Style | Swellboy

Swellboy on… silk scarves

On a mission to reintroduce a rare and beautiful creature to the UK

Swellboy on… silk scarves

Image: Brijesh Patel

January 10 2012
Nick Foulkes

There are certain losses that one never recovers from, such as the one that overtook me in the spring of 2010. I was pedalling along Piccadilly at a good pace, Cohiba blazing away in my jaw, sun in the sky, all right with the world, and then I looked round before carrying out some tricky manoeuvre and there it was, gone. The black Bill Amberg bag that had been the “boot” of my Pashley bicycle for the past three years had simply disappeared. Losing the bag was bad enough – it was one of those clever things at which Bill excels: with a zipped front and top that folded down to open the bag entirely, enabling one to load it with everything from half a case of wine to the complete set of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall (though not at the same time).

However, the bag contained neither wine nor Gibbon, more is the pity as I do not drink and have yet to get round to Gibbon. Instead the contents were more precious: as well as my Smythson diary, there was a beautiful heavy scarf, the size of a bedsheet, in 50oz blue silk with white spots and hand-knotted silk tassels.

The scarf had come from Doug Hayward about five or six years ago, when Doug himself was still around, and it was a beauty, an investment-grade heirloom to be handed down the generations; only not my generations, but those of some thieving rascal around whose neck it is probably wrapped right now (I hope it strangles him). Anyway, it sharpened my interest in visiting the Drake’s factory in Clerkenwell, where this scarf had been made, in the hope that they could make me a new one.

I spent a very happy afternoon looking round the place as the nimble fingers of dextrous workers turned jewel-bright scraps of silk into ties, cravats and scarves. It is all good stuff and if you haven’t visited the Drake’s shop just off Savile Row, give it a go; you will like it. However, did they have any 50oz silk? Well, yes and no. Chris, who was showing me around, said he had six such scarves but they were his own and he was not letting them out of his sight; and the standard production tended to be in 22oz, 30oz and 36oz – all very nice, but once you have felt a length of heavy twill silk settle around your shoulders like some super-sized grande-luxe liturgical stole, everything is else is a compromise.

Ever since then, I have been pestering Michael Hill of Drake’s to make some 40oz silk scarves and at the end of 2011 he found enough yarn to enable one of the mills to weave a sample length of fabric, barely enough for half a dozen scarves, but to feel the weight, look at the lambency and wallow in the sheer unadulterated sybaritic indulgence of the thing was to truly know pleasure. It was a little like a sartorial Jurassic Park, as the result was a recreation of the sort of scarf that Drake’s was making during the 1970s.

Having fingered this silk, I began to understand how those people who campaign to save endangered species must feel once they have reintroduced a breeding pair of said threatened animal back to the wild. In campaigning for the restoration of the 40oz silk scarf, I felt that I had done my bit to save a little of our wearable British heritage from slipping away, or, to be more metaphorical, from being stolen from the back of the national bicycle.

See also

Scarves, People