My name is James Michelsberg and I’m a suit-a-holic.
It’s a nightmare. Every time I open the wardrobe door, she’s there. A sultry toned temptress from Narnia who flashes her legs between the pinstripes and whispers in my ear – “just one more James. Just one more.”
This time I’ve gone for a double-breasted number, with a side order of oomf, smothered in extravagance. It’s going to feel like a second skin, with peak lapels of such size and magnitude that I could throw myself off a cliff and use them to go hand-gliding.
Here I am at first-fitting stage.
At the moment it’s just a shell. There’s a little canvas in the chest and some pads in the shoulders and that’s about it. You’ll see I’m missing a sleeve. That’s so that we can check the armhole is nice and high, which provides greater ease of movement so I’ll be able to waggle my arms around in the air without it causing the coat to ride up.
But that’s not the half it. No Siree. Because this newest addition to the Michelsberg stable is all about the cloth and I kid you not when I say it is seriously special.
Designed by myself and good friend Andrew Knight (the chap on the left in the picture below) of John Cavendish Luxury Fabrics it is a classic Prince of Wales with a lilac over-check. Fourteen ounces in weight it’s a ballsy cloth with some serious meat to it.
Whilst I have a soft spot for mid-weight Super 120’s / 130’s and noble fibres, I think this ‘luxury’ thing is getting out of hand. Isn’t all this scouring the planet, hunting for rarer and rarer animals to catch and shave becoming a bit twee and rather effeminate?
I wanted something tough, rugged, masculine, built to last and so the Michelsberg “Bulls Wool” House Cloth was born. But here comes the best bit…
Working in partnership with the Yorkshire Textile community and scientists in New York (James Hayward, CEO of ADNAS), we are the first company in the world to impregnate cloth with botanical DNA to protect it’s authenticity and provide traceability.
We plan to only produce very limited runs of each design, so wanted to provide re-assurance to our customers that the cloth is in fact woven in Yorkshire and the garment is a Michelsberg original.
Much of the credit for this initiative must go Peter Ackroyd, Director General of the British Wool Textile Export Corporation and in particular, Bill Macbeth, Managing Director of the Textile Centre of Excellence. They helped identify suitable partners, co-ordinated the project and even provided some funding.
After we had bought the yarn and produced the weaving ticket, it was off to Pennine Weavers, one of the most modern facilities in Europe. They weave about thirty five thousand meteres of fabric a week, reinvest ten percent of their turnover back into the business every year and employ seventy two people who do one hundred loom changes a week. Here I am with the Managing Director Gary Eastwood.
We introduced the DNA marker at the ‘warping’ stage of the process. Watching our sample length come off the loom was incredible – right up there with the birth of my daughter!
After weaving it was off to the finishers in Huddersfield, WT Johnsons. All cloth, no matter what the quality, feels rough and is dirty once it comes of the looms. It is their job to clean (scour) it, and then work their magic to give the cloth the finish the customer wants.
Here I am with Paul Johnson, their Managing Director, who gave me a masterclass on how the process works and what could be achieved through a combination of ‘milling’ and ‘cutting’ the cloth.
I wanted a softer, more ‘flannely’ finish (also favoured by Ralph Lauren) and so the cloth was ‘milled blind’ and only cropped a little. Cloth with a harder handle and silkier finish, like their ‘London Shrunk’ quality, is cropped closely or ‘clear cut.’
Big respect to Alan Dolley (pictured below), their technical manager, who is a guru when it comes to finishing cloth and gave me exactly the handle I was looking for.
As a final gesture, we also added their ‘Nanoblock’ coating to the cloth which makes it water (and wine) resistant. The perfect suit for drinking in. Now there’s a selling point..
It’s been a real journey and I am incredibly proud of what ‘Team Yorkshire’ have achieved. Andrew Knight of Cavendish has been a particular legend and his enthusiasm has been infectious. I now have my first house cloth and plan to showcase this made up into a finished garment in Italy and Japan later this year.