Friday, 28 December 2012

Giving Thanks to the Founding Fathers and Mothers of Bedlam

The title of this post indicates that we hoped to be writing it in November, as Thanksgiving fell this year on November 22nd. The gnarly situation referenced in the last blog was us waiting on the decision that would enable Bedlam to create a collection to present to buyers in January. We first mooted the idea of investing to the interested party back in August. The fashion world, it is no secret, operates on a strictly observed schedule with London menswear now bumped to the front of the line, January 7- 9th. The British Fashion Council figures that wallets are full and minds still fresh before Paris, New York and Milan take their toll:

It behoves us to be business-like and incorporate if we are to take the enormous compliment and act of faith that outside investment represents. It also protects us, by limiting personal liability. We preferred to sign the lease at our new HQ Bedlam Mews as an entity rather than as individuals for instance. So to create Earl of Bedlam Limited was a timely idea whichever way you looked at it and part of growing up and getting bigger. That's as scary as it ever was, but it's less alarming than shrinking. So while we waited and waited on the decision in the waiting room of attenuated torture, finally  - because making yourself hostage to another is never a good look - we took the decision to steer our own destiny and incorporate away, with or without the extra name on the paperwork. Accordingly, on Thursday November 22nd, our little enterprise became Earl of Bedlam Limited. Yeaaah! *phut* (sound of firework going off).
The sky lit up when Bedlam Ltd. was born!

While all this was going on we had a visit from one of our clients who is certainly no shrinking violet. Back in March, Arthur had blown in the shop with the proposition that we create a smoking jacket for him of some opulence and character. He told us not to measure him as he was going to lose a lot of weight. We set about gathering swatches and in due course he chose exactly the ones I liked best -  a red and gold brocade for the body; a sumptuous silk velvet in my joint favourite colour of teal for cuffs and lapels; and, in my other favourite colour, violet, pure silk crepe de chine from Pongees for the lining

Then from my grandmother's button box I found a pair of extraordinary green glass buttons depicting a classical gilt head. Possibly Pan, god of music, hunting and friend to / pursuer of the nymphs; or perhaps one of his cohorts, a Satyr. A creature half man, half goat, they were devot├ęs of the good life, in tune with nature and its many gifts, their preferred instrumentation being pipes, cymbals, castanets and bagpipes (if that's your idea of "in tune"). Wine, women and song were their watch words. All in all, there could not have been a more perfect match between man and button. Sometimes I think magic brews in Grandma Ella's button box. From which exactly of her old tea dresses the buttons came I cannot imagine. Maybe she was secretly High Priestess of some louche cult.

Come the Autumn, Arthur appeared in our doorway once more, announcing he hadn't got round to dieting after all because, as already noted, he is not a shy and shrinking man but a character in fully rounded bloom. He gave the signal that we should start cutting and to have the jacket ready by Christmas.

Grandma Ella's buttons that now adorn Arthur's smoking jacket

So we named it "The Last Emperor's Opium Smoking Jacket". The wintery afternoon that Arthur came to collect it, I was in the midst of emailing proposals and deal memos and company manifestos. I apologised for not giving him my full attention while assuring him of Mark's. He enquired as to what had my brow so knitted. I explained the situation and the danger that if we didn't get things in place PDQ we would have to wait another whole year, seeing as we wished to launch our wholesale collection on our strength - the Autumn / Winter appropriate tweeds and suitings. Then he put on his jacket and proclaimed that we were rather good at what we do (I'm too embarrassed to quote verbatim) and that he imagined it would be a lot of fun to be involved. "And that's the most important thing, having fun! And I like you both."
"And we like you Arthur," we said in unison with just a little lump in our throats (mine anyway, it was all beginning to get to me).
"So let me know what the other chap says when he gets back to you."

Later that week the email finally arrived formally declining the investment opportunity that had been deemed "incongruous to the existing portfolio". It was hard, frankly, not to feel deflated. There was no whoopee in that lumpy cushion. Everything had seemed to be building to take-off - the day after the visit documented in the previous blog, Mr Harrop of Huddersfield Fine Worsteads had written, "I think your ideas are brilliant and will get the best possible support we can offer. It will be a pleasure to work with you at the birth of your collection and help you reach your goals when you launch and beyond." He had our cloth order ready to go, with his MD Alistair Brook rubber stamping the terrific support they were offering us;
and our friend Nick Ashley who currently designs the Private White VC label had its Manchester owner-factory primed and ready to receive us, to discuss making the samples for our outerwear. But our wheels were stuck for lack of good green oil.

We love a good story here at the Bedlam Blog desk and the one behind Nick's latest gig is a cracker:
Private Jack White V.C. was awarded the Victoria Cross, the UK’s highest military honour, during World War I. He also founded the factory in Manchester that now produces an in-house line named in his honour. It has also manufactured clothes for iconic British names such as Aquascutum, Belstaff, Nick Ashley (of course!), Marks & Spencers, Harrods and John Lewis and a tower of sparkling names. Stella McCartney did an apprenticeship there.
When Aquascutum shocked everyone by going into receivership earlier in the year Nick (whose mother Laura created another iconic British company) saved many jobs by galvanising new work to go into the factory.

My mum offered us a consolation lunch. We went gratefully and my dad topped up our glasses with every sip, as he famously does, so you can't keep track of what you've had. We hadn't intended to share disappointment but, in our cups, we spilled out the story.

The next day the phone went. We had been half out the door as it rang and I almost didn't answer. It was another of the guests from my parents' lunch party. "I have," she said, "been thinking about your story. How much do you need for the fabric?"
We told her.
"Well I will cover that. Happy Christmas."
I did just about splutter out "thank-you-so-much" before bursting into tears and passing the phone to Mr Wesley. She then called her bank and had them transfer the money instantly.

Forty-eight hours later the inestimable Mr Harrop had the fabric sent down and we unwrapped it as if it was gold, frankincense and myrrh on the cutting table. We then went to visit the lady who was going to help us make some of the samples. It is bad literary form to use the word "very". It is terrible literary form to use it twice, but here goes - she was very VERY stressed and over-stretched trying to get a whole heap of samples made for other people's Autumn/Winter 2013 Fashion Week before the Christmas shut down. "You are too late," she said with a look that reminded me of Herbert Lom in the Pink Panther films as he was being driven mad by unreasonable demands and impossible situations.

We went next, one foot in front of the other, heads a little down, but never the less one foot in front of the other, to Misan fabrics in Soho to get the weather proofed fabric for our macs. David Misan has also been a great support to us, the sort of support that makes you determined to be worthy of these people's regard
Some months ago I called in to source fabric for Sir Michael's dinner suit and was served impeccably as ever by the assistant there. She showed me the most beautiful lightweight wool cloth. "Oh NO! It's Italian!" I cried, immediately apologising that I meant no offence as she was Italian too, explaining that we choose only to use British fabric. Now Micol has offered to help us make the samples as soon as she is back from Italy after Christmas. Here she is at Grandma Ella's old spinning wheel that my mother recently got down from the attic (well, she made Mr Wesley get it down from the attic) -

Micol at the Bedlam spinning wheel

So although we had been propelled from Square Minus Several some entirely positive paces forward, we were still significantly short of the wherewithal to make the collection. Belatedly perhaps, rudely roused from complacent confidence certainly, we now considered an idea that clever Mr Willis put to us months back - Kickstarter, an online "people's bank" for creative projects. You describe quite specifically the goal you wish to finance and if people are taken with it, they can pledge from $10 to $1000s in return for "rewards" rather than equity, which could range from a t-shirt or being a guest model in the catalogue

Kickstarter have had many success stories with creators being inundated with pledges way over the set target within the time scale allocated (and many more that don't, of course, but we are accentuating the positive). Ideally we would have allowed a month at least and now here we were in negative time, trying to claw back days, so a week would have been a luxury. Still, we started to think about how we could make a video (an important component of successful projects) to win over potential funders. Music is a great seducer and in our crazed brains we pictured rewriting the lyrics to my honorary little sister's big hit song "Jungle Drum", interrupting the recording of her latest album (also somewhat behind schedule due to winter lurgy lay offs) to bowl in the studio with a hand held camera to have her sing "My heart is beating to a Bedlam Drum" with Mr Wesley and I jumping about in the background going "a-dunga dunga dunga dungaDUMDUM".
The angel hearted girl  said she would clear it for us to use the original but that her stressed producer would keel over if we hijacked any of their time. So while you may be denied ever seeing our "reinterpretation" we offer you here the gloriously bonkers original of Emiliana Torrini's "Jungle Drum" as a mid-blog treat (with its mere 12.5 million hits on Youtube):

We were into the second week of December now, girls and boys, and I was in the West End scurrying between Christmas shoppers for haberdashery when Arthur called to see if I was at Bedlam Mews as his father would like to call on us. I put the pedal to the metal but all the same his daddy got there first. Everyone who works at the Mews is kind and friendly so our neighbours had offered him shelter. Upstairs in our attic atelier Arthur's Pa took in what was on display and bit by bit we got the measure of each other. He asked if we only did menswear and I gestured to the mannequin dressed in Helen's suit and explained it had been commissioned for a Battle of the Bulge anniversary, Helen being The General's Granddaughter. As I explained we'd christened the suit "The Victory of the Curves" I perceived Arthur's Pa straighten just a little, his shoulders go ever so slightly back. "General Patton." he announced, "is one of my life's heros. I am Dutch, you know."
I felt the hairs raise ever so slightly at the back of my neck. Did old Blood & Guts just score another victory?

We had to join my parents for a carol service and Arthur's Pa was off to meet his daughter - who has also been to see us, to assist with Bedlam's website and promotion - so we said goodnight and agreed to talk in a couple of days. He really did, he assured us, understand that some capital was needed now on the double if we were to make up the lost time. The carol service was a jolly affair with Mr Wesley singing out "Chr-ist I'm bored" only once during "Oh Come All ye Faithful". To be honest, our nerves were quite ragged by now.

Arthur's Pa called the next day for some more information. "I got a good impression yesterday," he said. Now that could have meant a "thorough" impression or a "positive" one, but I tried not to over think it. Friday came and went but we didn't hear from him. The weekend dragged. My shoulders slumped. Tim "Balmain-to-Bedlam" Global Area Manager came in on Monday to help us prepare technical spec sheets for the samples. I had booked the three of us tickets to Manchester to visit the factory on Tuesday before they too shut down for Christmas. Mike the factory boss was picking us up at Piccadilly station. I was terrified of wasting their time but was more terrified of being unprepared if we had to throw ourselves into gear and move fast. All this terror was proving quite exhausting. Caught on the hop 'twixt terror and torpor I answered the phone to Arthur's Pa. "Caroline, so sorry not to have called on Friday."
"That's quite OK," I assured him, "I thought it best to leave you room to cogitate."
"I have done much cogitating, and discussed it all thoroughly with the children who are very enthusiastic, as am I, we all think what you are doing is terrific, but..."
I felt my heart drop. Not in a sudden way, I didn't have energy for that, rather with a slow, dull thud. I heard Arthur's Pa explain that, unfortunately, enthusiasm was not enough, that in order for an investment to be made it had to be approved by various steel-hearted channels who weren't known for their "Hey, let's give this a whirl!" attitude. Their remit was to properly vet and assess each opportunity, much as our other potential investor had had the same folly-firewall safeguards in place. They would want to see due diligence, bank statements and business plans and know all about just who these people were. It would all take a long time but more than that, feared Arthur's Pa, they simply would not get it.
"That's quite ok," I said again, and was about to thank him, and the children, for even having considered and cogitated on and enthused about us, it really did mean a huge amount. But he interrupted.
"So I think the way to proceed is I simply don't tell them but just give it to you anyway. How does that sound?"
Transcribing the story now brings back the extraordinary gear shift of the moment, when what was one second ago a dismal day in Bedlam, Christmas chez Cratchit, is suddenly transformed into The Next Stage, the exciting pulse of possibility and productivity. In the most feeble whisper I asked Arthur's Pa please not to misinterpret lack of whooping and hurrahs for ungrateful assumption, rather that the dramatic turn about had left me unable to adequately express what it meant.

At dawn's early light we headed for Euston Station. We hadn't dared asked Mr Harrop to send the fabric to the factory in case we never had the funds to make the samples so we carried what we could in suitcases.

Tim B-to-B was already on the train because he's super organised which is one of the many reasons we are lucky to have him. Soon urbe gave way to rus before a couple of hours later the narrow back-to-back streets of Manchester came alongside the tracks. Good as his word, Mike Stoll, factory boss and ex Preston FC player, was there to meet us. He drove us to the factory in Salford and I was sure I had been to a party in one of the shut down buildings some decades ago
Just visible in the distance is the tower of Strangeways prison.

As Mike  - "the UK's longest serving and most enthusiastic garment maker" - led us through each industrious room we asked him questions about what they can do and he answered with sobering directness. "We'll play with anything, but don't play with us."
God bless you Arthur's Pa for pledging your support before we heard those words.

Give no truck to anyone who says it can't be made in Britain - YES IT CAN!!

Mr Wesley with Mike Stoll and Tim Balmain-to-Bedlam. Mike's father invented a machine to cover  buttons.

A Private White VC carrier bag in the pattern archive room

George the Master Pattern Cutter came to join us

Mr Wesley and Tim B-to-B having a fitting face off


We had taken along a waterproofed fabric to make our raincoat. In the boardroom they inspected and dismissed it. "We have something better," said Mike, dispatching someone to fetch a roll. As they rolled it across the table, Tim B-to-B Global Area Manager exclaimed fondly, "Ven-til-ay!"
As it is a wonder fabric that performs its pragmatic duty perfectly while still looking and feeling luxurious, Tim had always assumed it was Italian, hence "Ven-ti-lay."
Around the table eyes rolled.
"Ven-ti-lay?! Lad, it's VEN-TILE, it's from Chorley, Lancashire!"
 A glass of water was then poured onto it in a demonstration of its eminent suitability for an impermeable.
They used to make fire hoses from it, and fighter pilots' suits, as if they had to ditch in the English Channel its waterproofness would buy them vital minutes.

Next we munched our crisps and sandwiches before choosing zips and buttons for the overcoats. We could only carry so much on this trip so will come back in early January when they reopen with the silk "handcuff" linings and other materials. Mike then offered us a lift to meet David the shirt maker. Both he and Nick Ashley had been curious as they hadn't known about him although he is only a few minutes drive away. So we gave something useful to them too. David was also crazed busy trying to get samples done before Christmas but warmed to us when Mike established he had made monogrammed shirts for his uncle for many years. David made all the shirts for the Harry Potter films. I'm telling ya, there's magic abroad.

David showing Tim B-to-B and Mr Wesley some of his shirts

Winston Churchill looks on approvingly

A lady sewing in David's workroom

Hat blocks

As we walked across the bridge at sunset the city reminded me of Chicago

On our way back to Piccadilly Station for the train ride home

And so we finish the year with thanks to give for the Miracle on Walnut Tree Walk, for the magic that strangers can bestow. Thank you to our clients and friends; for our move to the Mews and the people we've met there; to our families for their support; and to the Founding Fathers and Mothers of Bedlam - Taffy, non-executive Captain of HMS Bedlam; Simon Willis - who also walked as a stranger through the door one day to order a suit, ordered two and since then has inspired us with his elegant eloquence, handsome distinction and humanitarian generosity; Our Lady of the Fabric; and of course, Arthur and Arthur's Pa. We are exceptionally proud to have assembled a board of such kind and clever people. And last but not least, special thanks to the Mayans for getting it so gloriously wrong for we have much to do and are excited to be doing it.

Wishing you all all you wish for in the year ahead!

Monday, 3 December 2012

Toast and Hot Coffee with Huddersfield Fine Worsteds, the Director of the CIA and Long John Silver

It's important to have role models and heros. If and when we're ever interviewed and asked to cite ours I would put Toast way up top One of my favourite companies, I think I can claim to have been an early adopter (once they had launched a full collection), and own lots of their clothes. Own and wear, year in, year out. They are distinctively dressed up bohemian, beautifully made and British. Then a couple of years back I read an article about the couple behind it, was totally forever smitten and keep it to hand to refer to for fortitude whenever things get tense or gnarly (say, like, now):

If we could emulate the way they have grown their company we would be doing something right. Here's an extract to give you a sense of the achievement of scale but please read the whole piece if you can to get a sense of the achievement of spirit:
"Over 13 years the Seatons have turned their little pyjama company into a clothing and homeware empire part-owned by the French Connection Group, with 152 employees, nine shops, 160,000 customers and an annual turnover in excess of £13 million. The French Connection Group bought three quarters of the company in 2000, but Jessica says they have continued to do their own thing: 'It was just a funding issue. It wouldn't have worked with anyone bossy.'

So when I RSVP'd to attend a party at their Notting Hill store my heart nurtured a hope that maybe the Seatons would be there. All hopes were fulfilled and exceeded - not only did I get to meet Jessica (pictured below next to Mr. Wesley), who was charmingly indulgent of my fawning, but they also had in attendance gin guru Jared Brown from artisan distillers Sipsmith, the independent spirits of Battersea. He delivered a riveting masterglass on how to pour (NOT shake) a cocktail and then proved the superiority of his method by letting us drink a few 
That's the kind of win-win evening I'm talking about.

Mr Wesley next to Jessica Seaton with one of the ladies from their store and  Jared, master distiller from Sipsmith
There are only so many ways you can distinguish your product - the design; how well they are made; and what they are made from. We use the finest British fabrics. Faithful readers may recall from the previous post how we came to be offering John G. Hardy's famous Alsport range. Immediately we have had clients swooping on it, including the lovely Marina whose photograph concluded that edition. For some time we have been working on the design of a cape that was to be the final piece in her shooting ensemble. With that cracked, we presented her with the bunch of Alsport tweeds for choosing the fabric. Mr. Harrop of Huddersfield Fine Worsteds (that incorporates Hunt & Winterbotham, J. & J. Minnis, Martin Sons & Co. as well as John G. Hardy) then offered to motor down from Yorkshire and hand deliver it to us, in person, face-to-face hand over style

To honour the occasion, we put on a pot of coffee and even got in not one, but several cakes: a smooth lemony one, a more rugged fruit cake and some chocolate brownies. Oh! And some Bakewell slices that took me completely by surprise they were so good. The coffee pot took us all by surprise too when Mr. Wesley plunged it a little too vigorously and hot coffee went everywhere. The good humour with which Mr. Harrop took this display of nerves, coffee grounds and eagerness to impress will be the building block upon which we hope a long and ruggedly (def. (2. of a machine or other manufactured object) Strongly made and capable of withstanding rough handling) fruitful relationship is built.

Not only did Mr. Harrop bring us heaps of their new suitings to offer but he promised to do his utmost to help us create the samples for a proper A/W2013 collection.

Mr. Wesley with Mr. John Harrop of Huddersfield Fine Worsteds

Mr. Harrop admires the Tectonic pinstripe suit

Mr. Harrop and Mr. Wesley pore over fabric
One of their mills, Broadhead and Graves, records how in 1932, H.R.H. The Duke of York paid them a visit. He was presented with some lengths of cloth and six years later, as King of England, ordered a further three suit lengths of the same cloth as he liked it so much - duly associated with him, it came to bear his name as it does to this day: "Prince of Wales check".

As well as having worthy role models, it is also important to have your clobber modelled by the right people, people who are something of a "face" and take the trouble to turn out nicely. So my delight at being reunited with my old RADA classmate David Harewood was only redoubled by the enthusiasm he displayed for our clothes. We are really very excited at the prospect of kitting him out as not only did he look properly gorgeous in everything he tried but he is on the moving stairway to the stars. This has everything to do with how good I made him look when I played Goneril to his Lear at RADA and a little bit to so with his currently playing CIA boss David Estes in the US show "Homeland" Not being much of a telly watcher, this had entirely passed me by, but we made a point of watching it the day after David visited us. It was impressive, having seen him so fresh and youthful looking in person the day before, how heavy, drawn and haggard he looked in the role. Hey, dat's acting kids!

I was looking particularly drawn and haggard too, but in pesky real life dammit, having been so caught up with tidying up before he arrived that I forgot to put any make-up on or even brush my hair. So you're not seeing any pics of me.

Mr .Wesley with David Harewood

David in the "Errol Flynn" jacket and waistcoat made in a John G. Hardy Alpsort tweed

David in a protoype denim jacket
You may, however, see a picture of the special US Secret Service pin that an ex-agent and client of ours presented to me that I did at least remember to pin on my cardie. I try to remember to wear it going through airports too.

Talking of slapping on the cuffs, with the lovely fabrics sorted thanks to Mr. Harrop, we ran up the road to London Bridge to create at last our own custom linings. Hatley Fine Print silk screened our signature motif onto gorgeous pure silk from Pongees - one in a steely, cornflower blue for the Town collection and another in a claret red for the Country set -
In keeping with Bedlam's remit to reward close up inspection, what might at first be taken for the hackneyed horse bit / stirrup style of certain high falutin' fashion houses, is revealed as Victorian gaoler's handcuffs. This had been one of our earliest ideas and to see it fulfilled so immaculately by Dan & Louise Hatley was a great thing. We went in the nick of time - due to the development at London Bridge about to take over their arches they are about to move out to the Sussex countryside where they will continue but only with digital printing.

To celebrate, Mr Wesley and I tottered up to the riverbank. The sky was as crisp and blue as our lining and we thought we'd at last check out the jolly looking boat-bar the Tamesis Dock moored at Albert Embankment:
 We introduced ourselves to the barman-manager, Will, and said we'd just moved our business into the area. "What nature of biz would that be?" he enquired.
"Bespoke tailoring," we replied.
"What," he next asked, "would be your style?"
Together Mr Wesley and I chirruped our catch phrase, "Gangs of New York with an Oliver Twist!"
"In that case," Will announced, "you must make my wedding suit. My grandfather was Robert Newton who played Bill Sykes in the original film of 'Oliver Twist'!"

Not ONLY did he play Bill Sykes but he also played Long John Silver in "Treasure Island". And if it weren't for Robert Newton, no one would ever go "Arrrrrr" when playing pirate. He single-handedly invented what is recognised internationally the seven seas over as Pirate-speke:

Newton as Long John Silver

Robert Newton as Bill Sykes in the original "Oliver Twist"

Pirates waste a lot of energy trying to keep their powder dry, time that could be better spent grooming their parrots. We are most grateful to Eley Hawk for solving that problem aboard the Good Ship Bedlam by supplying the (decommissioned) cartridges for our shooting jacket loops. Like every association we try to make, they are the very best, world recognised across the seven seas as such:
They swapped us cartridges for a Pussy Riot t-shirt! Many thanks to Brent and the team there. We look forward to seeing what we can do together.

Shiver me timbers is that the time? Thank you for yours as always. Until the next instalment, we're casting away on the sea of dreams.