Alistair Mcdade Robert Noble

 
We visited Robert Noble in Scotland last month on the strength of its archive. But while that was impressive, perhaps more interesting was the company’s history and perspective as a mill weaving almost exclusively for RTW brands.

Robert Noble goes back a long way. Originally founded in 1666, it has been on the current site in Peebles since 1884. Peebles was the centre of the weaving industry in the area (indeed, all industry – it was the only one going) and it’s a lovely town of dark-stone buildings surrounded by pine-covered hills.

The Robert Noble facility is not as big as it once was – that’s the original bird’s eye view in the photo above – but it is still significant. It sits in the middle of town, the big weaving sheds taking up most of a block. Charmingly, the employees still have allotments in part of that block, where they grow their own plants and vegetables.
 
 Robert Noble mill

Robert Noble boardroom

 
The mill’s history is most obvious in the boardroom, which is panelled in boards taken from an old ship. Around the walls are pictures of members of the Ballantyne family, which owned it until the 1960s (it is currently owned by the Swedish group Lindengruppen, which also owns Begg). Add in a few armchairs and a view out onto the stone houses of March Street, and it makes for a lovely place to peruse woollen bunches.

Robert Noble is best known for woollen cloths, with little cashmere in the mixes and most weighing 260g and up. It also has a reputation for melanges and multi-coloured designs – not quite on the same level as Harris tweed or Hunters of Brora used to, but always with some variation in the texture and often three or four colours.
 

Robert Noble weaving

Robert Noble yarn
  
Interestingly, Alistair McDade (design and sales director, pictured top) noted that fewer and fewer mills are doing multi-coloured plains, because they are so much more expensive to produce – four, five or six yarn colours rather than one or two. He was interested in my Caliendo Harris tweed as a result, which has six colours by our count.

Robert Noble is one of the few mills that sells cut pieces of cloth on its website – robert-noble.co.uk. However, I would warn readers that cloth is a very difficult thing to buy without seeing and feeling it in person. The lighting and colour is tricky enough to get right, even without weight, body and finish to assess. Proceed with caution.
 

Robert Noble adverts

 
Although the mill does supply Draper’s and Holland & Sherry (which also has a site in Peebles), the vast majority of its work is for the ready-to-wear brands, such as Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren and Hackett. The minimum order for such bespoke designs is usually 100 metres, which makes it obvious why tailors rarely go down this route.  

Elsewhere around the mill, it was interesting to see how the processes have been modernised in recent years. There are more flow-diagrams, post-it boards and ‘just-in-time’ plans than at any other mill I’ve been too (including such goliaths as Loro Piana and Vitale Barberis). The use of such Lean methodologies was particularly interesting to me given my day job as a product manager. In Robert Noble’s case, they have been specifically applied by managers coming from the automobile industry.

Archive details coming in a separate post.
 

Robert Noble

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Anonymous

what are the cloths for sale online like?

Grateful to Robert Noble

Hillary Becque at Cordings advised me cashmere is notorious for abrasion and recommended Keepers’ tweed, which she called a beast. I believe I saw some colourful Keepers’ tweed on the Robert Noble website, but haven’t received response yet to my inquiry. My rucksack is too abrasive for wool-cashmere.

Robert Noble

Robert Noble has a selection of Gamekeeper tweed available as shown on the website. As you have been informed it is a very robust fabric weighing 480gms and makes into a traditional hard wearing sports jacket. It also in fact makes into rather nice bags. I have not received any inquiries on this if you wish to send again to [email protected] we shall make sure to get back to you.

Grateful to Robert Noble

Thank you very much for confirming my belief I saw Gamekeeper tweed when I looked for the cloth of which my RTW jacket was made on the Robert Noble website. I knew the two-tone wool cloth was woven by your firm because of the label Robert NOBLE wool cashmere woven in Scotland. My jacket suffered damage through daily abrasion of both leather shoulder straps of my Filson rucksack heavily loaded with books. I phone from abroad the shop at which I have purchased all my jackets except one, and was told the new manager decides about repair. He replied I should buy a new jacket instead and the cloth now unavailable. Your designer Carmen Masson confirmed I identified the cloth of same houndstooth pattern, although of pure wool. She offered to send me a repair patch at once. Since the shop manager ignored my further communication and the salesman, tailor by trade, who sold me not just this jacket but gladly repaired or altered all, had passed away, I was fortunate to find a French tailor who supervised perfect repair by his apprentices. – Cordings advertises what Hillary Becque might call the beast’s runted brother, a LIGHTWEIGHT, but it seemed to me Robert Noble advertised colours?

Miekka MacArthur

You mentioned that it is very tricky to select cloth online without the ability to touch it. This interested me because I’ve been wondering if it would/could ever be possible for a true bespoke operation to have an online service. I can’t imagine how that would ever be possible ,and worry that given the massive advances in technology, especially for the younger generations, bespoke will eventually die out.
Any thoughts?

Paul Brough

Robert Noble has gone now, the site cleared, the panelled boardroom stripped, the expertise lost or scattered. So sad.

Eva

Hi Simon,

I am a new womenswear designer, inspired by menswear, and your blog has been a godsend!! I am on the hunt for a light summer tweed (think Chanel)… Do you have any other names of mills that produce twill?

Thank you!