The other day I was having a look at my friend Grey Fox’s blog and suddenly found myself staring at a photo with a quickening pulse. Something about it was different, though I’m hard pressed to describe it in words. The photo is of a guy, in a cap and coat, in tweed. Surely something seen a thousand times before?
There’s something about the look, the cut, the combinations that just made me sit up and pay attention here, and I was determined to discover more about who this is. As it turns out, there is actually an interesting story to be found here. Goodie!
The company is Earl of Bedlam, with the tagline “So stoopidly stylish it’s insane”. Insane being a punning reference to the Bedlam part of the company name, Bedlam being a reference to the Bethlem Royal Hospital in London. This was the first hospital in Europe to specialise in mental illnesses, and was also known as Bedlam. This is the origin of the word “bedlam”, meaning uproar and confusion. While Bedlam is no longer there (the buildings now house the Imperial War Museum, worth a visit in itself), the Earl both lives and works close by.
Earl of Bedlam was founded in 2011, by Goldsmith College trained Mark Wesley and his partner Caroline Butler. They take their name, and a certain unconventional spirit,from the Bethlehem Hospital that was once in the nearby Imperial War Museum. Mark left school at the age of fifteen and became one of the more poseable personalities in the West End clubs of the early 80s that fused music and fashion. He taught himself to sew in order to have the best outfit at the MUD club each week and his Beefeater costume is apparently the stuff of legend. This led to making clothes for friends and then enrolled for his Fashion Foundation course at Goldsmiths.
Needing to pause the party he settled on the Cote d’Azur where he used local tailors and factories to make small runs of clothes under the name “Sex & Violence”, supplying stores along the coast and in Paris.
Caroline started her nightclub career while still at RADA, indefinitely postponing her career as a movie star to host the smokey VIP lounge at Heaven. She sang and presided over a jam session that became a portable fiesta, moving around London’s more dissolute dives of distinction including the Wag and Limelight. This led to her working in the music business, managing Moving Shadow Records, where she worked with Goldie, before having her own label Partisan Recordings. She went on to be Marketing Director at One Little Indian, with a tribe of rare artists known for their daring and style, most famously Björk. She managed various artists including Sneaker Pimps.
Like Mark, she adored the theatre of this life and it opportunities for dressing up and nightly reinvention. The two met while launching a UK label for which Mark was designing and she was writing. While promoting that in New York, they booked Sid & Nancy’s suite at the Chelsea Hotel to showcase the clothes and were summoned to Vogue to present there. It was then they decided to put their efforts into themselves. “Gangs of New York with an Oliver Twist” was their original script. The former of those stories was set in Five Points on the Lower East Side of New York. Lately they discovered their home of Kennington was historically referred to as “Five Bridges” – the loop of the Thames means all bridges lead to Bedlam.
Earl of Bedlam has an admiration for antique styling and an old fashioned respect that believes being well turned out is the compliment you pay not just yourself but everyone you encounter on your daily adventure – at least it will be when you’re dressed by them.
“HELL FOR LEATHER”
Earl of Bedlam Press Release Spring 2013
We are pleased to present Earl of Bedlam’s debut collection (for Autumn / Winter 2013) , “Hell for Leather” – named as much for the breakneck speed at which it was made as for the leather details and scarlet flashes of the huntsman’s coat.
It was created in association with two great Yorkshire clothiers – Huddersfield Fine Worsteds and A.W. Hainsworth. HFW holds the Royal Warrant from HM Queen Elizabeth II for woolen cloth and their John G. Hardy “Alsport” tweed, used for the majority of pieces in the collection, is Prince Charles’ preferred country stuff. Another of their lines is the slicker city J & J Minnis range from which the chalk stripe flannel was chosen to make the “Tectonic” – a double breasted suit to set off seismic tremors in any bar or boardroom. The plates of its pattern have shifted so that the lines run diagonally across one side of the body. A staple of Savile Row, the company chose to work with us for such lateral cutting, design that uses their fabrics in a reinvigorating way. The other revered name from their stable that features in the collection is Harris Tweed, so sought after that every label has a unique serial number. AW Hainsworth has a similarly distinguished history. Founded in 1783 and supplying the British army since 1810, it is still family owned.
Bedlam is honoured by the support of these heritage names but not intimidated by their tradition – possibly the reason they are delighted by the results. This collection of elegance with edge builds on what Bedlam offers its devoted bespoke clients – irreverent inspiration taken from enduringly impeccable templates, curating class from the past while having a modern day blast! Real horn or plaited leather buttons, silk linings, working cuffs, top quality finish preserve are details that deserve to endure, not to mention the skills required to make beautiful future heirloom clothes. All Bedlam pieces are made entirely in our workshop in London or at the Cooper Stollbrand factory in Manchester, a bastion of British production. Earl of Bedlam does not subscribe to sneaky foreign outsourcing to re-import for final touches. Finest British fabrics, made up by grown ups in England, this is our business.
The collection is small but necessary. It features Bedlam’s first cotton shirts – made in Manchester there are bib fronts in Bengal Wine, Windsor Brown and a blue check against crisp white; and a granddad shirt in a Tattersall check with the softest leather collar. The same gentleman made Harry Potter’s shirts so there is magic in them thar seams. Cosy red union suits, the cowboy’s all-in-ones, with real pearl buttons keep things snug underneath.
Another debut is the Bedlam impermeable, the “Mr Wesley”. These are made from a wonder fabric called Ventile, developed at Manchester University and now manufactured in Chorley, Lancs. It was used for flying suits in WWII so should pilots have to ditch in the channel they had a fighting chance of staying afloat. It was also used for fire brigade hoses. The seams of the coat are rubber sealed so basically, rain’s not on the list and it’s not getting in. It comes in cinnamon, lined with café crème and piped in cream; and also olive, lined in tomato piped in Worcester sauce.
Two waistcoats in grey Harris Tweed of differing weaves, one v-necked, one round neck, are lined in cornflower blue silk printed with Bedlam’s signature Clink Street handcuff motif – the prison was another local Dickensian landmark. At twenty paces, it is often mistaken for equestrian paraphernalia such as Hérmes or Gucci employ, only revealing its true nature to the curiously studious. Two overcoats, one single breasted in a Harris Tweed herringbone with red piping and velvet collar, the other double breasted in a warm peaty Harris, are lined in the same.
A jacket with drop shoulders and a half back belt comes in two tweeds, both lined in red silk. The “Arthur” trousers with leather cinch back co-ordinate with one of them. The “Mr Willis” suit is double breasted teamed with fishback trousers. A dark chocolate corduroy suit inspired by a nineteenth century gardener’s ensemble has a jacket cut short like a jeans jacket, met by trousers with a deep waistband. Corduroy “King of Threads” trousers in black or corn gold are cut baggier round the thigh to bunch at the ankle, the signature Bedlam style. Rewarding the observant, the lines run down one leg and side-to-side on the other. With stinging style, a black jacket lined with honey gold silk and trimmed in Toscana lamb fleece is called the “Bumble Bee”.
The ladies’ collection is perfection in concision – the “Helen” coat in Harris Tweed with deep patch frontal pockets, leather hot cross bun buttons and deep split for extra swish; waterproofed jodhpurs; a split skirt with a detachable fish tail; the “Megan” jacket with deep velvet highway lady cuffs; and the “Evelina” with deep double vent peplum. The unisex piece de resistance is the “Marina” cape with tulip petal shoulders and detachable hood. It is lined in sumptuous red quilted silk satin.