Wednesday, October 18th, 2006
[A misty, chilly autumn morning here at Warwick Hall]
Cashmere. It’s definitely a lovely word, one that conjures up images of exclusivity and softness. It’s also a word that makes the average wallet quake with fear. No matter, as you’ve probably gathered here at English Cut, expensive is fine, so long as its worth every penny. It’s the designer labels that charge huge sums for cheap rubbish, that make me quite cross.
But many things in life aren’t what they purport to be, let alone worth what they cost. Though my suits may be quite expensive, I still believe that my suits customers deserve value for money, and I work very hard to make sure that’s exactly what they get.
And that’s why EnglishCut.com has been so helpful for both me and my customers. It allows a cheap and easy way to explain the ins and outs of proper tailoring, the way it should be, without it having to be arbitrated by an insincere and glamour-hungry third party i.e. the mainstream fashion media.
Tailoring at its best is about keeping things simple. A £300 suit is probably worth £300. And a thoroughbred Savile Row bespoke for £2500 could give the satisfaction and longeveity of a £5000 suit bought elsewhere. Though the two price tags may be in different leagues from each other, both offer intelectually honest value-for-money.
The tricky bit is the stuff in the middle. As I’m fond of pointing out, marketers use a lot of clever strategies, photo shoots and ad campaigns to convince you to buy a £300 suit, complete with famous label and fancy shop, for £900. I’m sure they’re proud of the upscale retail experience they offer the customer, but they’re less fond of talking about what happens when the suit falls apart two years later, and the cool people on the salesroom floor have long-since forgotten you.
C’est la vie. We’ve all fallen for the clever tactics- “As worn by”, ” As seen in”, “New from the Exclusive House of …..” and so forth. All is vanity, as they say in The Good Book.
Luckily, like all the other tailors on Savile Row, I’m just in the business of selling suits, not lifestyles. That’s what Savile Row does. That’s what we make. We all have small businesses, and have neither the resources or the inclination to scale it up much beyond that. It’s a simple life and we like it that way.
That being said, my customers are always enquiring about shirts, shoes, ties and all other sorts of accessories, offering to buy them from me if I ever decided to get into that side of the business.
Generally, I’m too busy spending my time between Savile Row and here at my main cutting table at Warwick Hall, interspersed with trips to the USA and Europe, to give it too much thought. I generally prefer focusing on the suits. This is what I am most definitely best at.
That aside, if I do come across a craftsman or company that produces something special, I like to let people know. As you’ve probably already realised, unlike other companies, we don’t pretend to make shirts or other accessories. But what we do like to do is tell you the truth about the ones that do.
Our policy’s pretty simple about the people we like to recommend:
1. They have to be the best you can buy. World-class quality, without any doubt whatsoever.
2. They have to offer value for money, at the price point they’re selling at. Cheap designer rubbish is not welcome.
3. They have to make their products in the United Kingdom, whenever possible.
4. We have to know them well, and like them as people. They have to be good souls with the proper attitude.
Also, we like to let you know about them as personally as we can. I really don’t understand the fear some people have about telling the truth, why it’s so important to them to keep everything shrouded in mystery. We prefer to present them as real people, with real jobs and real lives, and not just refer to them as “our suppliers”.
For example, I took great delight in letting you all know about Rayner & Sturges, and the beautiful English bespoke shirts they make, from their little factory in Kent. You should check out their new website. They’ve got some wonderful pictures of Nigel Sturges’ grandfather. He’s standing at the same desk I photographed Nigel sitting at. It was also especially pleasing to me at the time, becasue so-called “authorities” were writing in online chat forums that no shirtmakers were left in England. This of course was like showing the red flag to the bull. I utterly delighted in proving them wrong. Rayner & Sturges have been supplying Jermyn Street for generations, usually with another company’s label adorning their wonderful work.
But now their secret is out.
The shirts have so far been a great success for me, and of course I’ve earned a little from it. But so has Rayner & Sturges. Frankly, I get more satisfaction from knowing that, thanks to the people reading this English Cut, there is an awful lot more people and businesses who now know about this super little English company, than before I ever came along.
It’s only human nature, but when businesses find a supplier that’s both good and reasonably priced, they prefer to keep it to themselves. That’s very nice for their own business, but it’s not too clever for the poor craftspeople who are trying to pay the rent. With English Cut, I hope I can get many more hidden, wonderful businesses out in the open, So if you’re buying from me, you know exactly what your hard-earned cash is being spent on.
[Arthur with some of his lovely scarves.]
Now I’ll get to the point. Yes, I’ve found another gem. Arthur Rennie of Simply Cashmere. He’s based in Hawick in the Scottish Borders, the home of traditional British knitwear, just up the road from here in Cumbria. His cashmere sweaters sell in some of the most prestigious retailers in the United States, under their own private labels. If you are in the market for A-Grade, hardcore cashmere, Arthur is the man to talk to.
It’s a long story how we met, but I’m delighted that we did. Arthur has recently been making me and a few of my friends some amazing cashmere products. We all already know how lusciously seductive this material can be, however to spend time over a few dinners with Arthur, and a few hours visiting his workshop is indeed a true revelation.
Not only does Arthur source the best yarn available [and I do mean "the best"], he also owns some wonderful antique knitting machines. These allow him to do more interesting and personal designs than you’d find anywhere in the mass market. One of the many things he makes are bespoke cashmere scarves. You pick your colours and the design you want, and he then makes it. How cool is that?
I’ve really had my eyes opened to this mysterious fabric. We know the obvious traits- soft , luxurious and expensive. But what makes one piece of cashmere £100 and then another £300? Well, I’m not the authority to tell you, but Arthur certainly is.
Have a look at his website and especially read Cashmere Truths. It’s very enlightening.
I hope to be telling you more about Arthur in the not-too-distant future. Thank you for allowing me to make the introduction.