CREME DE LA CREME OF CLOTH / AUTUMN/WINTER 2015 / ISSUE THREE / NOTES MAGAZINE
Crèmede la crèmeof clothThings may come and things may go, but the ability to weave the finest cashmere has stood Joshua Ellis & Co Ltd in good stead for generationsYou may be flicking through the clothes racks of Bergdorf Goodman in New York, or wandering the halls of Le Bon Marché in Paris. Perhaps you are in Milan, trawling the designer temples along the Via Monte Napoleone. If so there is a very strong chance you will be within caressing distance of something produced in a mill in Batley, West Yorkshire.
Nothing denotes luxury better than cashmere. The very word sounds soft and exotic. It is the staple fibre in many of the finest garments and furnishing fabrics money can buy and for good reason: in comparison with most other natural fibres it is lighter, softer and offers more insulation for less bulk. Plus it feels like heaven. If clouds could be woven, they would probably resemble cashmere.
And although cashmere is produced in many parts of the world, some of the very, very best is produced by Joshua Ellis & Co Ltd in the heart of West Yorkshire. What is more, they have been doing so continuously for nearly 250 years. So what makes Joshua Ellis cashmere special? We met with Liz Harper, Sales Executive at the company, to find out.
“At a simple level it’s about the quality of the fibres we source and how we process them” explained Liz. If practice makes perfect then it’s perhaps not surprising that making these luxurious cloths since 1767 has given Joshua Ellis something of an edge. “We buy direct from the goat farmers and have long established relationships with them. We can trace the provenance of our raw material back to individual herds.” Rather in the way that the foodie movement has made the provenance of ingredients a vital component in the success of a restaurant, so it is for Joshua Ellis. Liz explained how goats from different areas produce different colours and textures. She then began to talk about staple length and micron thickness, but that’s for another day.
What smacks you in the eye are the parallels with other luxury industries such as fine wine and malt whisky.
Some cloths for example have a ripple effect that is still achieved using dried teasel heads (yes, those thistle-like things) a process unchanged for generations. Yet it appears in designs that are bang up to date.
However any fool can ruin great ingredients, as many of us know to our cost. The fibres are just the starting point. “Part of our success is the fact that we still have all the preliminary processes carried out locally, so we have longstanding relationships with the fibre blenders, dyers and spinners all of whom are hugely experienced, based in this area and know that we expect the best” Liz told us. Despite the closure of vast numbers of mills in recent times, West Yorkshire is still understood around the globe as the mecca of the woollen industry. If that industry is a mere shadow of what it was in its heyday, what is now left is the crème de la crème of cloth production. And the crème de la crème of cloth is cashmere and its associates.
A combination of a highly skilled workforce, machinery that produces cloth with a distinctive ‘handle’, designers capable of interpreting the needs of demanding clients and marketing personnel finely attuned to the changing global luxury climate keep Joshua Ellis at the top.
It’s the blend of tradition and innovation that gives the company the edge. Some cloths for example have a ripple effect that is still achieved using dried teasel heads (yes, those thistle-like things) a process unchanged for generations. Yet it appears in designs that are bang up to date.
Some of the biggest names in fashion deal with the company directly such as as Edward Crutchley, Bamford, Ralph Lauren and Celine to name a few. Provenance is still a jealously guarded secret for many design houses – one of their USPs; but today some are deciding they are happy for it to be known where they source their fabrics, such is the mill’s prestige.
Whilst some design houses work with Joshua Ellis to produce fabrics exclusive to them, the company’s in-house designers are skilled at interpreting the changing demands of fashion and produce jacketing and coating ranges each season to produce their own Fabric Collection. Joshua Ellis ‘handwriting’ is evident to the experienced by the handle of the cloths alone.
No visit to a cashmere mill would be complete without seeing and sampling the product. As finished throws and scarves were brought out and sample books of fabrics unveiled, the mix of colour, design and the sheer sensuousness of the material put us into sensory overload. Then just when we thought we’d seen it all, Liz brought out a sample in a cashmere and vicuna mix. It turns out you can weave clouds after all!
So here we were, sitting in a mill in the decidedly unglamorous town of Batley, West Yorkshire with huge machines clattering away only yards from where we were sitting, whilst we stroked and cooed over the finest cloth money could buy. That same cloth will be found in the staterooms of millionaires’ yachts, the boudoirs of billionaires’ palaces and the après ski lounges of the most exclusive Alpine chalets.
The worlds of the goat farmer, the weavers and the end users may seem very different but there is a clear thread that connects them. The same holds true for many other luxury products. Tradition and sustainability can be essential components in the production of the most luxurious creations. The more we understand, appreciate and value each part of the process, the better the chance that companies such as Joshua Ellis will thrive for many generations to come.