Part of the joy of starting Boutonniere as a British brand has been the obvious pride of being part of British industry at a time when there is a great resurgence in the principle of supporting local businesses and craftsmen.
It was encouraging to attend Best of Britannia in Clerkenwell recently, a showcase of emerging and established brands, from fashion accessories and clothing through to cars and speedboats. To speak to the people behind each of these brands it was obvious that they share my enthusiasm and passion – whether the British economy is having a hellish time or not, we should absolutely be designing and making wonderful, beautiful and quality products that are in demand both here and overseas.
In the product development stage of Boutonniere we dealt with a number of potential partners in the British Isles, which was a steep learning curve and not all perfect. As with any nation, there are (sadly) a few British companies who rest of the laurels of the support they receive for being local businesses and are poor in their attention to detail and customer service, which is a shame. This is a view shared by various contacts we have in the world of product design, who deal with manufacturers all over the world every day and it reminds us that whilst we should absolutely support our neighbouring businesses, we should do so because they’re wonderful at what they do, skilled and helpful, rather than out of some sense of sympathetic nostalgia for the British industrial powerhouse and creative geniuses of yesteryear.
For this reason, Best of Britannia was so encouraging because the businesses exhibiting there have tremendous fundamental qualities and continue to strive to be the best at whatever they do, continuously improving. One example of this is the Morgan Motor Company, a business with serious heritage based in the Malvern Hills, still building cars with ash frames to the body structure, cloaked in beautifully formed aluminium, so when we received an invite as another British brand to attend an open day at their factory, I was delighted to accept.
After a bracing drive out of London early in the morning, starting with a moonlit sky, we arrived in Malvern just in time for breakfast and to meet the craftsmen behind this great business. They tread that difficult line between seeking to develop for the future in a sustainable way, innovating to ensure continuity, but not forsaking the qualities of the product and production process which so many still love. Their recent addition, the three wheeler, is a strong nod to the Morgans of old and has been a roaring success by all accounts. Having heard great things about this fun little machine (being a car fanatic), I was excited about a drive out in it, but not as excited as my companion for the day, Sam, who could see even before arriving that he was in serious danger of falling in love with the thing. There’s a great irony in this as Sam drives a BMW M6 – the antithesis of a Morgan car. You need only watch Chris Harris drive a three wheeler on YouTube to understand why, if you’re interested: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=htI3weS49cc
Jon Wells, the company’s young and progressive Head of Design, is working on an exciting project for the future, on which he remains tight lipped, but in the meantime continues to work hard to ensure the spectacular Aero range continue to be a great success. As he is often in the public eye we were pleased to give him a Boutonniere, which he was delighted with and commented that we should explore the possibility of a collaboration between the two brands, with us both having a similar ethos. One of the really interesting things about Morgan is that they use such a variety of beautiful materials in the cars’ construction. Yes, they use high grade aluminium, some of which is formed using air pressure into moulds (to avoid stretching and thinning in certain places, as happens with pressing), but they also use stunning solid ash for carving dashboard tops by hand, leather for interior upholstery from Andrew Muirhead in Scotland, and other heritage sources.
Those of you who know me will know I am more than a little in love with Harris Tweed, after some time spent on the Outer Hebrides last year learning about the cloth for another project I have in the offing. One of the great things about this cloth is that it complements leather so well, so I was always going to suggest its use in interior trim context on the cars, for example a green herringbone with a subtle burnt orange over-check on the inner door cards and gear stick gaiter, which would complement the rich saddle brown leather of the seats. Jon listened intently and had obviously considered the idea before, but as with all busy small manufacturers, hasn't quite got round to exploring it further or following it through yet. We’ll see what comes of that conversation over the next few months…Alfa Romeo have nailed it already with a specially commissioned cloth for a limited run version of their Mito model.
All in all the day was a great success, despite the inevitable questions of what is happening between Charles Morgan and the other directors, which I hope they resolve in the best way for the company and its 180 employees, which is the only priority. I’m sure everyone involved has this interest at heart so all will no doubt be well. It’s great to see that one can go meet other British designers and makers that are both celebrating their heritage, but also embracing the future. Long live Morgan, long live Harris Tweed, long live Boutonniere of London… and remember….buy British if it’s good!
Thanks for reading,