Since 1839, Cordings has been outfitting country folk, explorers, rock stars and royalty in exquisitely understated British clothing from its flagship store in the heart of London. Until now, that is, because the company is about to open a second store for the first time in its 176-year history, and it has chosen Harrogate to do so, taking a three-storey shop in the town’s historic Westminster Arcade on Parliament Street.
Harrogate is the perfect location for Cordings, said managing director Noll Uloth, adding that the new Yorkshire branch is larger than the Piccadilly store. “I feel we will be able to do justice to our collections, giving customers the same experience they would get if they visited us in London.” Denis Thatcher described Cordings as his favourite shop. Damien Hirst once said of it: “Wot a shop! (sic)”. But one famous Cordings wearer was so impressed that he bought the company (well, part of it). In 2003, the current management team decided to ask their best customer, Eric Clapton, if he could help with a buyout. He agreed to do so three minutes into their carefully prepared presentation.
In a video on the Cordings website (which is full of fascinating historical bits and pieces, plus tips on how to wear country clothing correctly), Clapton explains that he had been aware of the company since his teens, when he would travel to London to listen to music until late, and then, because it was hard to get home, walk around the West End until dawn. “It stuck in my mind as a place of tradition, part of the heritage of England,” he says. “I went off on my life, travelling around the world playing guitar, but every now and then I would look in the window at Cordings. One day, I saw this suit. It was a sort of a moss green herringbone tweed suit, three-piece, and I thought, God, that’s beautiful – it was just the most exquisitely cut jacket.”
In he went, shyly, feeling like a working class country boy entering a gentlemen’s club, and tried it on. “From then on I visited Cordings every week,” he says. “My favourite tweed jacket is the 21oz overcheck. I just feel like I’ve come to a kind of home in terms of what clothing I need to be in in the country.”
Eric Clapton freely admits that he became co-owner for his own personal benefit, so he could keep wearing the clothes and visiting but soon came to understand the passion and loyalty inspired by the brand, saying: “I am the custodian rather than owner of Cordings.”
And now Harrogate. I visited the shop while the construction and decoration of the interior were still underway and could see that this is going to be an impressive store and an asset both to the town and the Westminster Arcade. There will be a wall of trousers on the menswear floor. Cordings is famous for its corduroy and moleskin trousers, which come in striking colours. It’s famous too for its covert coat, developed at the end of the 19th century, and named because of the protection it afforded while riding through thick coverts.
There are already strong connections with Yorkshire, with many Cordings’ cloths woven in Yorkshire mills and many pieces made in the county, including caps and waistcoats. The new Harrogate store’s menswear department will offer field and country clothing, city suits and wonderful accessories – take a look at the silk ties with designs of dogs, ducks, hares and other animals, and marvel too at the clever design details, many inspired by the practicalities of country pursuits.
Womenswear, meanwhile, features gorgeous tweed jackets, velvet waistcoats, Liberty blouses, handmade leather boots and more.
Noll Uloth says he is particularly excited to show the five core products that epitomise the Cordings ethos – namely the covert coat, the mackintosh, the tweed jackets, the cord and moleskin trousers and the Tattersall shirts, those horse-blanket check cotton shirts originated by the company and much copied ever since, now an essential element of the country closet.
As the current Duke of Wellington puts it: “Without question Cordings is the complete outfitter; you have everything under one roof.”
Cordings of Piccadilly is at Westminster Arcade, Harrogate, and at Piccadilly, London. See its website www.cordings.co.uk to buy the full range and also to find tips and information on country style.