The 325-year-old dresser of coronations and judiciary is taking the fashion route with the launch of a wholesale line.
Entering the flagship store of London’s oldest tailor and famous ceremonial robe maker Ede & Ravenscroft, it’s easy to feel like you have stepped into the pages of a Dickens novel. Alongside the Law Courts of Chancery Lane you’ll find the store’s grand green and gold facade. Inside, the large space is filled with regal antique furniture and twinkling chandeliers. A fire burns in one corner and the walls display royal warrants, including current ones from Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles and the Duke of Edinburgh. A bespoke tailor works on the ground floor, while downstairs three women handmake wigs for barristers and judges in the same way the business has done for more than three centuries.
However, while Ede & Ravenscroft comes steeped in 325 years of tradition, 2014 marks a new stage in its evolution: the launch of a ready-to-wear wholesale collection for autumn 14, led by head of retail Jamie Powell and new head of design Michael McGrath.
Powell represents the more traditional side of Ede & Ravenscroft: clean shaven, with neatly partedgrey hair, he is dressed in a white shirt, neat tie, navy suit and perfectly placed polka-dot pocket square. With a career that has included being a buyer for Harrods, brand manager at Giorgio Armani and director of menswear sport at Burberry, he now oversees Ede & Ravenscroft’s product development team, while running the Chancery Lane, Savile Row and Gracechurch Street stores in London, as well as its Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh outposts.
Irishman McGrath, on the other hand, is the contemporary interpretation of Ede & Ravenscroft. Smartly turned out but with a much more relaxed and casual air - tieless and sporting groomed, but slightly overgrown facial hair - the former head of design at Burberry London joined the business six months ago.
The pair’s new wholesale collection was unveiled at an off-schedule presentation during London Collections: Men in January, giving the launch a more fashion-focused feel by affiliating it with the capital’s male fashion week. The 45-piece autumn 14 range targets the English gent in the city, bringing a more contemporary, fashion-aware feel, while maintaining its signature luxury qualities and craftsmanship.
“The brand is seen as a gentleman’s outfitters, however, we want to develop it into a more modern menswear brand, covering tailoring and moving into lifestyle product,” explains Powell.
“It’s been key for us to carry Ede & Ravenscroft’s heritage and quality craftsmanship forward, but not lose what it’s about,” adds McGrath. “I like great fit, beautiful fabric, beautiful construction and really this is very much what I feel this company is about.”
In the range, three-piece suits come in a new, slightly slimmer silhouette in a number of fabric options, alongside new shirt shapes, casual cropped jackets and lightweight city coats. Fabrics have been reworked from the archive and redeveloped with UK suppliers including Harris Tweed and Johnstons of Elgin, lending a luxe but thoroughly British element. No stockists are confirmed as yet, but the brand is looking for exclusive distribution in its first season, with one UK stockist and one overseas - talks are being held with a potential US partner. Wholesale prices range from £35 for a silk tie to £1,500 for a cashmere coat, with suits at £300 to £600 and knitwear between £200 and £300.
“The double-breasted coat is just a wonderful, desirable piece. It’s my favourite,” says McGrath. “For me it’s that coat, 100% cashmere of course. It’s very timeless.” It’s a favourite of everyone’s. “Now he’s said the cashmere coat I can’t pick that,” jokes Powell. “There’s a great raincoat too.”
But why launch a wholesale brand now? “It’s all about updating. The business has always been entrepreneurial, that’s why it has lasted 325 years,” says Powell.
Although Ede & Ravenscroft started selling ready-to-wear in its stores almost 30 years ago, he believes this collection is a “step forward”, with McGrath in charge of a refreshed design.
However, while Powell speaks of “broadening the collection to a wider cust-omer base”, Ede & Ravenscroft’s challenge will be to merge the old and new, taking its heritage and making it sellable in stores other than its own.
One buyer, who wished to remain anonymous, said that raising brand awareness for its ready-to-wear range could prove difficult.
Another said that its wholesale competitors, such as Hardy Amies and Gieves & Hawkes, are leading an already crowded market and in order to stand out, Ede & Ravenscroft must bring something new.
Mats Klingberg, owner of London menswear retailer Trunk Clothiers, agrees: “Every company needs to keep reinventing themselves to stay current and relevant, as long as they stay true to their core values and offer something that feels new and fresh.”
McGrath is aware of these challenges and plans have been made to move the collection forward. “We are trying to attract a younger city guy, who does appreciate his clothing, quality and fit, so it’s catering for this guy without alienating our classic, traditional customer,” he says. “We’re not running into anything, we’re taking it at a nice pace.”
Although tight-lipped on details, McGrath’s spring 15 collection will increase to a 75-piece range, with less focus on tailoring, and move into sportswear, knitwear and more layering options.
The timing feels right for the launch into wholesale, with ready-to-wear accounting for 60% of the range, while tailoring makes up 40%.
Turnover in 2012 rose 5% to £37.4m for the wider Ede & Ravenscroft business, which also includes a photography service. The family-owned company declined to break down this figure, although more than £25m came from the combined sales and hire of garments, including its university graduation gowns service.
Powell is now looking at other ways to expand. “Our ambition is to be a fully integrated omnichannel retailer. The website represents 6% of our menswear turnover, with 40% of that coming from the international customer,” he says. Online is forecast to double to 12% of sales in the next year. “We’re developing our website and placing more of our product on there, so that will see organic growth.”
Powell hints that capitalising on the retailer’s overseas appeal will be his next challenge. “We are looking at opportunities to open flagships internationally. We’re looking at Asia and America but there is no timeline. In the near future,” he says with a smile. “It’s about growing slowly … and maintaining the quality and delivering great product, I think that’s the most important thing.”