There are precious few clothing shops anywhere in the world that can still be called ‘destinations’: unique stores that aren’t in every country and every airport, where visiting them is a distinct pleasure of travelling to the city.
I think New & Lingwood still deserves to be among those few. By holding onto its unique aesthetic, its range and specialities, it has if anything become more unusual and therefore more of a destination for the sartorially curious shopper.
N&L carries 15 different colours of cords. It has trousers in five different tartans. The Mackintosh raincoats come in five colours, but the biggest sellers are orange and green; navy and grey are less popular. There is the biggest range of patterned over-the-calf socks anywhere in London.
It is this range of colour and pattern that customers come to N&L for – and of course the loyalty of those customers allows the store to carry on stocking them. The second store across the Arcade is dominated by luxurious dressing gowns, all designed by director Simon Maloney in tiny runs. You need quite a fanatical following to justify that storefront selling just gowns from £850-£2250.
In items such as overcoats and tweed jackets, that aesthetic is translated as fancy linings and coloured undercollars, among other things. The problem with this is that one season can turn such things from nice quirks to naff fads. “We try to change those things regularly, to avoid any faddishness,” says Simon. “We also vary more fundamental things about the designs such as 20s-style patch pockets on the coats, or gauntlet cuffs.”
More attractive is New & Lingwood’s unusual items. It is one of only two places in London that still has stiff collars and shirtfronts, for example; this season it is stocking both opera capes and postal capes; there are feather-covered hats in the window; and it continues to get odd requests from customers who turn to it as a last resort. Recently someone asked for ‘weepers’: black cotton armbands that go over a suit during a funeral, to allow the wearer a large surface area on which to wipe away their tears. The shop sourced them, and indeed stocked them for a while, though it no longer does.
The quality is good. This is not bespoke or handmade clothing (unlike the Stefano Bemer shoes), but it uses British or Italian materials throughout and usually European manufacturers. The cords have side fasteners, not belt loops, as do the suits. The cords are Brisbane Moss, we’ve already mentioned Mackintosh, and the cashmere is all Scottish. Simon admits that the cashmere being made in China is now pretty much the same quality as that from Scotland, but they stick with Scottish on principle (even though it’s more expensive).
A few years ago New & Lingwood started a licence deal with House of Fraser that allows it to sell suits and shirts under the New & Lingwood name. That’s unfortunate, for me, as it has the potential to damage the brand. But then shirts and suits are not the best thing about N&L by a long way. I’m more interested in those capes.