Fox Brothers, a company deeply embedded in the history of Wellington, has taken an important step in a new direction with the opening in the town of the first permanent retail outlet of the new Merchant Fox luxury brand – a West Country answer to Prada and Louis Vuitton.
Making use of the former Counting House of Tonedale Mill, the store displays the range of its exclusive, luxury goods amongst the dark woods, high ceilings and Victorian splendor of the original office where the vast pattern archive is still kept.
According to Managing Director Douglas Cordeaux, ‘“This is the company’s spiritual home. We had the idea for The Merchant Fox as a business before we came to Tonedale but when we walked through the door and heard the looms working, we knew this was the right place to start.”
For customers looking for the highest quality goods – all of them British – for which the country’s textile industry was once renowned throughout the world, The Merchant Fox range includes accessories such as ties, scarves, caps, slippers and dressing gowns – all made from Fox Brothers exclusive flannel – and handmade and hand-stitched leather goods made by traditional craftsmen and women in companies with which Fox Brothers have long associations. The collection also features furniture and interior design items, all making use of the company’s textiles and original designs.
Fox Brothers established its place as one of the country’s most prestigious textile companies more than 250 years ago. At one time the factory employed more than 5,000 workers and the prosperity of Wellington as a town derives from the success of the business. The company is credited with the invention of flannel – from which exclusive Savile Row suits are still made – and of khaki which became the fabric of choice for the British military in the last century. The factory produced 852 miles of cloth – the largest ever single order – for the Ministry of Defense to make puttees for soldiers in the first World War.
When British textile manufacturing lost its dominant place in the world market during the latter half of the 20th century, Fox Brothers’ fortunes declined, although it has continued to produce serge, cashmere, worsted and flannel cloth of exceptional quality for the luxury tailoring and menswear markets.
In 2009 the company was bought by Deborah Meaden of Dragon’s Den fame and Douglas Cordeaux and, employing their separate entrepreneurial and technical skills, The Merchant Fox as a brand was born. “My background is in textiles,” Douglas explained.
“I wanted to create a clothing brand that makes use of beautiful cloth and communicates something about English heritage and tradition. Our bags and leather goods are products you have for life – heirloom pieces. We would like our customers to spend more but buy less and our key concepts are delivery and communication, alongside products of the highest quality.”
The success of the first pop-up shop in London’s exclusive Mount Street in 2011 led to the establishment of the permanent store in Wellington in March. Looking to the future Douglas Cordeaux said, “There are plans for a retail store, probably in London, and for extending the on-line business which already reaches across the globe. We return, though, to where it started, here, at Tonedale. We want visitors to come here so we can talk to them and they can see our products in this beautiful historic setting.”
Words & photos: Gill Paltridge