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Lavenham

Lavenham

No one at the head office of the purpose-built quilting factory deep in the Suffolk countryside seems to bat an eyelid about their strange history.

But Lavenham's transformation from horse blanket manufacturer to the world’s most famous quilted jacket label is more than a little curious to the outside world.

Lavenham Mickfield Vest

The story begins in the late 60’s in the small Suffolk village of Lavenham, with the somewhat mysterious Mrs Elliot. Thanks to her keen interest in the equestrian world and strong connections in the English capital of horse racing, Newmarket, the entrepreneurial Mrs Elliot began experimenting with a quilted horse rug design, using her friends’ racehorses as guinea pigs so she could tweak her prototype’s fit and form.

Success ensued, and soon after Mrs Elliot tried her hand at dressing the owners of her well-rugged clients. The quilted riding jacket that she produced as a result has gone on to become one of Britain’s most iconic garments, and continues to shape the success of the company some 40 years later.

When the original Lavenham quilted jacket was first released, demand was strong. It wasn’t long before Mrs Elliot’s enterprise outgrew its home in the tiny medieval village of its namesake, originally a thriving wool trade town.  After upgrading their facilities three times over three decades, Lavenham has ended up just six miles away from the company’s original headquarters.

“Our jackets are still based on the traditional riding quilted jacket that we’ve been making from quilted horse blankets since 1972,” Lavenham’s managing director Nicky Santomauro has said.

“Most of our styles still have two back vents, which were traditionally to fit over the cantle [high back] of a saddle. Even with the slimmer blocks we use now, they are worn by both the country set and city dwellers, as well as those that dabble between the two.”

Lavenham Shelland Jacket

Equally as important to the Lavenham jacket is the secret number of stitches per inch on the quilting machines, nylon top thread and cord trim for longevity.

“Quality and attention to detail are key,” says Lavenham’s Sarah Wallace. The Lavenham aesthetic, she says, is all about ensuring garments are fit for purpose and combine both function and style.  A standard Lavenham jacket, for example, passes through at least 15 pairs of hands from start to finish, and must pass a series of stringent quality control checks along the way.

Recognising the strength underpinning their unique, made-in-Britain product, in 1993 Lavenham took a step that drastically changed the positioning of their label and launched a collaboration with high-end Japanese fashion label APC. Collaborations with Kenzo, Edwin and YMC followed, and, most recently, London rapper Tinie Tempah’s label Disturbing London. But not just any label can collaborate with the brand.

“They have to have the same ethos as Lavenham," Santomauro has said. "I want to know what they believe in. Have they always been true to their brand and themselves? Because that’s how we work.”

While 80% of Lavenham’s production is exported to Japan, the company recently opened a pop-up shop on Shoreditch High Street, catering perhaps to their newest market: London’s street crowd.

But as the company’s 50th anniversary approaches, Mrs Elliot would no doubt be relieved to hear that while her trademark quilting has become a street style icon, it can also still seen at polo games, dressage events and post-jumping soirees wrapped cosily around the shoulders of the newest generation of landed gentry for whom the original Lavenham jacket was originally designed . 

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Shop our edit of Lavenham’s collection now.