In recent seasons commentators and brands alike have taken a keen interest in how and where their clothes are made. There have been numerous labels launched on the 'Made in the...' wave of public intrigue and enthusiasm and I for one, welcome it. Of course there have been moments within all of this that have provoked style ennui but every once in a while one makes you take notice. Last April I encountered Private White V.C. at Cube's Press Day and its debut collection along with the story behind the label captured my imagination.
Private White V.C is based on the everyday wardrobe of Private Jack White and its debut collection is a celebration of his endeavours both in battle and as a craftsman. Returning from the Great War having been awarded the Victoria Cross medal for bravery, Private Jack White embarked on an eight year apprenticeship as a pattern cutter at a local raincoat factory in Manchester. For the next thirty years White developed his craft and enhanced his factory's reputation as one of the leading producers of men's apparel in the UK. Cooper and Strollbrand is the largest independent clothing manufacturer in the UK and has been producing, developing and designing for over seventy years from their factory in Manchester. The company boasts a team of close to one hundred staff located in their factory in Manchester where they hand craft all of their patterns and manufacture their garments to be sold across the globe. There was a time when Lancashire was at the heart of the world’s outerwear industry. Now, the factory is one of the last bastions of the clothing manufacturing industry in the UK. Private White V.C serves as a reminder that they have and hopefully will always continue to make fantastic, market leading garments using the finest British materials and craftsmen. To mark the launch of the label for AW10 and in preparation for the label's pop up venture on Lamb's Conduit Street, we spoke with the Great Grandson of Private White and now director of Private White V.C, James Eden, to learn more about the evolution of the label and the inspirational man behind it.
SS: Aside from being your Great Grandfather, what does Private White VC mean to you?
James Eden: In addition to being my Great Grandfather, Private White VC was a genuine British war hero and a clothing pioneer. He was a man of passion, integrity, immense skill and humility and these traits underpin the brand that proudly carries his name. The brand is a celebration of our clothing heritage and his heroic exploits both in battle and as a craftsman.
SS: You are one of the countries eldest and most experienced clothing manufacturers. How has the factory evolved since its inception and how has it survived despite the decline of industry in the UK?
James Eden: Whilst the majority of UK makers have either gone out of business or gone offshore we have flourished due to nothing else other than hard work, grit, determination, skill, flair and a relentless passion…easy!! Over the years many manufacturers have failed as they have tried to offer too much to too many people whereas we have stayed true to our heritage and expertise. To this day we sculpt and cut all our patterns by hand and we still use exactly the same traditional techniques that we used in the 1960s and 1970s to cut, make and finish all our garments. We don’t work with any automated machinery which helps to give each of our garments character, a unique feel and charm.
SS: How has the menswear landscape changed since the factory's inception?
James Eden: From 1910 to the 1960s UK menswear was extremely formal and predictable. Just look at any Lowry portrait and you’ll see men wearing identical SB macs, many of which were made here at our factory. In fact up until the 1960s the factory would spend months at a time making just one style over one fabric in a choice of half a dozen or so colours. Now the mix is infinitely more eclectic, with constantly changing shapes, and fabrics…elbow patches, action back pleats, leather piping, wadding, contrast outer fabrics, at times on the same garment!
SS: What was the driving catalyst for the launch of Private White V.C?
James Eden: For years we at the factory have flirted with the idea of offering our own range of garments direct to the general public but for whatever reason, the timing was never deemed right. However, the misery, and gloom of the recession has meant that we have felt compelled to do our utmost to try and put UK manufacturers and Manchester in particular back on the map. About 30 years ago, Lancashire was the heart of the world’s outerwear industry and I think now is a fantastic time for us to stand up, be counted and for people to be reminded that we have always and will continue to make fantastic, market leading garments using the finest British materials and craftsmen.
SS: Each piece in this capsule collection is drawn from pieces of Jack White’s wardrobe, items he customised to suit his everyday activities. What were the first and last item you remember designing for the label?
James Eden: The first piece was the DB trench coat, a timeless classic and Private Jack’s favourite! A 100% cotton gabardine weaved, spun and yarn dyed in Yorkshire, sewn in Lancashire, and worn all over the UK. The latest piece we have designed is what are calling the ‘Columbo’ which is an extremely simple and classic fly fronted SB mac. The pattern & cut has been refined to reflect a more modern silhouette whilst the construction is identical to those garments made by the factory in throughout the1930s, 1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s….00’s
SS: I appreciate that this is a difficult question but have you got a favourite piece? What is the standout piece for you?
James Eden: The Squaddie in wax wool is close to my heart as we designed and the developed a completely innovative and unique fabric in our own mill. We wanted to celebrate the original and traditional method of waterproofing to create something indecently warm and trustworthy. The result is a fantastically durable, stylish AND waterproof woollen jacket made from the finest regional yarns.
SS: Private White V.C. has its roots firmly embedded in the Manchester garment industry and it is this heritage that continues today as both an inspiration and an ethos for the brand – all garments are made in Manchester, as they have been for almost a century. How do you see the label developing over the next few years and beyond?
James Eden: The brand will continue to do what we have always done which is to offer great value to our customers who desire the finest and most durable clothing that is hand crafted from one of the UK’s eldest and most experienced factory
Private White V.C is due to pop up in November on Lamb's Conduit Street.