Monday, July 9, 2012


Posted by Bethan Holt, Fashion Junior at Large

The English are notorious for our love of animals. It is well known that our Queen even prefers the company of four-legged friends to that of humans. So, it's hardly surprising that one Mrs Eliot decided back in 1969 that she had had enough of substandard horse blankets and so decided to begin making her own using revolutionary quilting techniques and nylon fabric combinations. Mrs Eliot (as she was always known) would oversee her factory workers in the quaint Suffolk village of Lavenham with Marlboro in one hand, G&T in the other. Not conventional by today's standards but she had nevertheless caught onto something in the psyche of horse owners who were soon requesting coats to match their horses' blankets- matching clothes with our horses, now that IS English. And so, in 1972 the first Lavenham jackets went into production- complete with nifty back flaps for easy riding- and a star of the English country clothing market was born.

The original Lavenham jacket, for horses (image from
The Lavenham tag being added to a jacket at the Suffolk factory
On a very rainy Friday a couple of weeks ago, I was invited by Lavenham to come and have a look around their factory and then accompany them to the annual Suffolk show- you don't get more quintessential country than that now, do you? Unfortunately, the Great British Weather whipped up such a storm that the show was cancelled thus thwarting what I thought would be the fulfilment of a long-held ambition to attend one of these sheep-show-cattle-parading shindigs. However, I did get to learn how Nicky Santomauro, the company's Managing Director, has turned what could have remained a fuddy outerwear manufacturer into a brand with massive cult appeal in Japan through some well- thought out collaborations and a close relationship with agents in the Far East.

A portion of the factory's swatch wall
More swatches
The rolls of fabric ready to be made into Lavenham x Eley Kishimoto 
When Nicky and her Dad acquired Lavenham in 1995, Japan was their first target. Fast forward 17 years and Nicky now refers to "Rei" (as in Comme des Garcons' Kawakubo) as if she's the lady who lives down the road. As well as collaborations with Kenzo, Hackett, Liberty fabrics, Church's and Eley Kishimoto among others, Lavenham now have facilities set-up in Japan where they offer their distinctively English quilting expertise to brands like Comme and Junya Watanabe . 80% of Lavenham's market is now from Japan.

Panels of quilting 

Quilting swatches

Coat segments

The best-selling festi classic from Lavenham "Southwold" £110

Back to rainy Suffolk and the factory is everything you'd expect from a homegrown, resolutely British enterprise. Nicky doesn't drink and smoke as she strolls around but everyone knows everyone's names and there are generations of the same families all employed under the same roof. The factory makes everything from heavy duty horse blankets to edgy fashion collab coats but it's all done with the same attention to detail and slick procedures, from the giant quilting and pattern-cutting machines to the myriad of pieces to be sewn together, sealed and buttoned.
Fearne in her Lavenham Holbrook windcheater- get yours quick before they sell out again (image from
For the summer festival season, Lavenham have created a range of super fabulous fluoro cagoules which are already a big hit- Fearne Cotton has been pictured in her pink one. At the end of the factory tour, we enter the factory shop and see a couple of locals of a certain age, in their wellies, picking out some good, warm coats ideal for mucking out the horses. When a brand is appealing to Fearne fans AND true country dwellers, they're clearly doing something right.

My Lavenham jacket keeping me warm on Brighton Beach...

Make mine a Lavenham "Boxford" £144 (also below)

I expect these jackets - as well as Hunter boots and micro denim shorts - will be staples at this weekends Latitude Festival and next week's Port Eliot Festival.  If not, why not? Rain is forecast EVERY DAY for the next three weeks! Oh joy...

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