Despite these cynical times where the ‘factory visit’ may be regarded as something of a blogospheric cliché by certain elitist, fashion berks. Getting an invite down to visit Gloverall (in Wellingborough) had me from excitedly chanting ‘Gloverall factory visit’ to the tune of Ike and Tina’s Nutbush City Limits over and over again for a good two or three days before actually going there. Living in the North West, I’ve seen my fair share of Victorian mills with their iconic steps worn away by several generations of child labour with matching authentic machinery that’s removed more young limbs than a Parisian Frog-monger. So I was both pleasantly surprised and possibly relieved when I arrived at Gloverall’s HQ, to find a more modern looking twentieth century style brutalist factory whose charm lay more in the history of its knowledgeable staff and practical product than it’s hanger-like surroundings.
I was initially given a tour of the Factory by marketing manager Mark, a bloke who was as passionate and informative about the brand as he was about the bag of Chorley cakes that I’d brought down as a humble token of Northern friendliness. Whilst Mark made me a brew (and dealt with various calls from around the world) I was left to wander around this wooden-toggled wonderland. Like the proverbial porker in the poo, I was in my element delving into the array of past stock, experimental one offs, collabs and of course box upon box of shiny big buttons and tactile toggles. After discovering there was no way I’d could fit even the shortest of college duffle coats up my jumper I was ushered into a modest sized yet very special place. As I stood there in Gloverall’s archive room I was greeted by the sight of a chronological display of stunning coats. The illustrious line-up started with the very first military issue number that Harry & Frieda Morris started the company off with right up to today’s modern version that you’re more likely to see in the Deck Out on Oi Polloi than the deck of the Ark Royal.
When viewed in this way I not only realised just how much of a genuine British style institution Gloverall actually is but also how little the duffle jacket has changed over the past 60 years years, well at least to my untrained eyes. That’s where Len came in, Len has been with the company over forty years, cutting all the patterns by hand and knowing everything you could ever possibly hope to know about Gloverall. He showed me how each model has gradually evolved, from the crude rope initially used to keep the toggles on, to the introduction of linings, pocket flaps, adjustable hood buttons, shoulders shapes, nylon seams and leather patches as well as informing me that the horn toggles are made from the tips of Indian water buffalo. We then went through some fantastic archive catalogues as well as the other really nice pieces in the collection which included capes, car coats and even the 1980 British Olympic team’s white duffle coat, as worn by Torvill & Dean. I was in my element and could have hung out with Len all day discussing Gloverall’s heyday when 3,500 coats would leave the factory each week and how they used to make all the duffles for Burberry & Aquascutum before realising that they were doing themselves out of a job. He also mentioned how Paul Smith, Margaret Howell and Agnes B have all been known to pop in for a brew and to pick his brains.
Sadly the hours flew by all too quickly and it was soon time to head back up North. I left the friendly atmosphere of the factory a better man with a genuine glow of British pride and safe in the knowledge that one of our country’s finest clothing brands couldn’t be in better hands than Len and the gang. Oh and if you’re reading this, I want a signed copy of the book when it comes out please Len.