Douglas is a rare bird with a profound source of knowledge. His influence is more than.. influence. He sets the bar and owns a mill which people call The Rolls Royce of mills. He is born with the X-factor. The invisible element which is hard to describe and put into words, but yet so powerful to experience. We wanted to capture a glimpse of his aura. A piece of his charisma. A fragment of his personality. Douglas rarely does collaborations like these. So if we were to do it, we would do it well. And the right man for the job? Robert Spangle, aka thousandyardstyle: The roaming photographer that covers everything from movements and vibes in the menswear scene to in-the-moment conflicts from Ukraine.
Douglas, Robert, Christopher (marketing at MORJAS) and myself gathered in England to create the fruit of our vision. When the dust had settled after a day of shooting, I got the chance to sit down with Douglas and get to know his most intimate side.
Douglas. How are you?
I’m very well, thank you. How are you?
All good. Happy about the initial results we’re seeing. Tell me about your roots. Where do you live?
I live in Bristol, which is about 1 hours drive from Somerset, where the mill is.
How do you live your day-to-day life between Bristol and Somerset?
My day-to-day is usually Fox brothers. I probably work 3 days a week at the mill, travel for a day and work from my home office.
What is Somerset like?
Somerset is a beautiful county. Very green and very rainy, but with stunning scenery. It’s kind of the quintessential English county.
Garden competitions and all?
Your surname has a french twang to it. Where’s your family from?
French. It’s a Huguenot name! I come from a silk weaving family, and we came over from France and settled in the Spitalfields area in London.
Ah, so you’ve got textile in your blood?
Yes, absolutely. Textiles are certainly in my blood. I mean, at 16, I started printing T-shirts, then going to college and so forth. There has always been some kind of textile angle to everything I’ve done. And now, of course, working with the most luxurious cloth down in Somerset – It’s kind of full circle.
I think I have a pretty good guess on where you want your cloth to come from, but what about everything else? Is British tailoring the way to go as well?
I think, for me, tailoring is about the craft in general. I’ve tried tailoring all over the world. On Savile Row, you get a more structural look. In Naples, a more relaxed shoulder, and if you travel up the country from there, it becomes more and more defined and rigid. Milan is quite, well, British in a way. Sometimes you can’t help but wonder, “Did you make that? By hand?”. I just find that totally fascinating, travelling the world with your craft and meeting other craftsmen all over the place. It just becomes natural to try each other’s work. So I’ve ended up with these incredible pieces from all over.
Do all great craftsmen have something in common?
Passion. Passion and skill. You can’t rush these things. You can tell a mile away when a craftsman has laid hands on a piece. It’s a gift in many ways.
Like any artist.
But you have been a kind of an artist yourself? Printing tees?
Yes! I did the classic thing, printing tees on my mum’s kitchen table. It’s important to find something that you can support yourself with. And to be working with something you love is very rewarding and very lucky in a way. It doesn’t really feel like work.
I couldn’t agree more. T-shirts are making a big comeback right now. Do they still have a place in the modern man’s wardrobe?
I think so. You know, I got some really funny t-shirts that I’ve collected throughout the years. I have to wrestle them back from my daughter, who sees them and thinks they are very evocative, you know?
I bought t-shirts in my youth and 20s that I still have. I like how you can always document your life and journey with t-shirts.
It’s a very simple item at its core, but it can be done in millions of ways. So it’s a great medium for showing your colours.
Yes, absolutely. I think it’s interesting that nowadays, teenagers might buy a t-shirt from a popular brand, but they’ve done their research. At the end of the day, it’s still a logo on a t-shirt, but they know how sustainable the company is and where the production takes place.
Is that something that is taken into account as well when you are creating cloth at Fox Brothers?
Very much so. It’s a very important subject. Animal welfare and how things are produced, our carbon footprint. All crucial. At the moment, we’ve done a huge project where we, instead of bubble wrap, use our loom waste, which is all wool. It makes for beautiful packaging, and it’s an all-natural waste product.
Sounds very luxurious.
Sometimes people slam the luxury market because of the high price tag. But what most people don’t take into account is the work and details that go on behind that price tag. Years and years of educating and perfecting a craft is what you are paying for. Not enough brands communicate that.
Absolutely. The same goes for creating your cloth, no?
Some of the details put into these products are just extraordinary, not only from the craftsmen but through sourcing. My team and I travel worldwide to find the finest raw materials, usually from Australia. It’s not just a piece of cloth. We don’t just press a button, and a piece of cloth comes out.
On that note, does technology play a big role?
Probably for the last 30-40 years, technology has been too intrusive. Or at least our desire to use that technology to create different synthetic products has. Wool is actually this genius technical fibre. Man got in the way of trying to make this unnatural version which is totally oil-based, like polar fleece. It’s really just a very poor version of wool.
Douglas and I went on to talk about synthetic fibres for a while until I remembered I was interviewing him. A quick segue later, we were back on track.
- Douglas Cordeaux
Do you have a best mistake? Something that you ended up learning from.
That would be Fox Brothers.
I have been in the business for 13 years, but it was by total accident.
I had lunch with Jeremy Hackett. We were talking about turning a quintessentially British brand into a menswear business. Jeremy mentioned Fox Brothers in Somerset, which is my home county. But I didn’t really know anything about it. But he ended the conversation by saying, “whatever you do, do not buy the mill. It’s a nightmare”. Deborah Meaden, my business partner, and I still decided that we should buy it. The first 3 years were terrifyingly hard. I looked in the mirror and said, “what have you done? Your life was OK”. It wasn’t until the end of the 3 years that I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. During the fourth year, at a trade show in Italy, Antonio De Matteis from Kiton said, “you have the Rolls Royce of mills”. And that was it. That is my marketing there, looking at my textile mill as a kind of Rolls Royce. Ever since then, that’s how I’ve looked at it. If you have passion, you will come through the other side.
So what is your actual role at Fox Brothers?
Now I’m more involved in the management of the company. I have an amazing team that handles production, design, patterns, and sales. So I oversee that and come with ideas. But my thing really is about protecting the brands’ identity. Communication to our customers, communicating when we are delivering and when we are not. Transparency comes back into play here. There’s a worldwide shortage, so being transparent with our customers about when we can fulfil their orders or not has been a major key to succeeding in this climate.
The same goes for when you’re on Instagram?
It’s lovely to have an audience. To share ideas and thoughts about tailoring. There are many people who don’t have the possibility to travel, but they love seeing tailoring from around the world, so I try to show as much of that as I can. To educate, but also to connect. But it’s all about being transparent. Like showing how to get the most out of your garments or how to mend clothes.
Fixable is the future.
Yes, indeed. I bought my first pair of Goodyear welted shoes in my early 20s. At that time, they were incredibly expensive, but I wanted them. And I still have them. I’m on my third sole. They have gone from having a Dainite sole to leather and now back to Dainite, and they look absolutely stunning.
30 years of wearing a shoe will do that.
Yes! People don’t understand that. You should invest in things that you can look after. Buy once and buy well. You probably worry about the first scratch. But every little dent tells its own story and will shape that product and make it personal to you.
You inspire many people, but who inspires you?
I’ve always liked dressing up. When I was a child, I took up golf because I kind of liked the idea of wearing checked trousers. But I think the punk movement and skateboarding really shaped me. That was kind of the age I was when I grew up. Malcolm McLaren was one of my biggest influences. He managed to create all of these tribes very quickly, and it always fascinated me how He and Vivienne Westwood created these whole kinds of looks and movements. They created new ways of expressing yourself. And with his life progressing, it evolved into tailoring and things like that. And I kind of like that kind of attitude. But in terms of style, Charlie Watts is my go-to. He absolutely nailed his style. His eye for detail and tailoring was just phenomenal.
I notice that you are very precise with details and want the best in everything you do to what you wear. Does that transfer to your life in general? Do you only eat bronze-cut pasta?
Ah, yeah. It probably does transfer to my life. I kind of research everything that is in my life usually.
Like an obsession…
Yes, the people around me would probably say that it is an obsession. I was told about it the other day. Take cooking, I find it very relaxing. But someone asks me what I want to eat on Thursday, and I’m like, it’s Monday, I don’t know what I want to eat on Thursday. Food is, to me, much more personal. I need to know what I’m doing that day. Do I feel I beat my body up? Do I need some kind of spirulina boost or something from drinking that wine the day before? It’s like when I went to Naples for a suit fitting. I went to the factory, and Maximiliano, the owner, took his own tomatoes to the restaurant to be cooked, because he had picked them that same morning on Vesuvius.
It didn’t disappoint. The tomatoes were fantastic, and actually, you spend time taking notice of the flavour of the tomato. And whenever I wear the suit I had gotten made, the first thing I remember is the whole experience based around that.
You most definitely have an eye for details.
I do like details.
So, the last question – I’d really like to know Douglas Cordeaux a bit deeper. What are 3 staples everyone needs in their wardrobe?
I think a really good blazer is important, probably a hopsack blazer. Make sure it’s a three-season kind of cloth with patch pockets. I just love the idea that with a blazer you can wear a pair of denim jeans, Japanese selvedge, which looks fantastic. But you can also dress a blazer up with a pair of mid-grey flannel trousers, which also looks fantastic. Very contemporary. You can also change the whole look by dressing it up with a tie. Not many people wear them nowadays, but I think ties are important because you can change an entire outfit from casual to formal very, very quickly.
Another thing you need is a pair of shoes. Actually, you know, my go-to shoes this summer have been the brown suede penny loafers from MORJAS.
I’m so happy to hear.
I love them. Not because they were given to me, but I wear them all the time. When I bend, they don’t gape at the side, which I think is fantastic.
Douglas Cordeaux doesn’t have a good eye for details. He is the definition of the word detail.
So, everyone needs a three-season cloth blazer and a pair of good, well-made, versatile shoes. What else?
It needs to be repairable items. I think everyone needs a suit. A blue suit. And if you wear it a lot, get two pairs of trousers so you’ve got something you can rotate with a little bit.
And there we have it. The three essentials!
You know, I can’t resist. Another thing would be a good tweed sports jacket. But don’t go for a pattern if it’s your first. Go for something like herringbone or defined tweed. It really beats up very nicely. It’s designed to stand the test of time. If you do get a hole in it, which would be quite rare, you can just repair it. They look great patched, and that becomes your patch. It’s your mark.
I really like that you have a pure sense of when it comes to repairing and taking care of the things you own.
Yes, I mean, going back to my first pair of shoes, I’m sure I’ve had the value out of them.
Over and over again.
Robert gets back to us. Apparently, the sun is hitting just right at this time. So off Douglas goes to take some final pictures, and I still sit down, letting everything he just said marinate for a while. I look down at my shoes, and there’s a piece of the suede that had been damaged from when I bumped my feet on the pavement earlier. Usually, I would try to fix it immediately, but today I thought, “that’s my scratch. That’s my mark.”