A Very Posh Umbrella, A Hat And A Little Bit Of Leather

A Very Posh Umbrella, A Hat And A Little Bit Of Leather

This morning I stumbled across How it’s Made; a  documentary program showing how common, everyday, items such as kitchen equipment or accessories are manufactured. And they show the alchemy of everything from surfboards to alligator handbags. This morning they were talking about umbrellas. It was my husband who spotted the name on the umbrella’s label. So, it was Brigg.

Now, I knew nothing about Brigg umbrellas. Therefore we looked them up. As well as finding out how special and very expensive they are, I hit on two other names I recognized. The first was  the name of a very special store; Swaine Adeney Brigg – they sell the Brig umbrellas. And then the name of that most romantic of hatters; Herbert Johnson.

My life in leather

Too many moons ago, my first job was found for me by a frustrated mother. She was determined that even as a student, I should contribute to my keep. The husband of a friend of hers found the solution. He was MD of Fine English Leatherware in my home town of Walsall. They made the most luxurious of wallets, handbags, document and folio cases and, even, leather-coated jewelry boxes and jewel rolls. These goods were produced in exotic of leathers, alligator and snake skin being considered quite mundane. The factory supplied shops like Harrods, Aspreys and, of course, Swaine Adeney Brigg.

I didn’t enjoy my part-time job in the warehouse. I was never very good at packing parcels. And, I had a tendency to drop the valuable gold corners when I dispensed them to the leather craftsmen.

Those craftsmen and craftswomen were very special – mainly they came from families steeped in the leather trade. They spoke in a broad Black Country dialect that often I didn’t understand. They were mesmerizing to watch at work. But, the saddest thing was to see the effect of the seesaw economy of 1967 that led eventually to devaluation of the pound. The craftsmen were on piece work rates (paid for each piece of work) and the demand for luxury goods just slumped. I was very grateful when the boss explained to my mum that they couldn’t afford to keep me on.

And the hat?

And so to Herbert Johnson, who are now part of the Swaine Adeney Brigg empire. Well, by the mid-seventies I was swanning around London wearing a Christmas present given me by a chum who happened to work at Herbert Johnson. It was a voluptuous and  romantic black fedora known as the poet hat. Mine was similar to that warn by Nureyev in the film Valentino. The poet hat has quite a history in film. It was modified for the character Indiana Jones in a number of ways and made in sable brown. Personally I prefer the black.

Wendy Smith is a Life and Career Coach and a writer. You can find at more about her writing elsewhere on this site.

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