Royal warrants are a dashed tricky thing to come by. All retailers favoured by prominent members of the royal family receive the permission to advertise the fact by the inclusion of the particular coat of arms above their store front, on stationery and in other communication such as the website. The privilege of being able to display the favour – almost quite literally the ‘royal seal of approval’ – has many benefits. It has brilliant marketing capabilities – brilliant because competitors not in possession of such warrants will have to earn such prestige. And also because consumers, fickle as they are, Cavalier or Roundhead, are influenced by the Arms of Dominion. The reason being; ‘if a product is good enough for a royal, it’s good enough for me.’
Indeed you can live, in a fashion, the ‘royal lifestyle’ by only shopping at the establishments that have received the warrants – groceries from Fortnum’s, jewellery from Garrard, boots from John Lobb and motor cars from Bentley. You could even go so far as to get your robes from royal robe maker, Ede & Ravenscroft although it seems unlikely that one would be in regular need of a robe – unless you happen to be a member of the Order of the Garter.
One of my earliest associations with Ede & Ravenscroft was to attend a fitting at one of their charming stores – E&R’s shop fronts are some of the most beautiful – for a graduate gown and mortar board. When I entered, the door bell tinkled and a bearded man in a lilac stripe shirt stepped forward, sleeves rolled and a tape measure draped like a scarf over his shoulders; token tailorisms I thought to myself. However, I was mistaken. I had just interrupted another fitting; gowning graduates is a serious business for this establishment. I was asked politely to wait and browse whilst the other shaggy haired student was attended to behind drawn scarlet curtains.
Whilst browsing I discovered that there was far more to E&R than the supply of ceremonial wares. The suits, though expensive, are exquisite for off the rack examples and are available in natty, slim-fitting cuts. Ties are a mixture of Duchamp-esque modernity and nostalgic stripes and foulards. Knitwear is Scottish wool or cashmere and pocket squares are delightful; predominantly paisley and polka dot. Their shirts are also very splendid – quite as good as some of the most venerable names on Jermyn Street. Above all, a visit to an Ede & Ravenscroft store is an education in taste; a temple of restraint and elegance.
The problems in accessing an establishment that goes back to 1689, the year in which Peter the Great took control of Russia, lie with it’s communication with, and position in, the modern world. Though Ede & Ravenscroft, crimson-faced, could not assist me in my search for dove grey morning dress gloves, they directed me to a list of competitors and tiny establishments one would not ordinarily be aware of.
They have a knowledgeable and passionate staff, but their website is one of the poorest I have visited. For the legal and academic, it is barely useful. For everything else, apart from their listing of the few locations in which Ede & Ravenscroft stores can be found, it is disappointing. A PDF download retail brochure can be obtained by filling in a form – a process which is off-putting for the time-poor or very private. The brochure itself is beautifully photographed, showing off the best of E&R’s product quality. However, it is well short of being comprehensive.
Only four cities are graced with a store (Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and London), more than most Savile Row tailors, concessions aside, are able to boast. E&R sits somewhere in between the grand names of the Row and that of a nationwide gentleman’s outfitter. It takes robe making, ceremonial dress and academic attire very seriously; but the delivery, presentation and availability of the very good clothing it calls ‘accessories’ leaves something to be desired.