As Gabby Logan’s ceremonial gown is being hand crafted in Leeds, Sallie Gregson looks at the region’s textile heritage.
In the nineteenth century, textiles were the basis of the Yorkshire economy which made the region a global leader in design, manufacturing and textile production.
The county is still home to firms recognised worldwide for the quality fashion products handmade by skilled crafts men and women, using materials sourced locally.
To celebrate the rich history of textiles in Yorkshire, Leeds based fashion graduate Kate Duckworth is designing the gown Gabby Logan will wear when she formally takes office as chancellor of Leeds Trinity University on June 6.
The ceremonial gown began its life at Armley Mill, which is now home to Leeds Industrial Museum proudly displaying the area’s manufacturing heritage but was once the world’s largest woollen mill.
Behind the Seams is a permanent exhibition at Armley Mill led by Leeds Fashion Works, a non-profit organisation who support and promote Yorkshire’s textile industry. Director Suzy Shepherd said: “So many of Yorkshire’s economic roots can be linked to textiles. However, there is a common misconception that the industry has disappeared.
“The reality is that the mills have shifted from mass production to high-end niche markets and are producing some of the finest cloth in the world.”
In the final stages of production, the gown is being cut at bespoke tailors and military uniform specialist Samuel Brothers in Leeds, where Kate has been working with head cutter Ken Baker, who has been cutting cloth for 48 years.
He is recognized as one of the best in the UK, having worked for high-end designers including some on the exclusive Saville Row.
Samuel Brothers Managing Director Lee Dawson, 45, believes the Yorkshire textile industry needs to be kept alive. He said: “We are a British company and proud of it, why would you want to go anywhere else to get first-class garments such as these?”
One in three of all UK textile weaving jobs are based in Leeds, as well as 60 per cent of all textile preparation and spinning. Yorkshire mills have become synonymous with luxury fabrics, supplying materials to leading fashion houses such as Burberry, Prada and Paul Smith.
However, finding people who want to take on this highly skilled job has proved difficult for the company. Head cutter Mr Baker, 63, said: “It takes a certain person to do this job, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I love this job, every day is different and you are never doing the same thing.”
Ms Shepherd said: “In Italy, learning a fashion trade such as cutting is desirable, whereas over here it has a more negative image. What fashion students need is a platform that will fill the gap between leaving a course and going into work where they can appreciate the whole garment making process.”
The quality of work that goes into making a garment such as Gabby’s gown is evident. Mr Baker, who came straight into this job after leaving school at 15, is in the process of training someone to take over his work. But it will be another 18 months before they are fully trained.
Lee Dawson explained that Samuel Brothers would be able to make a bespoke suit for £800. That might sound a lot, but on Saville Row the same suit would cost a minimum of £5,000. The prestige of owning a Saville Row Suit increases the price dramatically, yet here in Yorkshire you can find exactly the same high quality custom-made suit for less.
Local textile company Hainsworth, which has been manufacturing ceremonial fabrics in Leeds since 1783, is providing the doeskin which is the material being used for the majority of the gown.
Mr Barker said: “Yorkshire materials are the best in the world, they are used all around the world.” The gown has been designed, cut and produced in Yorkshire using materials made in Yorkshire. Why indeed would you need to go anywhere else when the fashion industry is still indebted to Yorkshire.