Prince Charles is a man who wears his heart on his sleeve. The sleeve, that is, of the trusty tweed overcoat he has been wearing for several decades, reflecting his heartfelt – and long-held – commitment to sustainable fashion.
It was designed for him in the 1970s by Savile Row tailors Anderson & Sheppard, holders of the Prince of Wales’s royal warrant for tailoring services. He has worn it many, many times over the years and continues to wear it on chilly royal visits.
Prince Charles is patron of the Campaign for Wool, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year with a competition for textile and design students across the UK and the wool-producing world to help create innovative fashion and furnishings products using wool, working alongside prestigious manufacturers, designers and retailers.
Founded in 1906, Anderson & Sheppard dressed Hollywood stars including Fred Astaire, Gary Cooper and Cary Grant and is still considered the master of the “English drape” style, cut full over the chest for ease of movement. The house teamed up with weavers Abraham Moon & Sons of Guiseley on a Wool Week 2020 search for a student-designed, contemporary coat cloth that would create a comfortable overcoat made to last for as long as the one it designed for Prince Charles all those years ago. So they challenged students to provide a mood board taking as their concept the South Bank in London to inspire a fabric design rich with texture, pattern and check, featuring clever use of tonal colours.
The winner was University of Huddersfield Textile Design student Emma Herst, who found that Covid-19 presented practical challenges. “I had to adjust to a completely new way of working,” she said. “The hardest part of this was designing without a loom. Making samples, experimenting with different yarns and identifying the visual and textural impact of these decisions in person are all huge parts of my design process. For this to be reduced to solely digital was definitely a big change for me which definitely taught me how to adapt quickly and under pressure to different ways of working.”
Established in 1837, Abraham Moon is one of the UK’s last remaining vertical woollen mills, controlling every stage of production from raw wool to finished product (the term “vertical” is a throwback to the Victorian era when mills would rise several storeys, with each floor housing separate processes). “This brand new fabric combines different weaves to achieve an authentic tweed appearance while utilising our softest pure lambswool yarns,” said design director Judith Coates. “Combined with our ‘softwash’ finish, the resultant fabric is soft to handle with drape and volume.”
Nicola Redmore, subject group leader in Fashion and Textiles at the University of Huddersfield, said her department was proud of the collaboration. “Nothing can compare with the experience students get when responding to a live brief and working to the specific parameters set by industry experts,” she said.
Another collaboration with Yorkshire mills saw emerging fashion designers from the Royal College of Art create garments for Wool Week 2020 via a Future Fashion Factory project and its network of more than 250 fashion and textile businesses and professionals across the UK and also translated into a virtual showroom where it can be viewed online by BrandLab Fashion,
The collection consists of:
- A womenswear tailored jacket by Lee Hurst in a red and black bespoke jacquard ‘New Heritage’ AW Hainsworth cloth
- A new luxury take on the classic denim jacket by Yvonne Lim and Shaonan Xu at The Array, made in indigo lambswool from Joshua Ellis
- A hand-knit sweater by Jennifer Koch in natural-coloured Sheepsoft yarn from Laxtons – the pattern for Jennifer’s design will be available to download from the byLaxtons website www.bylaxtons.co.uk
- A unisex tailored jacket by Ben Osborn in dark blue Travel Resistant lightweight wool worsted by Dormeuil
- Shirt, shorts and jacket by Danielle Elsener in super-light 100’s wool and mohair twill by John Foster
This year’s Wool Week activities are broadly online and feature farmers, textile manufacturers, carpet makers, retailers, fashion and interior designers and artisans from around the world. The Campaign for Wool is a global endeavour initiated by Prince Charles to raise awareness of the natural, renewable and biodegradable (in soil and water) benefits of wool.
Yorkshire has played, and continues to play, an important role in British wool manufacturing, but it would be a mistake to assume that British wool always means wool grown by sheep in Britain, although there are small-scale designers and makers in Yorkshire and elsewhere in the UK who do use wool from local sheep.
“Since the industrialisation of wool textile manufacturing in West Yorkshire towards the middle of the 19th century, mills in the region have specialised in the processing of finer handling merino sheep wools from Australia, South Africa, South America and New Zealand,” said Campaign for Wool’s chief operating officer, Peter Ackroyd.
“While continuing to play a key role in the production of quality carpets, strong wools from hill sheep in the United Kingdom were quickly replaced in apparel manufacturing, as production of finer micron merino wool developed apace in the southern hemisphere to keep up with demand in Yorkshire.”
The merino sheep breed used to make most knitwear, including British, originated in the temperate Mediterranean climate of Andalusia and Morocco and then adapted well to antipodean bush and semi-arid climatic conditions. British sheep, meanwhile, have always been more at home in the hills of the UK with its cooler maritime climate, so their wool tends to be more coarse, suited to carpeting and sturdier cloths.
In the first half of the 20th century, 80 per cent of the Australian and South African wool clip was processed in the Bradford, Leeds and Huddersfield area. Mr Ackroyd said: “Today, fine knitwear, next-to-skin sportswear and luxury tailored apparel yarns and fabrics in imported merino wools are manufactured in the region for leading UK and global luxury brands”.
Wool Week 2020 ends tomorrow and, as it has been a very different experience this year, some brands have thought out of the box to create their digital contributions to wool awareness. Based in Clapham in the Dales, Glencroft makes many of its clothing and home accessories using British wool and so decided to create a video featuring friends and customers describing how their woolly item smells to them, promoting the unique but largely under-appreciated smell of pure wool.
“We want to capture and celebrate this smell as it is what makes our products what they are,” said owner Edward Sexton. “If your wool jumper doesn’t smell, the fibre may have been over-processed, bleached or heat treated. Our high-quality garments are made from local and natural British Wool so they have a natural wool smell – one which, it has to be said, isn’t for everyone, but we love it.”
Quality 100 per cent wool garments often smell of lanolin, a wax secreted by sheep. It has a very particular smell which, according to Woolmark, is “almost metallic-y, but sweet, grassy and perhaps a little sour”.
So if your jumper smells a little sheepish, especially when damp, that is exactly as it should be.
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