Factory Visit – Drake’s London

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The last time I was in London I only had 48 hours for several meetings, including a fitting for my Cleverley’s. But I made it a priority to catch up with Jamie Ferguson, Online Editor for Drake’s London and spend some time at the Drake’s factory on Haberdasher Street.

I’ve admired Drake’s for as long as I can remember and their reputation for quality, handmade ties is now decades old. 

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The factory shop, downstairs
The factory shop, downstairs

For a business which is world renowned first and foremost for its ties, it’s interesting to know that the ties actually came later, after the business was already established. Drake’s opened its doors in 1977 as a manufacturer of fine scarves, headed by Michael Drake. They added ties and pocket squares to their range shortly after and have, over the ensuing 38 years, become a prolific and well respected name in men’s ties and accessories. They remain in the same neighbourhood where they started out in the 70’s.

Most of the ties and pocket squares I own are from Drake’s, so it was important to me that I try to get to the factory and give an insight into their manufacturing process, which remains thoroughly handmade by their 50 staff.

For those who don’t know Jamie, he’s usually the guy behind the camera and creating the content for their picture blog Drake’s Diary, worth following if you don’t already. We headed upstairs to the factory, a clean, modern white space, recently renovated thanks to a recent injection of funds. It follows an intelligent clockwise layout, with each of the 12 stages of production flowing smoothly from one stage to the next.

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Along the left side of the factory, hundreds of rolls of silk and wool fill purpose built floor to ceiling shelves. For all the tie makers I know, I can’t think of anyone who has the depth of Drake’s range. Countless varieties and textures of silk, from refined twill’s to slubby shantung’s, cashmere, wool, linen, cotton and blends of different cloths within all of those categories. If you haven’t yet, the next time you have a chance, find a Drake’s silk knit tie and crush it carefully in your hands. It’s what the French call “le cri de la soie – the cry of the silk”, describing the crunchy, slippery sound of fine silk knits. It’s a similar sound to walking on soft sand. I don’t know of any other maker whose knits make this sound as clearly as Drake’s.

The depth of the range is unique, particularly as many English manufacturers tend to stick to their own cultural stereotype, which in this case would mean lots of twill silk in generally conservative patterns and colours. The confidence to create so much variety is admirable, like the use of linen and lightweight summery knits which are usually associated with the Italian aesthetic. 

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Once a silk is selected, it’s then cut to a square, checked carefully for any defects (still pretty common, even with good mills) and the pattern is cut by hand, using a template. Throughout the various stages the silk will be pressed and pressed again to make sure all seams are immaculate as the different parts of the tie come together.

Quality tie makers follow a similar process, just with their own preferences and tweaks included along the way. So the Drake’s production method is similar to Hermes (see last year’s article “How an Herme’s Tie is Made”)  but the major difference with Hermes is that their silks are printed differently and one person makes each tie from start to finish, rather than the tie moving through different pairs of hands as it comes together. There are benefits to both methods and as much as people enjoy arguing about it, it’s irrelevant in this instance. What matters is the attitude of the manufacturer themselves and their commitment to quality, something both Drake’s and Hermes have in spades.

A natural interlining will be inserted, depending on whether the given tie will use an interlining or not, the various parts are sewn together in order and the slip-stitch is made (again, my Hermes article, link above, gives a detailed explanation of this process) before the “Handmade in London” tag is sewn on.

The last point of difference for Drake’s is the final press, giving the ties a three dimensional look, known as making a tie “in the round” the ties are pressed to give the edges a full, rounded appearance. It sounds largely inconsequential, but makes a real difference to how the tie looks when it’s worn. 

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Before heading off, we ducked in to another room at the other end of the factory to see their range of shirts from Cleeve of London. Ties aside, given the growth Drake’s has experienced in recent years, they recently acquired Cleeve, highly regarded for their English made shirts. Whilst it complements the existing business, Cleeve has kept its name, rather than being re-branded as Drake’s, which I see as a good decision, allowing Drake’s to continue being known for ties, first and foremost. 

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Shirts from Cleeve of London
Shirts from Cleeve of London

The Drake’s process, like many great manufacturers, remains uncomplicated but focused, with a focus on getting the details right, which results in a high quality finished product, which is consistently well executed.

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edit: Since the original publication of this article, Drake’s have expanded significantly, into having an end to end offering for menswear (jeans, jackets, shirting, knitwear, trousers, coats etc), all following a similar quality philosophy as detailed above.

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