Behind the scenes_Tom

Vivienne Westwood World's End shop

Tom with Princess Anne & Me

It is one of the first warm sunny days this year when Johannes & I visit Tom, but it is even hotter in his workshop. The hat blocks or ‘pans’ (aluminium moulds) that are integral to hat making are gas heated & kept at a constant temperature when they are being used, & they generate quite a bit of heat! It creates the same effect for us as walking into a kitchen with gas cookers blasting away on all jets. We are soon stripping off.
Originally from Dublin & a tailor by trade at age14, Tom entered the hat business when he married, his wife being from a family hat trade called Bedworth’s in London. During the Blitz, to avoid the bombing they & most of the other London hat manufacturers relocated to Luton (the straw used for making hats had been grown in the surrounding area since the 1800’s) making Luton the present centre of the hat trade in Britain.
When Tom took control of the company he originally expanded, employing 25 people & relocating to a bigger premises but 4/5 years later he changed tactics & reduced numbers again. The hat business in Britain has been changing. Nowadays most of the felt ‘hoods’ (‘hood’ is the name given to the rough dome shaped body of the hat) come from abroad. Quality hoods come from Hungary & of course China has been taking over a lot of the markets. They now grow most of the straw & produce the hoods for straw hats (there used to be 6 suppliers of straw in Britain but now there is only one) & they have also taken on most of the large quantity orders in finished hat production. Tom’s business therefore caters mainly to small quantity orders but for lots of different people (these include Philip Tracy & Child of the Jago) & he himself keeps a hands on approach making the hats himself with only a small team to help him, generally working a 14 hour day from 7.30am to 9.30pm.
Tom’s first work with a Westwood design was in 1982 when he made the felt bowler hats for the ‘Savages’ collection & then after that he made the mountain hats for the ‘Buffalo Girls’ collection. As it goes after 30 years of making innumerable hats for Westwood, the mountain hat is still a best seller & is the hat that he has made the most of for us.
The first process in making a straw hat is to have the ‘hoods’ dyed to the colour required (the felt hoods are supplied already dyed). There is a dyer in Luton so Tom sends them there. The dyer also applies a new EU standard PVA stiffener before returning the hoods to Tom to be ‘blocked’.
This involves the hood first being soaked in water & then stretched by hand over the block to the size required. The hoods only come in one size so for a big hat (like a giant bowler or John Bull hat) a lot of stretching is needed & this is hard work (if the hat is too big then it has to be built up from sections sewn together). After this the two or more sections of the heated ‘pans’ are clamped together & left for a while until the hat has dried whereupon the body of the hat is finished. All that is needed now is for the hat to be trimmed & the hatband & label to be sewn in.
Tom has two children who both worked with him for a while but neither of them wanted to make a life of it & so the daughter took a degree in computer science & the son is now a property developer. Funny enough we meet the son as he is in the process of developing the end section of Tom’s workshop building, no longer needed for hats. However Tom has no plans to retire (joking that it stops him drinking too much). He likes his job. I didn’t ask him but I can tell.
Thank you Tom…
A new order of straw John Bull hats are in World’s End shop now.

Vivienne Westwood World's End shop Mountain hat

Straw Mountain hats

Vivienne Westwood

Blocking the hood

Vivienne Westwood Hat making

Blocking the hood

Vivienne westwood

John Bull hats

Vivienne Westwood

Bowler hat_Savages collection 1982

Vivienne Westwood

John Bull Straw

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13 thoughts on “Behind the scenes_Tom

  1. That is a stunning photograph of the inside of the Worlds end shop ! there is a lot more stock in there now thank god ! :-) lovely read Ben. xx

  2. Another excellent Insight in to the world behind the product. I love Westwood’s hats! It’s so stylish when people wear a nice hat to finish off an outfit, very few adorn heads these days. British craftsmanship too!

    Thanks again Ben x

  3. Just ordered my new black JB hat after months of hounding the Team to see when a new delivery would arrive. Super excited to receive it now:).

  4. Great to see more behind the scenes and the hats being made step by step. Stockport has a great hat museum where you can see the hat making process – they even have some Westwood hats on display.

  5. So cool to see pictures of the atelier!!!
    I have a felt hat and just ordered the straw natural one!
    I am over exited!
    Those are my favorite hats ever!!!
    3 of my friends wanted one too. Only 2 got one… Please try to make a couple extra of them. Even if the fact that a small production make them so much more appreciable :)

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