I went to see The Iron Lady last week and I feel sure that Meryl Streep is a dead cert for getting Best Actress at the Oscars for her leading role in the film. It’s a remarkable performance and, although it’s an American film, it got me thinking about our heritage and in particular, British manufacturing, which, I hope, is beginning to take off again, particularly in the clothing industry. I am hoping that this is the year that we ‘look behind the label’ and when ‘made in Britain’ becomes not only desirable, but also a reason why we are buying something. Not to get sentimental, but growing up in South Africa we used to wait for visitors to come from England with gifts with the St Michael label from M&S. To us, the label represented everything that stood for British quality. I read recently that Ralph Lauren, Hermès, Louis Vuitton and Prada are amongst the luxury fashion houses using our specialist factories for some of their footwear, cashmere and tweeds. Despite this, many factories have closed and, with them, has gone a tradition of authentic craftsmanship.
There are, however, brands that are flying the British flag with pride. Paul Smith, Lyle & Scott, Pringle and John Smedley have always supported British craftmanship and do their manufacturing here where possible. Burberry make their bespoke trench coats in their own factory – do you remember the outcry when they moved some of their production to China in 2006? Barbour and Mackintosh are both having a revival and even the high street is taking up the trend, with Topshop making some of its boutique pieces at home. Also recognising the value in supporting British manufacturing, AllSaints recently produced a short documentary called ‘Voices of the Cloth’, celebrating the traditional, labour intensive techniques used at the finishing mill in Huddersfield that AllSaints sources material from. The beautifully shot film laments the decline of an industry, but more crucially, AllSaints gives a face to the skilled craftsmen working there. And who can forget Dr Martens, a firm proud to be using the same factory in Northampton since 1901.
However, it is menswear that is really a shining light for the British manufacturing industry. There is no doubt that Oliver Spencer is the epitome of what a modern British brand stands for. Nearly all of his line is made in the UK, with just shirts and t-shirts made in Portugal. His clothes are worn by music icons, from The Rolling Stones to Paul Weller and The Doves, and by men who want to feel that they are wearing special, interesting and different clothes of real quality. Nigel Cabourn’s range, the Authentic Line, was inspired by Sir Edmund Hillary and the 1953 Ascent of Everest. It was first launched in its present form in 2003, to coincide with the 50th Anniversary. This was such a remarkable human achievement and the clothes worn were basically all military, customised for the climb. Nigel, who collects vintage clothing, had many of the originals in his vintage library so he set about recreating them as close to the originals as possible. He used British manufacturers and original British fabrics. Nigel produced a collection without compromise and, where certain components were no longer available, they were specially made. He continues to manufacture in Britain today.
We have been asking what luxury is for a while now; perhaps the answer is provenance, craftsmanship, ethical and local – made in Britain?
Can you name me some brands that are ‘made in Britain’? firstname.lastname@example.org.