Manchester has never been a place where things stand still for long. Perhaps it’s something to do with the rain, maybe not. Either way, in a city that seems to be in a perpetual state of flux, the few constants deserve to be celebrated. Particularly when consistency means high quality, handmade timelessness.
Our hometown today would be unrecognisable to those who lived here even just 20 years ago. Skip back to the mid-19th Century, then, and things were worlds apart from where they are now. Not least in terms of the textile industry. At its peak, the region was responsible for processing around one-third of the world’s entire supply of cotton, with the sector rapidly growing since the first steam driven mill opened in 1781. Two centuries on, the market had completely disappeared, losing demand to cheaper overseas labour and supply issues. Just like Jurassic Park, though, something has survived.
Introducing Private White V.C., the latest treasure to appear in our Hidden Gems video series, and the last clothing factory still operating in Manchester. Well, Salford, but you get the point. Located in a historic industrial building on the banks of the river Irwell, while the surrounding area isn’t best known for elegance, you can consider 1 Cottenham Lane to be a diamond in that rough.
The site first opened its doors and began producing garments in 1853, although the company itself is far newer and named in honour of Private Jack White. Returning to Manchester after World War I to a hero’s welcome (having been awarded a Victoria Cross for gallantry), this figure rose through the ranks at his local raincoat factory, starting out as apprentice, then pattern cutter, general manager, and finally owner until his death in 1949. Skip forward to 2012, and Private White V.C. was born, taking the mantle to offer exceptionally well-made threads, from this address to the world.
The location is also home to the firm’s charming brick-lined boutique store, with other world renowned outlets such as Harrods and Mr. Porter. Once inside you really start to get a feel for why this operation has outlasted every other specialist in the region, and now ranks among Britain’s most respected luxury brands. Original artwork, a stunning antique clock and textiles line the walls, while truly beautiful pieces hang on the rails. These range from top-seller, The Ventile® Mac, to The Peacoat, Moleskin Bomber, waxed Twin Track and a host of exclusive collaborations with the likes of Todd Synder, Bremont, Frank Clegg Leatherworks and Permanent Style.. An imposing wooden pattern cutting table stands in the centre, nodding to the bespoke handiwork happening on the factory floor, which is visible through a single internal window.
“It is all down to our effort, grit, determination and resilience. It would be so easy for us to offshore and outsource, but it is our passion for making the finest quality possible that requires us to have total control of the supply chain,” replies James Eden, Private White V.C.’s CEO and great-grandson, when asked about the secret to their success, going on to explain the brand focuses on long-lasting styles as opposed to fast-moving trends. “We tend to draw inspiration from the past, which is why we are so proud of our archive. A modern-day designer will have to work very, very hard to surpass or even match the styles and silhouettes of the past.
“There is no doubt the men of Manchester have a lot of character and confidence that leads to a strong sense of swag and style. Our garments are incredibly popular in the region, not just because us ‘Mancs’ are very territorial and proud of our heritage, but also our designs are very understated and as a result extremely versatile. Irrespective of your style, whether you are flamboyant or more discreet, our timeless garments can be stylised or accessorised to be as loud and proud as any Manc could hope,” he continues. “Our most iconic and popular style is the single breasted Ventile® raincoat. The cloth – Ventile® – was first developed in the Second World War in Manchester and it is, in our opinion, simply the best waterproof cotton raincoat you could ever wear. Our iteration has a military-grade centre-front Swiss hand polished zip and fully taped internal seams… it can’t be beaten.”
Of course, you don’t have to take his word for it. Hit play on our video to understand the passion that goes into every item Private White V.C. produces, not to mention the exacting standards each of those creations has to meet in order to find a way from factory into a customer’s wardrobe. Better yet, you can also get up close and personal with a tour of this legacy haute couture emporium, taking in both the production process and retail haven at your own leisure. A fascinating experience ideal for fashionistas, heritage buffs, and those looking for something truly individual to wear, it’s an immersive experience that exemplifies the age-old phrase: you really can’t touch a classic.