Tie-Breaker: Inside the Drake's Factory

Drake’s is an English haberdasher of the highest tradition, yet its creations are anything but traditional. Rather, their legendary London-made neckties represent contemporary British manufacturing at its most artisanal, and at…

You might be forgiven for thinking that Drake's is about as aristocratic as a British brand gets; a monocle-clad English haberdasher par excellence, bedecked of hundreds of years of heritage with centuries worth of archives to match. Not Quite. In fact, in the British heritage brand stakes, Drake's is something of an upstart, founded as it was in 1977. Not that this has stopped the house from establishing an extraordinary reputation for its exquisite designs and a seemingly never-ending archive of curious prints and patterns in the process. Now helmed by Michael Hill, who's father worked as a tie-maker at Drake's and who also happened to be lead designer under the eponymous Michael Drake, the brand seems to have perfectly captured an authentic sense of old-school Englishness, whilst also retaining an attractive continental quirkiness into the bargain.

At no place is this clearer than the Drake's factory, tucked away around the corner from Old Street tube station in the East End. On the aptly named Haberdasher Street, an elegant art deco office with floor-to-ceiling windows and white painted walls is not the redbrick Victorian warehouse that one might expect. Step onto the airy, open plan factory floor and the first thing that comes to mind is the energy of the place, a sense of freshness - of contemporary design and free flowing ideas. As Hill puts it, 'we make ties in a way that we believe in, so that they feel right for today - its not a question of making something old fashioned and we try not to overthink what we do.'

'Step onto the factory floor and the first thing that comes to mind is the energy of the place - of contemporary design and free flowing ideas.'

Nevertheless, a great deal of thought and care goes into the making of a Drake's tie, a procedure that 'balances time honoured skills and processes, whilst making something that's relevant for the modern man'. Generally speaking, a tie begins life in either Macclesfield, Suffolk or on the shores of Lake Como, where at least one particular fabric from the extraordinary array of textures, weaves and fibres that the firm calls upon in their collections is woven. When these cloths arrive in the factory, whether it be the finest Italian grenadine or Suffolk-woven silk jacquard, the first of many quality checks takes place, as each individual length of cloth is rolled end-to-end on a huge bench and checked through its entirety for imperfections.

Inspection complete, the cloth is passed to two of Drakes's old hands, tie cutters Mario and Stephen. Both have been cutting for Drake's for years, and much like tailors or shoemakers they exhibit a flawless instinct for their job, embodying everything that is precious about a Drake's tie. Both are passionate and precise, combining the typical modesty of talented artisans with a quiet pride in their work. They use a hi-tech super-thin Japanese tailor's chalk to draft their patterns, which Michael brings back with him whenever he returns from business trips, because English chalk doesn't give a fine enough line.


October 2015


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