The window displays at Cordings on Parliament Street are something of a Harrogate attraction, a must-see for townsfolk and visitors alike. The current showcase is an atmospheric winter tableau featuring mannequins dressed in chic soft blue and white knitwear amongst, variously, a wooden sledge, a huge yule log, flying owls, a friendly fox and one unfortunate chap stuck upside down in the snow, legs, clad in tweed shooting breeks, stuck straight up in the air. An elegantly quirky, decidedly tongue-in-cheek approach that reflects the Cordings way to a tee (although perhaps a Tattersall check shirt is a better analogy).
It’s just over three years since the store opened in Harrogate and, in that time, it has established a reputation as a go-to not just for the country set, but for discerning dressers of all ages and habits, those with an eye for detail, an appreciation of beautifully crafted, classic tailoring in the finest British and Irish tweeds, and who prefer something a little bit out of the ordinary.
There is only one other Cordings store, the iconic flagship at 19, Piccadilly, in the heart of London. Founded as an outerwear supplier in 1839 by John Charles Cording, this independent business has for nigh on 180 years outfitted country folk, explorers, royalty and rock stars. Rock stars? It’s actually co-owned by Eric Clapton, who is also joint managing director. He was its best customer in 2003 when the management team asked him to help with a buyout. He had admired the shop, its windows and its clothes since his teens, and there’s a film of him on the Cordings website talking about his relationship with the brand. “It stuck in my mind as a place of tradition, part of the heritage of England,” he says. One day, he spotted a moss green herringbone tweed three-piece suit and went in, 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. “I just feel like I’ve come to a kind of home in terms of what clothing I need to be in the country.”
Even larger than Piccadilly, the Harrogate store also has that gentleman’s club feel in terms of decor, although it’s far from “clubby”, thanks to the welcoming warmth of its staff, all Harrogate locals, led by manager Georgie Eadington.
“We get a lot of visitors who have been to the London store and might be visiting Harrogate, and didn’t know we were here,” she says. “They like it because we’ve got a lot of space. We get some friendly people, and they are always buying us things from Bettys.”
The three-storey Cordings emporium is the jewel of Harrogate’s Victorian Westminster Arcade. Before opening in November 2015, master craftsmen spent months restoring all the wood panelling and plaster work to create a backdrop for the characterful interior, both grand and homely, with tweed-upholstered window seating and silk damask wall coverings, stags’ heads and stuffed birds, along with framed prints and shooting trophies brought up from the Piccadilly store.
Womenswear is on the ground floor, offering tweed and wool tailoring, suede and leather shoes and boots (a collaboration with cool brand Dukes brings beautiful suede Chelsea boots), Liberty print shirts, cashmere and merino knitwear and accessories from silk scarves and pashmina to hats and gloves.
“I think the thing that people don’t realise in Harrogate, particularly ladies, is that we are not just a country store,” Georgie says, pointing out the chic red coat she is wearing for our photo shoot. “I’ve had it two weeks and every time I’ve worn it, I’ve had a comment.”
Georgie’s style tip for the New Year in womenswear is loden pencil skirts, stylish and beautifully finished, to wear with merino crew and polo-necks. “A cream polo-neck is always a winner,” she says.
Many of Cordings’ cloths are woven in Yorkshire mills and many pieces are also made in the county. The menswear department on the first floor has tweeds, suiting and shirting, country clothing and wonderful accessories including socks and silk ties with designs of dogs, ducks, hares and other animals.
Cordings is famous for its wall of trousers in corduroy and moleskin, which come in striking colours. Its most iconic piece is undoubtedly the covert coat, named because of the protection it gave while riding through thick coverts. The much-copied cotton check Tattersall shirts are a staple for both smart and weekend wear.
Georgie says: “For men, we have the brilliant polo belts, and the six-panel caps, which have been popularlised by Cillian Murphy – a very handsome chap. We’ve got some beautiful cashmere ones.”
There’s even more to see up on the second floor, with overcoats and more suiting, more accessories and even cushions to buy.
For our shoot, staff associate, Sean Watts wears his favourite Cording piece, the brown Shetland tweed jacket. “Even with a white T-shirt and jeans, it looks great,” he says.
Fellow associate Giles wears his favourite, a barleycorn tweed jacket, which he likes to wear as part of the three-piece suit. Menswear supervisor Belinda Roberts wears the Carlisle herringbone long jacket with matching skirt and waistcoat, plus the white ruffle shirt, while ladieswear supervisor Lucy Teraoka says her favourite piece is the silk pheasant scarf, to wear with perfume.
It’s Lucy who creates those wonderful windows, by the way. Next time you’re passing, be sure to call in. Town style, country style and off-duty rock star style, all guaranteed.
Cordings of Piccadilly is at Westminster Arcade, Harrogate, and at www.cordings.co.uk