on a recent trip to London, we spent an appropriately rainy morning at the London flagship of family-run menswear line Private White V.C.
with Nick Ashley, its fast-talking creative director who rode into town to meet us on his 30-year-old Triumph bike wearing head-to-toe waterproof Private White gear. here, a closer look at the limited number of jackets we hand-picked just for you…
A quick history lesson: British military hero Jack White (no, not that one) returned home from World War I and took an apprenticeship in a Manchester raincoat factory as a pattern cutter. He went on to own that factory, eventually designing his own line of military-inspired workwear. The business remains family run, and today White’s great-grandson, James Eden, helms the nearly 100-year-old factory. Enter Nick Ashley, son of Laura Ashley, who has been designing the outerwear-dominated line influenced by clothing that White actually wore. “Private White isn’t just a heritage brand,” insists Ashley. “We’re constantly testing the waters with design. We’re evolving.”
One of the line’s signature styles is the Twin Track jacket (shown here, above, in camouflage). Ashley notes that the jacket has been produced since the 1950s, but Private White sealed the seams, making it 100 percent waterproof, and angled the left chest pocket so it’s easier to access. Another is the unlined Ventile jacket, the SB4, as it’s called. It’s a single-breasted four-button jacket that the factory has been making for more than 100 years. “We call it ‘techno retro,’” jokes Ashley. “For everything we do, we want to modernize it and make it relevant.”
“We wanted to have a clubhouse,” says Ashley of the London flagship store on Lamb’s Conduit Street, which opened in 2011. “We wanted to design a space where people could come in and hang out.” The store was designed to resemble the brand’s centerpiece, the Manchester factory, with its sewing-machine tables, overhead lighting, illustrations of the factory by Manchester local Jean Hobson and vintage ephemera and tchotchkes (including a stamped traveling trunk that belonged to White). In the back of the store, there’s a reading corner with copies of Free & Easy magazine and the Heritage Post. One of the shop guys, Chris (pictured below with Nick), mans the record player (it’s all “interesting music,” Ashley says) and knows a heck of a lot about menswear himself.
A walk through the store reveals Ashley’s vision for it—and the way guys want to shop. “We wanted it to feel like a quartermaster’s store,” he says. “There’s outerwear, boots, bags. The colors don’t change each season; we don’t work in seasons, per se. For us, it’s all about function.” He explains that he designs with a core range of products in mind, and they’re added to and subtracted from depending on what he feels the line needs. “For guys, dressing is about appropriateness. We want to wear what’s appropriate for the occasion.”
All the jackets, from soft-shouldered suits to tweed jackets and classic raincoats, have the signature “Made in Manchester” buttons, and the worksuit blazer (a take on traditional workwear) even has removable butcher buttons, just like the original sample. There’s a Mason jar full of colored butcher buttons in the store so customers who come in can feel like they’re part of the customization process and select their own buttons if they wish.
Photography by Bryan Derballa.
To shop our entire selection of Private White V.C., click here