Staying true to British manufacturing is the mantra of menswear brand, Private White V.C., a company devoted to producing the highest quality clothing for the modern gentleman.
With a vein of family heritage at its core and a Mayfair flagship store launching this month, Emma Daniels speaks with James Eden, the great-grandson of the company founder. Photography by Sarah Jones.
Private White’s history is interwoven with the original industrial city of Manchester. “We have the factory shop located in Manchester which is right at the heart of the business. The factory itself has been around for over a century as an outerwear manufacturer, the same factory where my great grandfather, Jack White, originally started his apprenticeship after WW1 and later became the owner. It has been under my ownership for four years and there is no secret to running it; we simply continue using the traditional skills of our craftsmen and put in a lot of hard work and determination. Manchester is an incredibly self-sufficient, proud city and we’re honoured to be able to continue to contribute to the city’s traditional manufacturing roots.”
A visit to the Private White V. C. factory reveals the depth of tradition behind this very modern brand. This is no cold, sanitised, technological environment. This is a real, live, rough at the edges working factory. Production is carried out by hugely skilled local craftspeople, using traditional machinery that has been here for years. A tour reveals all the processes used to create a Private White V.C. garment over three floors joined by twisty corridors and narrow stairways. You can see the enormous rolls of fabric, the pattern cutters, the fabric tables, machinists and hand finishing going on right before your eyes. Rails are crammed with garments at different stages of production.
Using the finest locally produced materials and craftsmanship, the vast majority of Private White’s products are made here. “The lion’s share of our product is produced within the factory in Manchester, using the best materials that we source as locally as possible.” James explains that the fantastic relationships they have with the local suppliers and the traditional, time honoured techniques used means that they’re able to work with a variety of amazing local materials to produce the outstanding pieces of clothing, in the unique way they do.
“We also relish the opportunity to work with other like-minded product experts who produce within the UK. For instance, we source the finest Harris Tweed from the Hebrides, knitwear from Ireland and shoes from Northamptonshire. Keeping our manufacturing in the UK is an absolutely vital part of the brand. It completely underpins our ethos and so much more than that, it’s all we know. Our supply chain is here in Manchester, the knowledge and skills of our workers are here and the vast heritage and spark of inspiration behind each garment starts here with the vast experience within the building.”
With unique attention to detail and a strong nod to traditional menswear, Private White V.C. is a brand for the man who demands integrity, style and durability from his clothing. The V.C. man is, “a man who appreciates quality, provenance and skill.” James says, “He is the kind of man who likes fine wine, classic cars, vintage watches, architecture and engineering. I think that anyone who can appreciate a historical craft or skill will love what we do here.” The collection is designed by former head of Dunhill menswear, Nick Ashley, and is directly influenced by Jack White’s own wardrobe. “The design process is extremely hands-on here and can be very ad hoc at times. Nick Ashley is an incredible character and working with him is particularly enjoyable. We have such a wealth of inspiration within these factory walls, particularly from our extensive archive which holds over 5000 garments and patterns dating back to the 1950s.”
When it comes to design, practicality, functionality, durability and simplicity are all crucial factors. “Our products have a backbone; substance as well as style. It’s also important that we can go from ‘sheep to shop’, by that I mean we can trace the origins of all the materials we use and follow them through the design process, production and finish until they go to a shop floor. Nick likes to refer to our designs as ‘techno-retro’. The techno aspect is the contemporary spin we put on our products and the technologies we have developed such as the taped seams we use to 100% waterproof our raincoats. The retro element comes from the classic shapes, fabrics and production techniques we utilise. We actually only create a handful of new styles per season which are usually developed from archive pieces which are then given a modern twist.”
The factory, known to many in the industry as Cooper & Stollbrand, is staffed by local people who have seen the comings and goings of life there over many years. Sons and daughters, brothers and sisters have all worked together, with the factory playing a focal point in their lives and that of the local community. “Working with family can be testing at times but it’s extraordinarily rewarding to continue Private Jack White’s legacy in such an authentic and worthwhile way. As well as my own family, who are part of the business, the company is built on other families who have all worked alongside each other for years during the factory’s history.”
The future of the brand looks exciting, with a collection of new milestones ahead. A full line of womenswear is set to launch for Spring/Summer 2016, with an introduction this autumn via a smaller, neater-shoulder version of the menswear. James explaining, “We’re really excited to start seeing our product being worn and enjoyed by women. In fact, we’ve got lots of exciting things coming up for the brand including the launch of our Mayfair store, and HRH Princess Anne has just officially opened our shop at the factory. Further afield, we simply want to continue to evolve sensibly and in the same positive and dynamic way. We hope to raise our profile internationally and pick up more stockists around the world. What goes up quickly, comes down quickly, and we aim to keep a continued measured growth, working hard and to our strengths as a business. We’re not about quick fixes or gimmicks. Our entire ideology is based on standing the test of time and that’s what we hope to build on.”
Guests to the shop in Manchester are able to book a tour around the factory and are welcomed to catch a glimpse of the production process. Private White V. C. have a London store on Lamb’s Conduit Street in Bloomsbury. Their new, high profile flagship store will open on Duke Street, Mayfair, London in October.