An exclusive interview with John Smedley, discussing the history and craft behind the brand...
Founded in 1784, John Smedley has a remarkable history of manufacturing and craftsmanship. Your brand must boast one of the oldest histories in woollen apparel?
We’re very proud to lay claim to having perhaps the world’s longest history in working with wool, and when you consider that the John Smedley Mill in Derbyshire is the oldest – still in operation – manufacturing factory in the world, we have an unrivalled history of crafting beautiful, high-quality wool garments that are designed to last, made from a highly sustainable and natural fibre, made right here in Britain and distributed globally. Throughout our history, we’ve constantly pushed to use these age-old craftsmanship techniques to innovate and push the boundaries of traditional knitwear.
What is the oldest item in your archive created?
An incredibly precious pair of ‘Long Johns’, dated 1860. As you can imagine, they are kept in a very safe place. According to our archivist research these may well be the very first pair and the name ‘long john’ itself is rumoured to be derived from our brand name.
Can you talk us through how you have been able to keep the brand so relevant for so long?
Continual innovation is key. Every season, we continue to innovate, through both our own collection and also by collaborating with some of Britain’s finest design talent. Some things however, do not change and that is the quality that we as a brand, are renowned for. Each and every John Smedley garment is carefully created using 1.5 km of the finest yarn, 1.2 million stitches, more than 230 years of experience and the skilled hands of at least 50 British craftsmen. We continually strive to produce the highest quality garments with a contemporary look that will transcend generations. It is this world-renowned quality that allows us to innovate with new techniques and designs – our customers know that however new or diverse the product offering, they can rely on the John Smedley seal of quality approval.
Why is the ‘The British Wool Collective’ campaign significant for you and the company?
We are immensely proud of our heritage, our history, and our roots. Wool is central to all of our successes, just as is Britain, where we continue to design, craft and produce each and every piece of John Smedley knitwear. I cannot think of a more appropriate campaign on which to collaborate and through which we can collectively celebrate all that is good about Wool in Britain
What do you hope to achieve from this partnership here at Bicester Village with the Campaign for Wool?
With a partner such as Bicester Village, the opportunity to showcase our luxury knitwear collection, albeit surrounded by many of our peers in the wool business, is one that should be seized with both hands. A John Smedley presence within Bicester Village has been an aspiration for some time, and the Campaign for Wool has provided the perfect platform on which to realise this ambition.
Can you share with us any of your better known fans of the brand and their favourite items?
In the 1950s and 60s, we became the brand of choice for many famous faces, including Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and The Beatles amongst many others, and by 1980 we had established ourselves as the go-to knitwear brand for British designers such as Dame Vivienne Westwood and Sir Paul Smith. In 2013, John Smedley was granted the Royal Warrant of Appointment as a ‘Manufacturer of Fine Knitwear’ by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, a testament to our trusted quality. More recently, you have probably seen John Smedley being worn by musicians, sportsmen and women, commentators, and stars of theatre and film including a certain James Bond.
What trends do you forecast for Winter?
We’re seeing texture, and tone-on-tone pattern as the biggest trend in menswear for the season, subtle colour differences paired with innovative new styles such as the full button shirt or knitted tailored jacket provide a great way for male consumers to engage with wool in new shapes but still using very accessible patterns.
In womenswear, the trend continues for the full-knitted looks and we’re seeing a big demand for the knitted palazzo pant, alongside designs for a boxier, cape like silhouette. Colour wise – across both men’s and womenswear – we’re predicting new shades of Bardot Grey – a pale dove grey and Hepburn Smoke – an oil-like shade that will work extremely well alongside pops of deep Gardner Reds and a spectrum of blues from pale blue, grey-like shades through to the deepest Midnights.