An un-tapped tale of sartorial British style
New & Lingwood is one of those rarefied British brands where the history of the house emanates from every pore; one need only spend 10 minutes in the Jermyn Street or Eton store to sense that there’s more to the company than meets the eye. Even so, the story of New & Lingwood is something of a best kept secret in British menswear. What better way, then, to usher in the new season than to spend some time rooting back through the archives? It doesn’t take long to discover a celebrated outfitter, with a unique English character.
The house’s early history isn’t well recorded, but we do know that it was founded in Eton in 1865, by one Elisabeth New and Samuel Lingwood, who subsequently married. Eton was the perfect place for a gentleman’s outfitter, and the house quickly established itself as the premier supplier to both the scholars and students of Eton school, a relationship that it retains to this day. Indeed, every student’s uniform is still fitted – properly fitted – in the Eton shop. Quite apart from the prestige this brings, this point of difference marks out New & Lingwood as an outfitter that has always paid particular attention to the fitting of its garments.
Little is known of the firm’s daily business until sad news is reported from 1916, when Mr Lingwood passed away, leaving his spouse in a sorry state of affairs. Elisabeth was said to be ‘broke,’ and the company was temporarily passed into the hands of the Court. Even so, when she died in 1931, her will reveals that she left the shop to a new family of investors and had over £1,000 in the bank. Evidently, the experience of near-bankruptcy spurred on Elizabeth to transform the house’s fortunes. Clearly, she was quite a character, records reveal that Elisabeth used to sit on a chair in the shop window every St Andrew’s day, to allow for her customers and the townspeople to pay homage to her ‘a la Queen Victoria.’ It seems she made quite an impact on the local community.
Speaking of Queen Victoria, in 1887, Elisabeth had the shop’s exterior painted bright white as a mark of respect for the Golden Jubilee. Upon processing through Eton, the Queen herself was so taken with the shop’s appearance that she had a message despatched to New & Lingwood saying that the shop looked so pleasant, ‘she hoped it would always remain painted white.’ This is the first significant moment that connects the house with British royalty, though far from the last, long-standing appointments to the Duchess of Teck (that’s Queen Mary to you and I) and also Queen Victoria’s third daughter, Princess Helena, are engraved in the glass above the Eton shop’s doorway. Today, New & Lingwood enjoys a close relationship with the Palace, having dressed Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince Harry on various formal occasions.
In 1922, New & Lingwood opened a shop on Jermyn Street which propelled it into prime position as one of London’s most glamorous shirtmakers, hosiers and shoemakers. It was destroyed during The Blitz, but the firm opened the current shop at number 53, in 1946. From that point onwards, New & Lingwood has gone from strength to strength, developing expertise in each of its product lines; it incorporated no less than two shoemakers over the course of the century, Poulsen, Skone & Co. and J. Gane & Co, as well as bespoke shirtmaker Bowring Arundel in 1994. These three brands each have a rich history of their own, Poulsen, Skone & Co. was established in 1890, while J. Gane & Co. was founded in 1854 – adding 290 years of shoemaking heritage to New & Lingwood’s century and a half of outfitting.
This is perhaps why the history of New & Lingwood is also a history of colourful British style. It can lay claim to the creation of the corduroy ‘Eton slipper’, the colour Eton Blue and the butterfly loafer. It is one of the most famous makers of the British Warm overcoat, as championed by Sir Winston Churchill, and the Opera Cape made for Victorian gentlemen. An archive brochure cover survives from ‘Summer 1933,’ which depicts five young Etonians dressed in different striped college blazers, caps and grey flannels – further evidence of the house’s specialism in dressing gentlemen for the English sporting and social calendar.
Skip forward to 1997 and New & Lingwood still occupies this same rarefied space. The Wall Street Journal reported that ‘today, blue bloods and Etonians – who are usually outfitted at New & Lingwood – still appear. But most repeat customers nowadays are cell-phone wielding business people and the City’s highfliers, plus a few titled nobles, who, even in reduced circumstances, can’t give up the habit.’ Doubtless, they couldn’t give up the habit because the one common thread that runs through New & Lingwood’s life-story is a genuine attention to quality. As a catalogue from 1996 puts it, ‘New & Lingwood is a name renowned for its Englishness. The image of the English gentleman is unique and the rest of the world has always striven to emulate its uniqueness.’
Today, the house is still a bastion of British style and the first port of call for gentlemen in search of clothing with character. Though the notion of the English gentleman is more fluid today than it was, New & Lingwood is well placed to curate clothes that are elegant, forward-thinking and which still channel that requisite touch of sartorial flair.