
Since the year 2000, the reigns of power have been handed over to his son Robert, pictured below.
A bouncing bundle of bonhomie he has certainly inherited his father’s ability to spin a yarn, in more ways than one! Over a cup of perfectly brewed Yorkshire tea he painted a positive picture for the future.
Bespoke tailoring continues to grow in popularity and whilst thirty percent of the company’s business is export, this is set to increase. At the moment, most of this is within Europe (Italy, Germany and Switzerland) but the Middle and Far East present real opportunities.
One of the threats is UK production capacity, as most of the remaining mills, commission weavers and finishers are pretty much flat out. A good thing, but certainly something that needs addressing.
At the moment they employ sixteen people and ship at least two hundred cut-lengths a day. Here’s Paul and Dean who cut, pack and send out the cloth.
I shouldn’t forget the new blood. Here’s apprentice Jake, only seventeen years old, with guns to rival my very own.
And finally there’s the office posse that ensure the business runs like a well oiled machine. Introducing June (UK trade & accounts), Carole (export), Amy (UK & Export), Clare (Customer Service), Josh (stock control), Brian (accounts), Lynn (accounts & invoicing) and Robert (Top Cat / Mr Big).
Visiting suppliers, in fact anyone in the trade, gives me a real buzz. It’s great to put a face to a name, some of the characters are fabulous and I even pick up a bit of knowledge here and there.
Team Dugdale were an absolute pleasure to be around and their bunches will continue to be a vital part of my tailoring armoury for many years to come.
I’ll end this “Strictly” style, do a Brucey shuffle in my Jeffery West’s and implore the boys and girls at number five Northumberland Street to “Keep Merchanting!”