Strik­ing the right cord

From rock mu­si­cians to nov­el­ists and MPS, snug, bril­liantly coloured cor­duroy has many fans, finds Alec Marsh

Country Life Every Week - - In The Garden -

‘We do know that Bri­tons have been wear­ing it with pride since the 1700s’

Aside from tweed, cor­duroy is the coun­try­side’s king of cloths, com­fort­able, warm and pleas­ingly weath­er­proof. The pair of trousers i wore to cy­cle from Lon­don to Brighton when ac­com­pa­ny­ing a vin­tage-car rally didn’t let me down, even in the driv­ing rain.

We might never know the true ori­gin of this finely ribbed fus­tian (a wo­ven cot­ton cloth), but modern opin­ion sadly finds against the the­ory of the king’s cloth—corde du roi is not an ex­pres­sion known across the Chan­nel. What we do know is that Bri­tons have been wear­ing it with pride since the 1700s.

Rory ste­wart, the in­trepid Min­is­ter for in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment and Con­ser­va­tive MP for Pen­rith and the Bor­der, is a def­i­nite fan. A com­mit­ted coun­try­man, Mr ste­wart has walked some 6,000 miles across Asia and has cov­ered about 1,000 miles of Bri­tain on foot, too—of­ten in a pair of cords.

‘They’re more com­fort­able than jeans and look a bit more for­mal,’ ex­plains Mr ste­wart, who favours shades of dark blue and brown. ‘They also al­low you to look and feel a more tra­di­tional part of the Bri­tish land­scape than [by] wear­ing a pair of wa­ter­proof trousers,’ adds the politi­cian.

This is mu­sic to the ears of the team at Bris­bane Moss in York­shire’s Calder Val­ley, which has been mak­ing and sup­ply­ing the finest cor­duroy for more than 150 years.

To­day, it stocks more than 400 dif­fer­ent types, cat­e­gorised by colour, qual­ity and num­ber of wales (the ribs or piles, which are num­bered per inch). in the ware­house is some 273,000 yards of the stuff—enough to carpet Trafal­gar square 20 times over. ‘it’s a lot of cloth,’ con­firms the com­pany’s Robert smithies, who ex­plains that the ma­te­rial is avail­able in 21 dif­fer­ent weights and widths of wale, which typ­i­cally range from four to 21. ‘We do an eight wale that’s 470g [17oz] per square me­tre and is our flag­ship qual­ity. it’s a very heavy, tra­di­tional cor­duroy that peo­ple

around the world buy be­cause they want that solid Bri­tish­ness.’

For him, what makes the ma­te­rial spe­cial is how it’s made. ‘Some of the threads that run across the cloth— the wefts—are cut on a ma­chine after it comes off the loom and it’s those that stand up and make the pile,’ elab­o­rates Mr Smithies. ‘The fi­bres and threads stand up ver­ti­cally from the sur­face, there­fore you get a den­sity of colour that you don’t get in a flat fabric.’

What makes it such a de­cid­edly coun­try cloth? ‘It’s a cot­ton fabric, so it’s not overly heavy and doesn’t rus­tle when you move, yet it gives warmth be­cause it’s got that pile. It’s also densely wo­ven and rel­a­tively wind­proof.’

Over at Bar­bour in South Shields, out­side New­cas­tle, cor­duroy has been used on the col­lars of its world-renowned waxed coats since the 1950s, with some ex­am­ples from the 1930s, ac­cord­ing to De­sign and De­vel­op­ment Man­ager Gary Janes. ‘We tend to use eight wale, which has more pile and is more lux­u­ri­ous,’ he ex­plains. ‘It doesn’t bald and seems to last the life­time of the gar­ment, which can be decades. It does change with wear, but that’s the beauty of it.’

Cru­cially, the col­lar pro­vides a bar­rier against the waxed cot­ton, which is es­pe­cially use­ful if it’s wet, and aes­thet­ics also play a part—mr Janes com­pares the grooves in the ma­te­rial to the fur­rows of a ploughed field.

A hun­dred miles north in Ed­in­burgh, the writer Alexander Mccall Smith is such a fan that he’s writ­ten a ‘Cor­duroy Man­sions’ se­ries of nov­els as well as name-check­ing the fabric in his ‘44 Scot­land Street’ sto­ries, in which, along­side ‘crushed straw­berry’, the ma­te­rial ap­pears in ‘dis­tressed oat­meal’ and ‘mit­i­gated beige’.

‘There’s a very in­ter­est­ing ques­tion about the colour of cor­duroy that you wear,’ states Mr Mccall Smith

(COUN­TRY LIFE, March 2, 2016). ‘Red makes a state­ment: in Ed­in­burgh, red trousers are worn on the north­ern side of Princes Street, but you don’t re­ally see them on the south.’

Ad­mit­ting to ‘hav­ing worn crushed straw­berry from time to time, and I have also got a darker red, which I wear at our house in Ar­gyll—it’s very re­mote, so you’re ef­fec­tively wear­ing them in pri­vate’, the au­thor adds that ‘they’re also very good trousers to wear when you’re read­ing COUN­TRY LIFE’.

It is far from Princes Street, ei­ther north or south, how­ever, that you’ll find ar­guably the world’s great­est se­lec­tion, in the sub­ter­ranean menswear depart­ment of Cord­ings of Pic­cadilly, Lon­don W1. Stretched be­fore you like the colours of the rain­bow, this is to a cord lover what Grace­land is to fans of Elvis. ‘They’re the per­fect coun­try trousers,’ de­clares the es­tab­lish­ment’s joint owner, the rock mu­si­cian and gui­tarist Eric Clap­ton. ‘They look great and do the job bet­ter than any of the al­ter­na­tives.’ And that’s com­ing from a man who knows his cords bet­ter than most.

‘They’re very good trousers to wear when you’re read­ing COUN­TRY LIFE’

Fac­ing page: Loud and ec­cen­tric? Or quiet and un­der­stated? Chances are there’s a cord for you. Left: Eric Clap­ton– rock star, but, more im­por­tantly, a cor­duroy fa­natic

Above: The ladies’ room at Cord­ings of Pic­cadilly.

Be­low: Oliver Brown’s cord se­lec­tion is sure to cause a stir with its lu­mi­nous colour­ing

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