The Holborn continues its ‘Artisans’ campaign, a series of articles of which the aim is to highlight the efforts of skilled and inspired individuals and bring you a closer insight into their work – written in their own words. Today we introduce you to Paul Vincent, Co-Founder and maker at S.E.H Kelly (www.sehkelly.com). Based at their workshop in east London, S.E.H Kelly makes garments with the makers of the British Isles, meaning the best regional mills and factories in the country. For us at The Holborn, it is the materials that really stand out in their hand-finished, classically British garments. They are of such a standard that is sadly lacking in many ‘heritage’ inspired brands. It is in Paul’s skilled hands to which we now pass you:
”We (S.E.H Kelly) began in 2009, because Sara Kelly, who worked for a few tailoring houses on Savile Row in London, found herself with nothing to do. So, armed with a black book of contacts of the best mills and factories in the British Isles, she started her own business. I was also twiddling my thumbs at the time, so came aboard. Together we design, make, and sell garments, both at our workshop in London, and at a few stores in Japan.
The garments we make are most easily described as everyday garments. Everyday means a different thing to different people, but the idea is comfortable, relaxed, practical things. We don’t often use superlatives to describe what we design, but that would sum it up. We’re both perfectionists of a sort, so what keeps us keeping on is improvement. Almost all of the garments in our workshop today evolved from the first three garments we started out with. We’re inspired a lot by function, and daily life; how to position pockets and design garments that on the face of it are quite simple, but have been designed with practical needs very much in mind.
Everything we fashion is made with British cloth, and manufactured in British factories. It is the way of working we know best, and it suits us very well. It means we can focus on certain types of cloth. British materials are characteristically thick, heavy, sometimes coarse and often hard-wearing and of course, make a number of pleasant trips to the mills, many of which are around Yorkshire and Lancashire. Our factories tend to be around London. Again, this suits us; we’re there almost every day of the week, overseeing production, talking through the foibles of a particular pattern, etc.
We’re fortunate enough to work with a handful of good stores in Japan. Nanamica, Beams, Heather Grey Wall and 1LDK. Our Japanese partners seem to think about garments the same way we do. Quality and standards are paramount to them and could not be taken more seriously. From the store owners to the clerks in the store to the actual customers, there’s a real forensic eye for quality out there, in terms of make and materials. We like that; it’s rewarding to work with people that value the things you value.
We make garments as and when, rather than in one big burst every six months. It suits us, since there are just two of us here, and it fits with the way we like to work, focussing on each garment, rather than dealing with them en masse. In the past month or so we’ve made a couple of Ventile cotton jackets, one of them a thigh-length mac with a detachable liner, the other a short coat with detachable hood. Ventile is a great fabric, and just the sort of cloth we like to work with: fantastic in its own right and a top story to boot. We also finished off a new three-button blazer last month. It’s made with a tweed hand-woven by a father-and-son mill in Ireland. Again we find working with these makers, each with their own tale to tell, very rewarding.
One other garment of note in the past few weeks has been the cotton cardigan; hand-loomed by a family-run firm that is the last of its kind in the Isles. The yarn they use is of such high-quality that the cardigan feels more like fine wool than cotton. But, of course, cotton being cotton, it is both breathable and washable, and ergo just the ticket for spring. We have a few other garments in the pipeline: some of our blazers made out of a rope-dyed indigo cloth hand-woven in London (not a sentence you’ll read very often) and, if things go to plan, a new linen suit and some woad-dyed garments. That will keep us busy until autumn, when attention will turn again to the the north of England’s frankly prodigious wool, tweed, and cashmere output.
We moved into our workshop on Boundary Street in 2012. It’s a very small shed (or some prefer fridge) like box tucked in a corner of the Boundary Estate, which is a glorious red-brick housing complex built in the late 1800’s. That’s when the workshop was built, too, and it has always been home to workmen and craftspeople. We are neither of these things, but we do make things, so it is heartening to continue tradition in some way. We’re at the workshop during the week, when we’re not at one factory or another of course, and then throw the doors open every weekend.”
Paul Vincent, S.E.H Kelly