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The Drapers Textiles Interview: Dominic Dormeuil

Creating fabric from the world’s most exotic fibres is all in a day’s work for Dominic Dormeuil.

From the Andes to Mayfair: Dominic Dormeuil believes Extreme Vicuna, made from the wool of the once-endangered vicuñas, to be “the most luxurious cloth that exists in the world today”

From the Andes to Mayfair: Dominic Dormeuil believes Extreme Vicuna, made from the wool of the once-endangered vicuñas, to be “the most luxurious cloth that exists in the world today”

Luxury worsted cloth merchant Dormeuil has been dressing film stars, politicians, sportsmen and even royalty for more than 170 years.

Headquartered in London and Paris, the Anglo-French company prides itself on working with the world’s rarest fibres, drawing on heritage weaving skills in West Yorkshire to produce more than 5,000 cloth designs.

Take Royal Qiviuk, made from the coat of the Arctic muskox, a bison-like creature living on the Canadian tundra. Then there’s Jade. Two years in development, Jade blends New Zealand merino wool with particles of jade gemstone, applied to the fabric surface during the finishing process.

The latest creation is Extreme Vicuna, a 330g cloth made from 100% vicuña fibre for luxury jackets and lightweight coats, selected by Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Kiton and Savile Row tailor Denman & Goddard, among others. A delicate camelid, native to South America, the vicuña was almost driven to extinction in the 1960s by unregulated hunting. Living wild on the plains of the Andes, the vicuña is now protected by game wardens. Each animal is only sheared every two years, producing 300g of wool per shear. Whereas mohair is around two to three times more expensive than merino, vicuña is 50 to 60 times more costly.

The rarity of the fibre is also reflected in the price of the cloth. While Jade is priced at £214 per metre, the prices rises to £757 a metre for Royal Qiviuk and up to £1,224 a metre for Extreme Vicuna (all approximate UK tailor prices).

For the first time, Dormeuil has incorporated paler Argentinean vicuña fibres into the blend along with a darker Peruvian fibre. Both are extremely delicate, lustrous fibres measuring 12 microns (micrometres) in diameter, finer than cashmere (14 to 16 microns), pure wool (12 to 24 microns), alpaca (20 to 40 microns) and human hair (25.4 microns).

Three years in development, the Extreme Vicuna fabric launched for autumn 13, with new developments to be unveiled for autumn 16 including an expanded colour range and heavier-weight 500g fabric. “For me, Extreme Vicuna is the most luxurious cloth that exists in the world today,” says Dominic Dormeuil, the ever-dapper company president and fifth generation of the family business.

“The short, delicate fibre must be processed with extreme care. There are other vicuña fabrics on the market, but our special ‘secret’ dyeing process means we can dye a much larger palette of 15 colours.”

Dormeuil joined the family business - founded in 1842 by his great-great-grandfather Jules Dormeuil - in 1980, aged 22. Cutting fabric and cleaning the floor in mills such as Ballantyne in Hawick (now known as Robert Noble) and John Foster in Bradford, he trained at every stage of the spinning, weaving and finishing process across these different businesses.

Since taking up the reins as president in 1999, Dormeuil has been instrumental in pushing the collection to a more luxurious level and encouraging innovation with rare fibres, although he insists it is a team effort.

The company has a wide international scope, with offices in Paris, London, Milan, New York, Tokyo, New Delhi, Shanghai and Melbourne. Japan is the cloth merchant’s main market, followed by Italy and China/Hong Kong, with the UK ranked in sixth. Dormeuil believes China will overtake Japan, but it will take time. “India is also going to be big and, although Russia is going through a tough time, it is still an important market.

“South America is up and coming, but it’s a tricky market with a different climate and specific tastes. The trouble with Africa is that there are no real garment manufacturers, so it’s a bit of a complicated market, but there’s definitely potential.”

To cater for these diverse markets, the company analyses country-specific trends. For example, while the US favours bright cloth, the vogue in China is for discreet designs and darker colours.

Dormeuil has been synonymous with mohair, a lustrous, crease-resistant fibre well suited to the fashionable slim-fit silhouette, ever since it launched Tonik back in 1957. A blend of mohair and wool, Tonik’s iridescent surface is achieved by using a black warp (lengthwise yarn) and very bright blue weft (yarn fed through the warp) to create a two-tone effect. The popularity of Tonik in the 1960s was such that Michael Caine namechecks his ‘navy blue, lightweight suit, in a material called Tonik, made by Dormeuil,’ in the 1966 film Alfie.

“In the 1960s, everybody knew what Tonik was,” Dormeuil recalls. “It is still very much in demand today by designers and luxury brands. While Tonik is not to everyone’s taste, it’s a real fashion statement.

“We are so lucky to be able to work with every luxury fashion company in the world, both in men’s and women’s wear, each with their own individual style. Ralph Lauren has his own taste, finish and fabric structure. Likewise, the fashion today might be for brighter blue suits, but you don’t see that at Dolce & Gabbana. They have their own style, regardless of trends,” he says.

The company is proud that 75% of its cloth production is carried out in Yorkshire. All precious fibres, like vicuña, camelhair and merino are purchased by Minova, a Dewsbury-based textile manufacturer, of which Dormeuil became a majority shareholder in 2007. Minova also manages Dormeuil’s UK production and inspects all cloth before dispatch.

“Dormeuil ‘Made in England’ products adhere firmly to the English design school by being well set cloths but with a distinctive ‘touch’,” says Minova managing director Dave Smith. “Dormeuil is relentless in its quest for both new luxury raw materials and new ways to combine them into beautiful cloth, paying great attention to the aesthetic and technical performance.”

Chief executive of the UK Fashion & Textile Association John Miln believes it is very important that high-profile cloth merchants such as Dormeuil continue to work with British manufacturers. “UK textiles are so well known for their craftsmanship and heritage, using the finest raw materials to the highest specification. Combining traditional fabrics with modern colour has helped the industry serve leading fashion labels, designers and retail customers in the global marketplace.”

Dormeuil has a showroom on 35 Sackville Street in London’s Mayfair and is also favoured by many Savile Row tailors, including Anderson & Sheppard, whose managing director Colin Heywood admires its consistent high quality, as well as the flexibility of the fabric collections that cater for his international customer base throughout the seasons.

“Dormeuil cloth is so easy to work with because of the very good-quality yarn, which benefits the woven fabric,” Heywood notes. “We have customers asking specifically for Dormeuil cloth, because they have worn it before and loved it. My favourite fabric is the 100% wool Royal 12 bunch (£74 a metre), which suits our lightly constructed suits that rely on the soft drape and weight of the cloth.”

Certain fabrics that cannot easily be manufactured in England, such as brushed cashmere or cotton, are woven in Biella, Italy. Dormeuil’s made-to-measure suits and ready-to-wear collections of luxury shirts, knitwear andaccessories, introduced in 2000, are also handmade in Italy. The collection is sold at Dormeuil’s three stores in Paris, one in Strasbourg and one in Tokyo.

Cloth sales account for 85% of turnover versus made-to-measure and ready-to-wear, which represented 15% of the total £27.3m (€35m) of sales in 2013, with double-digit growth expected for 2014. Dormeuil is cautious about opening any new stores in 2015 in view of worldwide economic conditions and would not be drawn on any potential locations, although any future shops would be based on the company’s 2,700 sq ft Paris flagship. For Dormeuil, his vision in 2015 is to become the reference point for luxury British fabric, offering the best in service, design and manufacturing.

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