Made in Manchester: Private White V.C.
Manchester has one of the richest legacies in industry and innovation, and yet its factories aren’t exactly known for their modern-day input to fashion and retail, which tends to favour labour from overseas. But flying the flag for today’s small-scale northern industry is Private White V.C., a high end clothing company tucked away within the streets of Salford.
The brand is named after WWI hero Private Jack White, who was born in Yorkshire, raised in Lancashire, and awarded the Victoria Cross – the highest and most prestigious honour to be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces – at the tender age of twenty after saving his commanding officer and valuable equipment whilst in action. When Jack returned home after the war, he began an apprenticeship as a cloth cutter in a factory that specialised in manufacturing raincoats, before moving up through the ranks to become its owner. It was this career that was to shape the beginnings of what the Private White V.C. brand is today.
James Eden, managing director and Jack White’s great grandson, quit his job as a City financier to embark on the entrepreneurial venture that would to pay homage to his family history, whilst championing local industry and bringing the Private White name a renewed significance within present-day fashion.
The pieces truly are products of the North, with materials sourced locally wherever possible. Most of the cloth is supplied by the mills within the surrounding areas, each of which has a trading relationship with the company dating back to Jack White’s era, as well as its own relevance within the history of northern industry.
The collection is designed by Nick Ashley, the company’s creative director and son of iconic fashion and interiors designer Laura Ashley. The designs have been inspired by Private Jack White’s everyday wardrobe, which not only included classic military wear, but also outfits for his motorcycling and car racing hobbies. Accordingly there are subtle nods to wartime fashion, functional utility pieces, traditional hard-wearing materials and neutral, timeless colours, with all of these aspects updated with enough modernity to bring them into the 21st century.
Private White has now launched a brand new store over in Salford, which was officially opened in September by Princess Anne, who is also President of the UK Fashion and Textile Association. The shop sits on the same site as the existing factory, designed not only to celebrate the brand’s devotion to British manufacturing, but to also work as a natural extension to the work space that remains at the heart of the company.
After being greeted by Private White’s mascot Bulldog, Brutus – who you’ll often find sprawled out on the floor – guests are now invited to shop by appointment at the unique store, whilst also being encouraged to take a tour of the factory and witness first-hand the various stages of the traditional production methods that have become sadly all too much of a rarity.
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A strong believer in both a flick of liquid eyeliner and a sturdy beehive, Jess Hardiman loves to find her style inspiration from unlikely places – whether it’s classic French cinema of the 60s or just anyone who can resuscitate lifeless hair. In 2013 she was awarded ‘Magazine Journalist of the Year’ at the Manchester Student Media Awards, and these days you’ll find her over at listings website Manchester Wire or her own blog, where she also enthuses about anything from Woody Allen to a glass of sherry.