Monday, 20 February 2012

The Perfect Leather Jacket

The perfect leather jacket. I have been searching for mine for a few years now and since I dropped a dress size (#marathon training) my muscle bound body is dwarfed by the previous wardrobe offering in the form of a brown leather bomber from River Island. Plus since having my colours done in 2011 (we’ll talk about that later) it confirmed I don’t suit brown so a black biker jacket has been on my radar (oh The Saturdays, such as lot to answer for) ever since.
I heard about il2l through word of mouth and decided to shamelessly stalk them on the web before I made contact for this interview. With over 1,300 following their every tweet and an obscene amount of thumbs up on Facebook  (779 at last count), this is a brand with a strong online presence not to be messed with.
After a quick call to check their address (thanks Alan!), I burrow into the backstreets of Cheetham Hill one freezing cold morning in late January.  Discovering il2l (that’s I Love 2 Love to those in the know) sandwiched behind St. Chad’s church and a battery of wholesale outlets, I can’t wait to get inside and see the magic.
Greeted by the effervescent Danielle (Head Designer), we head off to view jacket samples. Within two hours I feel as if I have gone back to school, taken a GCSE in leather and passed with flying colours, such is Danielle’s knowledge and passion for her job. il2l started 3 years ago, bucking the economic downturn and kicking leather in the face of adversity, it is going from strength to strength. The name was a collaborative effort from the directors Richard and Michael, the design and sales team,
“It rolls off the tongue and is memorable,” Danielle explains as I inhale the leathery air of the jackets.
She talks me through the ranges on offer and their distinct USPs,
“Barney’s is the title range broken down into three: Barney’s Vintage is the washed leathers, Barney’s Originals is our more classic range, and Barney’s Black is the more sophisticated range. We also have the Barney & Taylor range which is our Premium brand.”
The research into the ranges on offer makes your eyes water with the painstaking detail they go to too ensure their jackets are timelessly on-trend. They work a year ahead (so A/W12 is already signed, sealed and delivered) taking in trend reports from WGSN, catwalk shows and the style melting pots that are the European trade shows, including Pitti in Florence and bread and butter in Berlin,
“We go armed with a camera to take pictures of people for inspiration. Occasionally we sit with a coffee and people watch, soaking up the atmosphere, spotting key details on clothes.”
From these initial trend-hunting trips the designers start sketching ideas for the next season’s collection and these are sent to the factory where sketches become samples.
“At this point we range build internally using previous sales figures of what has sold well for us and what has slowed in selling. We select strong styles which then form the different ranges on offer.”
As Danielle and I pull various jackets out of a rail of A/W12 samples she talks about each one personally: who designed them, the trend influences on the jacket, even referring to them as ‘he’ (male range) and ‘she’ (female range). “She’s not going to make it,” she points to the grey leather biker I am holding. Such is their attention to detail and their knowledge of their customer base; they know instinctively what shoppers on their site will love, down to the stitching, shearling collars and zip specification.
The collections are presented to the Directors and then the hard work really starts. The chosen samples go through the sealing process (garment technology talk) which ensures the construction and fit is spot on. The samples will go back and forth from the factory until they are perfect. At each stage the minute details are reviewed: trims, lining, measurements. When the jackets finally hit the website they are perfect. And il2l even offer an aftercare service in the form of Alan, should anything happen. And what Alan doesn’t know about leather ain’t worth knowing.
As we walk through the showroom, the far corner is calling me – two vintage Singer sewing machines are set up with a rail of leather jackets hung behind them. This is the Barney & Taylor range; the Premium jewel sewn into the il2l crown. And premium with a traceable heritage it is too – with humble beginnings in 1911 Barney Rosemarine and Ella Taylor, partners in love and business, began their journey in the rag trade of Manchester and their grandsons have picked up the gauntlet and run with it right into the 21st century. The idea behind the range, as well as reviving key details from the archives of the family business, is to create a style that is so unique it becomes its own brand. The slogan ‘Our Heritage, Your future’ matches the timeless pieces hanging on the rail perfectly. Traceability is a big buzz word for 2012 so it looks like il2l have got this sewn up.
We bump into Scott the sales manager who talks so enthusiastically about Barney & Taylor, offering me a catalogue and taking me through the label design for the jackets, I am ready to buy a jacket then and there. You even get a picture of Barney and Ella in 1911 in the garment care label of your jacket. Now that’s heritage.
At il2l the whole office buzzes with passion and enthusiasm.  Plus they have sweets in the showroom, which is the cherry on the icing of an exceptional leather cake. With Danielle clocking in over 13 years’ service at the design face  I ask her what her career highlight has been, “amongst many highlights, seeing our designs worn on the highstreet and on celebs such as Fern Cotton, Amy Childs to name a few is very rewarding. One of my other highlights is I designed a jacket for Ben Sherman when Rio Ferdinand was the face of the brand. He wore it on the front cover of Maxim magazine. It’s great looking in a magazine, seeing one of your jackets and thinking ‘I designed that!’”

With celeb followers coming thick and fast– Amy Childs (TOWIE), Ferne Cotton, Spencer (Made in Chelsea), Craig Coulson (X-factor) – this brand will reach tipping point before you know it. Better get your Barney & Taylor before they sell out.
(Special thanks to Danielle - I love it when you meet someone who encompasses their job so fully and wholeheartedly that the joy in their work is apparent. I took two hours out of her day all so I could write this blog. Double High Five. )


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