This is a story about a shirt. A rather special shirt.
Remember when you used to go to the tailor down the road to be measured for your new suit? Or perhaps a coat for the coming winter?
No. Of course you don’t. Unless you were born into a very privileged environment the closest you’re likely to have come to a real tailor is walking down Jermyn Street or Bond Street.
Even wearing garments that were made in this country has become unusual as our headlong rush to the bottom has seen us demand ever lower prices for increasingly throwaway items.
Well I’ve just bucked the trend and been measured for a rather special shirt – and what a great experience it was. I’d like to share it with you and perhaps someone will read this and do the same.
I’m in the north.
The north is where I’d want to be if I was ever thrown out of Cornwall.
Amanda’s home town is Ripon and other than being so far from the sea I think it’s a wonderful place to be (only an hour, but driving an hour can’t satisfy the need for a spontaneous swim can it?) .
This morning I took the opportunity to drive down to Slaithwaite in the West Riding to visit McNair. McNair is the self styled home of the world’s best mountain shirt.
I’ve wanted one of these shirts ever since David Hieatt of Huit Demin extolled their virtues a couple of years back.
Then this week I met my friend, the creative genius Richard Sharp in Holmfirth. Richard was wearing one.
I rang McNair for an appointment next morning.
The morning was the epitome of the north at its grim best.
The already leached colours of autumn are further muted under the grey skies.
The York stone that can look so warm when clean is typically sooty in the mill towns and the blackened stone looks more forbidding after a good night’s soaking of rain.
This is the north I love.
Wild moors stretching far into the distance.
An emptiness that contrasts so starkly with the densely populated towns of the M62 corridor.
You’re most aware of this at night if flying into Manchester. Deep black moorland, and the bright lights of the conurbations.
If you don’t know the area then I know I make it sound grim. It is grim. But therein lies its beauty too.
Slaithwaite is deep in a valley with four vast mills where the world’s best wool finishing still takes place.
The perfect place to make the world’s best mountain shirt.
Google Maps took care of directions leaving me free to concentrate on the road, and absorb the dramatic scenery. After what seemed like miles of descending a steep hill suddenly the phone was telling me I’d arrived.
Sure enough Slaithwaite was all around me, the only town in the country with a canal running alongside the main street (and as transport was once so vital to the area there’s also a railway just off to the other side of the street).
As I walk up the canal side, my leather soled Grensons slipping on the fallen leaves, I’m led on by the glorious smells from the Handmade Bakery where I’m now sitting and writing this on my phone.
Upper Mill is just a little further on. An 18th century mill where every space in the main block is producing textiles – that’s pretty impressive and it’s probably the first time in decades that it has been the case.
Your first visit to a mill should fill you with trepidation. Even with no machinery these are awesome spaces (in the true meaning of the word). High. Solid. With vast windows and ideally some heavy engineering smells of oils ground into wood over hundreds of years.
Visiting McNair is no exception. There aren’t many pink shirted gents in skinny jeans around here.
After a few tries of an intercom that doesn’t work I shoved open the huge and solid doors and started mounting concrete stairs. Fortunately there are little signs to keep you going to the third floor, where suddenly you burst out onto the 5000 square feet of workshop where the McNair is crafted.
I’m greeted by Natalie Stapleton who set up the business with Richard Hampshire of the ad agency Joe Public (the real ones not the London outfit by the same name), and snowboarder Neil McNair. Natalie may be the boss, but she’s also the one who measures you for your perfect fit (at no extra cost).
Natalie’s enthusiasm for creating the best possible shirt she could is immediately infectious. As she put it they worked out how to make it first, and then worked out how much it’d cost.
It’s not cheap – but remember that comment at the start about our race to the bottom? There’s not much that’s worth having that comes cheap. There’s a lot of work in these shirts and I suspect that in a few years I’ll look at it and realise that it was cheap by virtue of its longevity and my love for it.
Everything is produced within 15 miles of the workshop excepting the merino which has to come from Australia for the time being, there just isn’t enough in this country. Everything is produced by businesses that are the best at what they do. And then assembled by Natalie and her brilliant small team.
That all makes for one beauty of a shirt. Although shirt hardly does such a jacket justice, the understatement feels appropriate.
You can go and talk to the person who made your garment.
It’ll be a couple of weeks before I get my first McNair shirt, and if it’s anything like as good as I believe it will be then I’m sure it won’t be the only one I have, even though it might last the rest of my life.
To top off a brilliant morning Natalie sent me away with a voucher for breakfast at the excellent Handmade Bakery next door.
So what was that like? Well, the coffee was amazing and tasted truly different and better than anything i’ve tasted in ages, and the creamed mushrooms on sourdough toast? Wow! The best breakfast I can remember.
Next up I hope to go and see the guys at HebTroCo, but that’ll have to be on our next trip north.