DRAGON AND KNIGHT SAVE FOX
It’s a rare event for a textile mill to make national headlines but that is what happened to Fox Brothers earlier this year, when Deborah Meaden, of TV ‘Dragons Den’ fame, took over this old company in the West Country of England.
Fox is particularly known for the finest flannels but makes a wide range of other cloths as well, and supplies all the top tailors, here and abroad.
Deborah Meaden, left, is the Dragon lady of the TV programme, with a wide range of business experience and investments.
And with style consultant Douglas Cordeaux, below, she has actually been involved since last year in getting this old mill into more modern shape without effecting its intrinsic values.
Now, it is ready to launch a new collection, put together by Cordeaux, and, as the first step in a promotional programme, has been a leading light in organising the forthcoming Savile Row event in October (see Style p1). That in turn is part of a wider drive to generate renewed interest in wool and British wool in particular.
“I was stunned to discover that over 70 per cent of British wool fleece is currently thrown away,” he said. “We are working with some local farmers to use their fleece, which can be used for jacketings and coatings. It isn’t fine enough to be used for suitings, it would be just too difficult – though we are looking at possibilities with blends.”
The local wool comes from Exmoor Horn sheep, which has been woven into the first West of England tweed, included in the new autumn collection.
He waxes lyrical over the craft skills and accumulated knowledge of the mill’s workforce, over the quality of the product, and the unrivalled archives on the cloths and company that he has discovered.
“I’ve found that the mill actually goes back to 1620, over a 150 years earlier than had previously been thought,” he reveals. “We have documents and ledgers to prove it.”
And with these goes a treasure trove of patterns that is providing fresh inspiration for cloths today.
When the Dragon lady and her knight errant came to the rescue of Fox last year, they saved what is undoubtedly an English treasure from possible takeover by less sympathetic and probably foreign investors. Both had grown up near this West Country mill and felt getting involved with such a venerable institution was too good an opportunity to miss.
“The company is hugely respected abroad,” said Cordeaux. “This new collection brings in some fresh colours and designs but maintains the Fox classics. And to show off the cloths to good effect, we have a Savile Row tailor who has made up sample suits that will be on display at the forthcoming textile shows in Paris and Milan.”
The tailor is Brian Smith, previously with Anderson & Sheppard, who had moved to the West Country from London and found a convenient berth at Fox Bros. But these samples do not presage a move into clothing – as yet.
“We have plenty to get on with,” Cordeaux explained. “We are looking at working with clothing companies that want to give consumers information about what goes into a garment. Younger men now aspire to better quality and want to know about the cloth. We’ll be able to provide information tracing the cloth back to the sheep.”
They are also introducing an apprenticeship scheme, where the trainees will learn all aspects of production. And he wants to forge closer links with the suiting heartland in the North of England, so that they may cooperate on promotions.
“We feel we are the custodians of Fox,” he explains. “We want to build on its heritage and give it the wider appreciation it deserves.”
The new collection is for autumn next year, so tailors won't be able to show samples from it yet, but they will have current Fox cloths.