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Icons of British fashion

The burberry heritage trench coat the craftsmanship 001

As part of Drapers 130th anniversary celebrations last year, we looked back at the history of UK fashion. From the bespoke Savile Row suit to the Mulberry handbag, we identify the enduring classics that have reinvented themselves to stand the test of time.


Savile Row suit

Beyond its oak-panelled formality, Savile Row has, through the years, provided a platform for a queue of young tailoring Turks. In the 1970s it was Edward Sexton outfitting international rock ’n’ roll glitterati from Jagger to Lennon in his rakish creations (and in 2017 a 75-year-old Sexton made a bubblegum-pink suit for Harry Styles). The 1980s heralded the rise of the flamboyant Tommy Nutter with his interpretation of suits on steroids. In the 1990s the captain of Savile Row’s new establishment, Richard James, spearheaded a “new bespoke movement”, the baton of which has most recently been passed to Patrick Grant, owner of Norton & Sons.

Admittedly, there are plenty of neighbouring tailoring houses in Savile Row that deliver countless more suits than Norton & Sons’ annual 300-plus, as well as employing larger tailor and cutter teams. But, that’s not the point. Since acquiring the previously backfiring Norton & Sons business in 2005, Grant – with his dashing charm and canny marketing nous – has established himself as the post-millennial poster boy of Savile Row and, to an extent, British tailoring as a whole.

Grant is the natural successor to 1990s tailoring talents Ozwald Boateng, Richard James and William Hunt – suit makers who distilled the fashion zeitgeist by combining on-the-pulse design with high-spec tailoring.

Norton and sons

Norton & Sons champion “the new bespoke”

Grant’s reputation as a gifted designer was underlined in 2009, when he relaunched mothballed Norton subsidiary E Tautz as a minimalist men’s casual brand in the same contemporary playing field as Margaret Howell and Jil Sander. He was crowned Menswear Designer of 2010 at the British Fashion Awards. His collaborative work has since accelerated: initially with Barbour, as creative director of its Beacon Heritage sub-brand, and more recently launching & Co, his first democratically priced collection with Debenhams.

Grant became a household name in 2014, after he was recruited as a judge by the BBC’s Great British Sewing Bee. All publicity is great publicity.

Burberry trench coat

The sandringham mid length heritage trench coat honey

Rarely has the adage of “form following function” rung truer than with Burberry’s trench coat. A homegrown wardrobe essential since the day it was conceived, Burberry’s flagship style has weathered almost as many trend cycles as it has downpours. Appropriately, it was the rain-soaked battlefields of World War I that inspired Thomas Burberry to create his first trench coat.

Interrogate its most widely recognised design details and the trench coat’s functionality leaps starkly into focus. Rear storm-shield to channel rain straight off the wearer’s back? Tick. Epaulettes to display the rank of army officers? Tick. Pleated back to guarantee ease of movement while on horseback? Tick. There’s even a nifty buckle-fastened storm flap at the collar to create a failsafe wind-resistant barrier.

The debate over whether Burberry or Aquascutum was first with the trench coat has raged since the turn of the 20th century, but few will argue that in its purest incarnation it is fashioned from gabardine. A tightly woven, hardwearing, waterproof, wind-resistant and breathable precursor to Ventile, Gore-Tex and Sympatex, gabardine was the technical fabric of its time. And who invented gabardine? Thomas Burberry, of course.

Almost a century since its inception, the trench coat is as coveted today as it was by the military top brass for whom it was created – albeit by a more style-savvy audience. Before Burberry’s realignment as a luxury brand under Rose Marie Bravo; before Christopher Bailey aimed his design guns on the catwalks; before even the Kate Moss campaign with Mario Testino and the ensuing parade of pap-hungry party-kids wrapping their arms around their Burberrys, the trench coat was one of Britain’s most desirable exports – and remains so today.

Barbour waxed jacket

When it comes to VIP fan clubs, few fashion brands can count movie stars Steve McQueen and Daniel Craig’s Bond alongside rock glitterati such as Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner, socialites such as Alexa Chung and just about every member of the British aristocracy in their number. But Barbour is not just any fashion brand.

Over the last decade Barbour has enjoyed a triumphant return to favour among both the fashion-forward and the commercial mainstream, and its classic waxed jackets have taken the spotlight.

Alex turner original from andy willsher 2

Source: Andy Willsher

The Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner is a Barbour fan

In the early 2000s, off the back of Belstaff’s successes with its recently remarketed waxed Trialmaster moto jacket, Barbour began focusing buyer attention on its iconic International jacket. Introduced in 1936, the waxed, waterproof, multi-pocketed, belted motorcycle jacket not only pre-dated Belstaff’s lookalike Trialmaster by 12 years but, from the 1950s to 1970s, became the go-to throw-on for competitors in the International Six Day Trials. The “Olympics of motorcycling”, gained particular media attention in 1964, when it was hosted in communist East Germany at the height of the Cold War, and when one Steve McQueen of Hollywood fame entered with a team of US biker buddies, each sporting a Barbour International.

Images of McQueen and his team in Barbour went on to make global headlines. And 75 years after the launch of the jacket, the shots provided the visual backdrop for the launch of the brand’s Steve McQueen collection.

Around the same time that Barbour was winning over men’s and women’s fashion buyers and shoppers with a tidal wave of slimmed-down permutations of the International in a kaleidoscope of colours and fabrics, a growing tribe of indie-rock bands and fans were busily rifling through the vintage markets of Camden and beyond in search of Barbour’s more traditional country-inspired Bedale and Beaufort jackets.

The ensuing clamour of celeb exposure from the likes of Lily Allen, Nick Grimshaw and Alex Turner in their trusty country jackets would go on to galvanise Barbour’s post-International position as a must-have festival brand and essential hipster uniform.

Fred Perry polo shirt

Riding the crest of the Britpop-fuelled 1990s, Fred Perry enjoyed a second coming that secured its position as a British sportswear giant. Before the days of download charts and Spotify, Fred Perry’s laurel logo was a sartorial mainstay on the weekly Top Of The Pops show, where artists such as Paul Weller, Damon Albarn, Ocean Colour Scene and Oasis rubber-stamped the brand’s credentials as essential British kit for homegrown brand obsessives.

The modish pop icons of the 1990s are a sartorial stretch from the fields of Manipur in late 19th-century India, where British soldiers witnessed their first game of “pulu”, so named by the sport’s founders after the wooden ball used. After taking up the sport, the British Army updated the long-sleeved cotton shirts worn during traditional polo matches by attaching buttons to their collars to stop them flapping while galloping on horseback.

Fred perry

Impressed by this detail as a spectator at a polo match in England during a European buying trip, John E Brooks, grandson of the founder of Brooks Brothers in the US, took the idea home and set about applying button-down collars to dress shirts. Soon after its launch, the Brooks Brothers Button-Down Polo Shirt (a product that remains an anchor style for the label), not only helped casualise the previously formal dress shirt but also catapulted the polo shirt as a go-to style for a variety of field sports, including tennis.

It was French tennis legend Jean René Lacoste who transformed the polo shirt for the increasingly physical demands of tennis. Shorter sleeves, an unstarched collar and a longer, tuckable ‘tennis tail’ were introduced. Lacoste also crafted his shirts from breathable British-sourced piqué cotton and is reputed to have introduced the first visible logo with his now infamous crocodile badge. First unveiled at the 1926 US Open Championship, Lacoste’s polo shirt became an overnight sensation after the brand’s founder won the tournament.

Having cemented his reputation as a championship-storming tennis star, Fred Perry began to introduce his own tennis-inspired styles in the 1950s. The first item, a sweatband, was followed in 1952 during Wimbledon by the Fred Perry M3 polo shirt. Manufactured in Leicester, Fred Perry’s was the first polo shirt to feature a stitched-in logo rather than the ironed-on badges espoused by Lacoste.

Following demand for new styles from Fred Perry devotees, Perry introduced a new twin-tipped collar via the M12 polo shirt in the late 1950s. Almost overnight, the shirt became a wardrobe staple for British teens and mods, underlining Fred Perry’s polo shirt as the first to successfully make the transition from court-ready sportswear to street-led casualwear.

Dr Martens boots

Dr martens

Few footwear brands can finish off an anti-establishment style statement like a pair of DMs. An indispensable piece of uniform for jilted generations since the 1960s, the roots of the air-cushioned Dr Martens boot are a far cry from the battalions of mods, punks, skins and grunge kids who have laid claim to the style over ensuing decades.

It was in post-war Munich circa 1945 that 25-year-old soldier Dr Klaus Maertens hit upon the idea of an air-cushioned alternative to less-forgiving leather soles while convalescing from a broken foot. Working alongside mechanical engineer Dr Herbert Funk, the duo’s prototypes went into production two years later.

Fuelled by early successes in Germany, the company began to advertise its invention in international footwear magazines. The shoes caught the attention of Northamptonshire footwear manufacturing dynasty the Griggs family, who were granted an exclusive licence in 1960. Bill Griggs, along with brothers Ray and Colin, and son Max, set about tweaking the innovation.

The heel was softened and a grooved sole installed. Further modifications included a simplified clean-lined upper, a new sole pattern and the introduction of a distinctive yellow welt stitch. Rebranded as “AirWair” each boot came complete with a black and yellow fabric heel loop featuring the brand name and the slogan ”With Bouncing Soles” in a script based on Bill Griggs’ own handwriting.

Referencing the date of its birth on 1 April 1960, the eight-holed 1460 Dr Martens boot, costing just £2, quickly gained a reputation as an affordable and resilient option for Brit blue-collar workers.

Adopted by ska-loving rude boys in the late 1960s as a symbol of the working class hero, Dr Martens gradually began to attract a cult following. The fortunes of the brand took an unexpected upturn in 1967, when Pete Townshend of The Who ditched his psychedelic wardrobe in favour of a utilitarian look, and in so doing became the first high-profile artist to wear DMs.

Punks, skinheads and mods were to stake their successive claims on Dr Martens boots in overlapping succession. By the 1980s, the boots had become sartorial currency for counter-culture as thousands of students customised their lived-in DMs before passing the baton across the Atlantic to Seattle’s grunge kids in the early 1990s.

Today, the brand’s history, combined with more recent seasonal trend-led innovations, has helped Dr Martens secure an international reputation as a credible fashion option.

Mulberry handbag

Peruse the gilded halls of any decadent international department store and Mulberry’s presence is palpable. Dominating floor space in countless emporiums, Mulberry has jostled for recognition handle to handle alongside catwalk-coveted desirables from the likes of Céline and Chanel, to more venerable luxury-led statesmen such as Vuitton and Loewe. For a brand born in Somerset just 46 years ago, Mulberry’s impact on the luxury leather handbag world is nothing short of startling.

Starting life in 1971, many of the brand’s early country-inspired styles were designed and created from the rural home of founder Roger Saul, and sold from a stall in London’s Portobello Road Market. It was the introduction of the now iconic Bayswater bag by Mulberry’s then creative director, Nicholas Knightly, in 2003, combined with investment from Singaporean billionaire Christina Ong in the same year, that lit the fuse on Mulberry’s repositioning as an It brand for the global glitterati.

The Bayswater’s slouchy fit-all proportions, pebble-grained leathers and signature brass postman’s latch catapulted Mulberry almost overnight from a fusty Brit heritage brand to arm candy for the Cool Britannia generation.


This reputation was rubber-stamped by Knightly’s successor, Emma Hill, who during her tenure as creative director between 2008 and 2013 tied the knot between Mulberry and the celebrity set by introducing a parade of bags named after a roll call of It girls – cue the Alexa, the Cara and the Del Rey. Hill’s marketing masterstroke not only secured instant celebrity ardour but also sent Mulberry’s stock price stratospheric.

Hill departed Mulberry shortly after the arrival of CEO Bruno Guillon, a former Hermès executive, whose decision to take Mulberry upmarket during his tenure between 2012 and 2014 led to the brand losing 67% of its share price in a single annus horribilis.

It took Mulberry 17 months following Hill’s exit to recruit Spanish designer Johnny Coca to the once-coveted role of creative director. Since then, Coca has begun imprinting the function-first design handwriting he refined while at Céline. The Bayswater has been updated with a new trapeze-like silhouette, reminiscent of, well, Céline’s Trapeze bag, the design of which Coca worked on. A renewed focus on ‘democratic’ pricing led to increased sales and profits in 2016 and 2017.

Baracuta Harrington jacket

Baracuta harrington

Following its inception in 1937, Baracuta’s G9 Harrington jacket has gone on to become one of the most widely copied jacket styles in the history of modern fashion.

Picking through the rails of countless men’s brands in any given summer season (check Ralph Lauren, Burberry, Aquascutum, Fred Perry, Ben Sherman, Lacoste, Pretty Green and Merc for reference), reveals just how significant the influence of the Harrington and its countless design derivatives have been on shaping men’s style for more than half a century.

Before it made the move into clothing, Baracuta created quite a stir among premium brands such as Burberry and Aquascutum as a performance-led fabric supplier. Hailing from the seemingly always rainy Manchester, then the UK’s capital of cotton, Baracuta knew a thing or two about weaving cotton dense enough to battle the relentless downpours.

The successes of Baracuta as an in-demand fabric supplier afforded owners John and Isaac Miller a privileged lifestyle, and allowed them to mix with the higher echelons of Manchester’s social elite. Fanatical golfers, it was while braving regular deluges on Lancashire’s fairways that the two brothers hit on the idea of designing a zip-through waterproof jacket that provided enough movement in the sleeve and body to strike the ball freely, and prevent rain halting play. Launched in 1937, Baracuta designated it the G9, with the G representing golf, although in Japan it became known as the “swing jacket”.

The G9’s popularity skyrocketed after 1950, when Baracuta launched in the US. The jacket became a favourite among the celeb-led golf fraternity: Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Ronald Reagan were all Baracuta fans. But it was the support of Elvis Presley, who wore the G9 in the 1958 movie King Creole, that catapulted it from a golf brand to a symbol of teen rebellion.

In 1963, Steve McQueen, then the new “bad boy” of Hollywood, was photographed for the cover of Life magazine astride his Triumph Bonneville motorcycle while sporting a Baracuta G9. Around the same time, the G9 became part of the on-screen wardrobe for heart-throb actor Ryan O’Neal in TV soap Peyton Place, playing the role of Rodney Harrington. By 1966, legendary US preppy-inspired Covent Garden menswear emporium J Simons (still trading, albeit from swish Chiltern Street in Marylebone), had begun marketing the G9 as the ”Rodney Harrington Jacket”, and later simply the “Harrington”, and in so doing coined a term that would go down in history.

John Smedley knitwear

John smedley mf19059 s 1bw

Having created the world’s most coveted fine-gauge knitwear from its manufacturing home Lea Mills since 1784, John Smedley’s is the world’s oldest working factory.

Nestled in the heart of gently undulating hills close to picturesque Matlock, the Derbyshire terroir is inextricably intertwined with John Smedley’s DNA. Even the local spring water is key in creating the colourfast dyes that amplify the performance of each garment during a lifetime of washes.

Smedley’s quality-led heritage is underpinned by the fibres that make their way from across the globe to Lea Mills: whether it’s the internationally renowned extra-fine merino wool from New Zealand, the lighter-weight yet super-strong Sea Island Cotton, or the ultra-luxurious Mongolian-sourced Imperial Kashmir. Little wonder then that four years ago the company was awarded a royal warrant as “manufacturer of fine knitwear”.

The Lea Mills factory is no stranger to royal attention, having received two separate visits from the Queen during her reign. And, over the decades, the still-family-owned business has cultivated a loyal fan base of A-listers such as Kate Winslet, Tom Cruise, Scarlett Johansson, Idris Elba and Martin Freeman. And few brands (if any) can claim to have been worn by every on-screen incarnation of James Bond since the cinematic birth of Ian Fleming’s super-spy in 1962.

In the last five years John Smedley has invested in staying a step ahead in the quality stakes. State-of-the-art computer design systems have been implemented alongside up-to-the-minute dyeing equipment.

As well as a commitment to the government’s apprenticeship scheme to hire and train young people, the brand is constantly investing in the welfare of its 400-plus workforce, most recently with the introduction of a new canteen. If an army marches on its stomach, then Smedley’s team is certainly in a healthy position to build on the 400,000 garments it creates each year for markets that extend beyond the UK to customers in Japan, Italy, Germany, France and Russia – each buying into a slice of moreish British luxury.

Paul Smith shirt

Paul smith

Paul Smith spring 18

Last summer, in the chaotic throes of men’s spring/summer 18 fashion week in a hot-under-the-collar corner of Paris, Sir Paul Smith swept back the curtain on his latest creative fandango. An explosion of Hawaiian florals, the show’s pattern-led fuse was first fired-up in the 1970s by the Aloha shirts that Smith shipped home from buying trips in the Big Apple.

Smith’s early successes selling Hawaiian looks to a less sun-blessed British audience not only galvanised his resolve to major in shirting but also helped bankroll his first flagship on Covent Garden’s Floral Street in 1979. Those surf-soaked blooms also helped inspire the then 33-year-old designer to make florals his own. From there on in, colour, print (see also Smith’s signature stripes) and subtle trend-led updates of wardrobe essentials became key foundations of the Smith “classics with a twist” design manifesto.

Riffing on the status quo is all part of Smith’s widely revered brand of anti-establishment establishment. In his most recent swipe at the norm, he showed his women’s collection alongside menswear in Paris. Yet, without shirts, the brand may have never extended its reach from menswear to womenswear in the first place. It was in 1993, after US Vogue’s Grace Coddington shot the same Paul Smith men’s shirt on a string of female models over six back-to-back issues, that Smith began to think seriously about womenswear.

The Paul Smith fan base has grown significantly from its early taste-making fans at Vogue. As well as countless awards, Smith received a CBE in 1994 before receiving a knighthood from the Queen in 2000 for his services to British fashion.

Today, Smith trades in more than 70 countries and his logo swings above the doors of 105 stores worldwide – 17 in the UK. There are hundreds of global franchises, including more than 200 in Japan, where he is greeted with the kind of fan-club frenzy traditionally reserved for Beatles and Biebers. Not bad work for a man reputed to have the down-to-earth charm you might expect from a Nottingham-born son of a draper.

Gloverall duffle coat

Gloverall scan 2

If the parade of too cool-for-school Japanese buyers that sport duffle coats at Florence menswear show Pitti Uomo is an accurate trend barometer, then Gloverall’s order book will be bulging.

Gloverall has been busy notching up high-profile collaborative partners to amp up its message. Following its autumn/winter 16 partnerships with Junya Watanabe, Sunspel and Christophe Lemaire, the British-made duffle coat brand lined up Vivienne Westwood, Pretty Green and Korean brand Bastong for autumn/winter 17.

Gloverall was founded by H&F Morris in 1951. Five years after the end of World War II, “Gloves” and “Overall” wholesalers Harold and Freda Morris were offered a large quantity of surplus military duffle coats, which quickly sold out in camping and leisurewear shops.

This early success prompted Harold, son of a master tailor, and Freda to produce their own duffle coats for their new company, Gloverall. After adding car coats and reefer jackets, the brand soon became a high-flying British casual outerwear company.

By the 1960s Gloverall was exporting worldwide, which led to the construction of a custom-built factory in Northamptonshire. As the brand began to design more fashion-forward overcoats and casual clothing, its popularity soared in the UK and across the globe. By the end of the decade, Gloverall was stocked in more than 40 countries.

Few styles can claim to be as democratic in terms of appeal to both men and women, or as easy to wear and protective as the duffle coat. Whether it’s the go-to uniform for schoolchildren and military leaders such as Field Marshal Montgomery, a blue-collar style statement for the 1960s beat generation, a cutesy throw-on for the nation’s favourite bear, or a celeb-led nod to trends, the duffle coat remains relevant from counterculture to catwalk.

Church’s shoes

Church's shanghai ebony white

Church’s Shanghai

When the world’s sartorial cognoscenti train their sights on the finest in classic, handcrafted, built-for-a-lifetime footwear, they look to England – more specifically to Northamptonshire. And, of the county’s footwear heavyweights still leading the charge on the international luxury goods playing field, Church’s is the most revered.

The Church family’s Northampton legacy traces as far back as 1675 with the birth of the company founder’s great-grandfather, Stone Church. In his adult life, Stone developed a reputation as a highly regarded local cordwainer; skills that were passed from one generation to the next until Stone’s great-grandson, Thomas, established the Church’s brand alongside his wife, Eliza, and sons, Alfred and William, almost two centuries later in 1873.

Church's consul nevada burgundy

Church’s Consul

Demand for Church’s shoes quickly outpaced the company’s first small factory at 30 Maple Street in Northampton. Upon moving into a larger premises on Duke Street, Church’s notability for upmarket shoes began to snowball – the brand was among the first to offer the previously unheard-of options of right and left shoes available in a variety of widths, materials and even half sizes.

Church’s spirit of innovation led to the birth of the trademarked Adapted shoes and later the Adapted boot, a style that went on to win the Gold Medal at the 1881 Great Exhibition of global enterprise in London’s Crystal Palace.

By the turn of the 20th century, Church’s was trading internationally across Europe, South Africa, the US and Canada. In 1921, the brand opened its first London store (expanding into women’s footwear at the same time), before swinging open the doors of its first overseas store on Madison Avenue in New York eight years later. Church’s reputation as a global luxury brand was rubber-stamped in 1999, when it was acquired by the Prada Group.

Under new ownership, Church’s dedication to craftsmanship and tradition was ring-fenced. A fresh approach to global marketing, refined branding and contemporary design in support of the classics combined to broaden Church’s appeal to a younger, luxe-led global audience, as well as the legions of business leaders, political statesmen and well-heeled bohemians who have flocked to the brand for decades.


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