Saturday, 28 April 2012

Albam, and the rightness of things

Albam is a small British company that's carved out a distinctive niche for themselves over the past few years: their clothing shows the simplicity and high-quality materials that we all recognise from workwear,  but there's a modern edge to their look. The look is understated, one which lets the details speak for themselves. In many instances, that detailing isn't what you'd expect on workwear –  fleece materials or modern meshes – but of course this isn't workwear; it's contemporary clothing, but with old-time values. Each item of clothing has a certain integrity to it.

I was treated to a walk-through of the whole Autumn/Winter range; there are so many details, and so many stories, attached to each item that I can only present a few snapshots – and speaking of snapshots, many of these photos are poor and don't really do the clothing justice. But, still, I hope this sheds some light on a British company whose clothing is unique, and stands up alongside the best American and Japanese items.

One of the key factors that sets Albam apart from many mid-priced rivals is their sourcing; much of the production is British, with some denim and shirting fabric coming from Japan, and other items from Europe. So by way of introduction, here Albam founder James Shaw runs through the philosophy underpinning their sourcing.

You seem to have quite a distinctive philosophy behind your sourcing, correct?
Yes. Our philosophy was to start making a really honest product, based around a real simplicity. And to do that it, it was essentially about how it had to be right, the fabric had to be right, how it was made had to be right, and how it fits has to be right: the design is something that is really subjective, someone might not like the design, but they'll can't say it's not made really well. So that means good ingredients, in at the start. Our design is then influenced by my passions really, and now that's varied as we got more people in the team. The outdoors always influences what we do, in that, it's less styling, more an approach to being in the outdoors, where everything has to have a purpose. Finally, there's that  idea of treading quite lightly, but covering a lot of ground in what we do, whether it's the design team learning far more than they would by sitting behind a computer, because they're in the factory, working with the guys, and the girls, making the garments. 

That did come through when I was looking at the products. Talk me through some of the people from whom you're sourcing materials – for instance, you had some magnificent black jumbo cord that was woven in Germany. Where did that come from?
They're a company called called Kindermann. We were looking, as these thing happen, for an English cord, but the one we were looking at is not actually woven in England, it's produced in the  in far East and brought over. Then we came across this company, who are almost like the Audi of the safety and workwear fabric. They have such a meticulous approach to making something, and I've never seen anything like this in a cord or moleskin, it's tough  but without being safety tough. They just want to make the best, almost no compromise on it, which really resonates with us. Because cord is normally quite a weak fabric, because of how it's made, and Kindermann were an amazing find,  I think we'll work with them again, there is such an incredible attention to detail. 

You also source fabrics from the UK, who are your main suppliers?
There are two; one is Fox Flannels, which has a huge heritage - a couple of other brands use them, Ralph Lauren have used them a lot – I can't remember when they go back to, I believe it's over 200 years - at one stage they even had their own money, their own currency! They used to make all the puttees for the First World War military, and theirs is an amazing story. We used their cloths for an overcoat that we then made in a North London factory, a tailored coat, we took all the interlinings out  and it's solely the structure of the cloth that holds this amazing shape. So you get this really traditional Twill Melton, and it does the most amazing things. You would have to use a lot more materials to get that with a lighter, cheaper cloth; so there are only three materials in it, a satin pocket lining, a technical mesh, and this Twill Melton. And that's it. And I like the idea that  the less you put in, then there's less to go wrong, and it's down to the skill of the people  that do it.

How do you feel about the future of European manufacturing? Is it getting easier or harder to source good fabrics?
It's changing. What I've noticed is, good mills stay around, the mills aren't up to the mark they move on quietly, or change what they do. But more Japanese mills are exporting, whether it's denim or amazing shirting, they have a completely different approach. And the Europeans are stepping up… they're just raising their game, because it got too easy, to make all colours the same, all finishes the same, it all becomes a bit M&S, making a million meters of the same shirting. But the Japanese are making shorter runs, and putting more love and care into it, I guess how it was done in the early days. So that's exciting, to see more blends. So I believe it's pretty good – it feels like the right time for a postive change to be happening, a redress of the balance.

And now, what I thought were some of the highlights of the Autumn/Winter range, which I was walked through by Rosamund Ward.  This doesn't include every notable item - for instance, I didn't get good enough photos of the Twill Melton coat mentioned above. Hopefully, this brief tour will give some examples of how the philosophies mentioned above manifest themselves in practice.

Chinos are a signature Albam garment, simple and practical. The standard versions are neatly-thought out, a cotton drill, piece-dyed I believe, with a simple wash, but by eye was particularly taken by the jumbo cord version. This item is sewn in Nottingham, while the fabric comes from Germany's Kindermann, who make many fabrics destined for safety wear for industrial workers.  Like many Albam items, there's a simple rightness to this piece which speaks for itself. Simply gorgeous.

A Gansey knit. Personally, I love the resurgence of practical, tradition knits - I noticed a lot in this spring's RRL range, many of which were in China I believe. This knit feels that bit richer - it's made by a specialist factory in Scotland. "This was a new factory for us," says Albam designer Rosamund ward, "they're a beautiful, idiosyncratic setup on the borders" – where, incidentally, the water is softer, so the wash is that much more gentle. This typifies the Albam look, somewhat minimal with little extraneous detailing.

 I loved the Submariner Jumper: "this was a collaboration with the Stevenage Knitting Company," says Rosamund Ward: "you can see we've made a feature of the loom faults, which differ from one to another - so every piece is unique."

This is an unusual, quirky piece - the shape is reminiscent of the old British Army jerkins, while the stitching and details, too, look resolutely traditional, but it's designed for sporting wear, with a high-tech mesh interior. Like many Albam items, it's designed to be layered.

An example of the overshirts, in this case in a Japanese fabric.

 "This is new for us," says Rosamund Ward, "a Cinch Pant, in a cotton wool blend twill, made in England." The fabric gives a really nice drape; the shape is related to the existing Albam chinos, but in the flesh they look very different. Somehow the fabric, and the styling, makes these look resolutely English.

I'm sorry that time constraints, and poor light, stopped me from profiling more items, but I'll try and return to some of the key items when the range reaches the shops. In the meantime, look out for a lovely Waffle Base Layer Henley, a winter Harrington in a Macintosh fabric, a Liberty Print shirt (just visible behind the Cinch Pants), a beautifully-crafted Rain Duffel and the aforementioned classic overcoat, in a Fox Flannel fabric.


  1. great post, really looking forward to seeing the coming collection in person. get a real feel for them

  2. I thought the Stevenage Knitwear Company had gone bust... was that an archive jumper?

  3. Do you know if they are going to do a new Trail Parka this year or has that been scrapped?

  4. The Stevenage Knitting Company has apparently re-emerged from the ashes, like a Phoenix. I hope to report from there soon-ish.

    Sorry, Anonymous, don't know about the Trail Parka!