Ventile seems like a well kept secret in terms of garment fabric..! Yes, it was born in
the UK, so might be more familiar over the pond (and to Anglocentrics) but
considering it is over ninety years old, far too few people seem to know about this amazing cloth, its fascinating history and just how bloody brilliant it is!
In a strange way Ventile plays its own small part in my own story here at Pickings & Parry; when I came in to speak to Chris Pickings about a job in April 2017, I was wearing a Ventile Mac that didn’t go unnoticed, he said nothing of it at the time but remarked upon it when I got the job. A few years prior to that it was the single most expensive piece of clothing I had ever bought and I don’t regret it a single bit… only that I didn't buy a size larger to accommodate my hulking physique – (read: middle-aged spread) – so that it will last me another decade. The jacket itself will last far longer than that, just not on my frame.
You see the thing is, it doesn’t really wear out…not really... Aside from being extremely light and strong it isn’t coated with anything that will decay over time, it is the nature of the tight and complex weaving system that allows the cotton fibres to swell when wet, keeping you dry and warm then returning to normal. Think of what Gore-Tex does but several decades before and it never stops doing it.
Ventile was originally conceived by scientists at the Shirley institute in the late
1930’s in the wettest of cities, Manchester. It was intended as a solution to the shortage of flax used for hosing, mainly due to German control of said material. Later, pilots needed a comfortable warm fabric that could be waterproof should
they be shot down or have to eject over icy waters. The decision to make their
garments out of Ventile actually saved lives as it bought them precious extra
minutes before they could be fished out and not freeze to death. Since then it has
become a staple for expedition-wear, from Edmund Hilary conquering Everest to
Ranulph Fiennes and the many lesser unnamed heroes.
The reason you may not have heard of it is because it is near impossible to produce
on a huge scale now. The process is a long and complex one that just can’t be rushed or scaled up for mass-production. Plus there are increasing modern alternatives with various coatings, Gore-tex, Pertex and Taslan to name but a few. But all these require chemicals which will one day expire. The beauty of Ventile is that it's all down to the weave, and that never changes.
Once, it was woven in Chorley, just outside Manchester, but as dyeing houses went out of business they were no longer able to produce and finish the garments. Now
Stotz & Co. from Switzerland own the Ventile brand, after years of producing their
own Ventile cloth, they continue to push its innovation in the modern market.
We are lucky enough to have a Ventile garment in the shop right now in the form of the new collaboration from Nigel Cabourn and Liam Gallagher. Two men who love
smocks, one who has championed the use of the fabric for decades, not
compromising the price for quality; and the other a legend born in Manchester, just
like Ventile. Come and see it, and feel it for yourself.... and, if it's raining outside, we
might even let you try it out properly…