The story of our new rugby shirts begins in Somerset, and takes us all the way to Japan.
Regular readers will know that we’re not shy about our love of rugby shirts. They are as much a staple for us as a knitted polo shirt, an oxford cloth button-down or a cashmere roll-neck. We’ve discussed their merits at length, so the trusty rugby requires no further applause from our corner.
SS19 sees the rugby shirt return to our collection, but in new and improved form. “This season, it all began at our shirt factory in Chard,” Drake’s Creative Director Michael Hill explains. “We created a pattern inspired by our shirts – the collar in particular takes its cues from our ‘English Classic’ style – by working closely with our shirtmakers to create a fit that is a bit less baggy and sporty, and more refined and elegant.”
The resulting pattern was one with a slightly trimmer body and a higher armhole, making the shirts perfect for wearing with tailoring, unlike their more traditionally shaped cousins. With the pattern established, it was time to find the perfect fabric. For this we looked to Japan: “The knitted jersey fabrics produced in Japan are extraordinary, completely unlike anything else we’d found. They have a density and a spring to them that is unmistakeable. It might sound cliché, but you really can feelthe quality.”
The factory we came to work with uses machines and methods that date back to the turn of the century. By no means the fastest or most cost-effective process available, it does however produce a peerless result. Using specialised ‘hanging’ knitting machines – which run at an agonisingly slow pace compared to their modern, mass-market equivalents, producing just one metre of jersey per hour, and which only a handful of skilled craftspeople have the experience to operate – they made for us boldly striped cloth in three colourways, and turned these into rugby shirts according to our designs.
As a finishing touch we added an embroidered tiger motif on the chest. “Many customers will no doubt recognise the tiger, although they’re probably more used to seeing it printed onto ancient madder, than embroidered onto jersey,” Michael tells us. “It’s taken from our extensive archive of tie and scarf designs. We’ve always loved the unusually stylised tiger, and it’s something that is quintessentially Drake’s, so why not make that our team emblem, as it were.”
“These are great to wear on the weekend with a pair of old chinos, or a pair of jeans, but I think it’s a piece that also serves as a bridge to more tailored looks. You can wear it under a jacket, or with a suit even, and it doesn’t look out of place. We want to provide these versatile items for men, that they can wear, and wear, and wear.”