Eric Musgrave

Since 1980, I have been a journalist and editor writing mainly about menswear,
an expert networker & an all-round top fella. Contact me to discuss working together.

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My top topcoats

Sunday, November 21st, 2021

As winter is fast approaching, it is a good time to take a look back to some of my overcoats, aka topcoats.

First up is an American 1950s or 1960s model bought at the huge vintage store Flip on Long Acre, Covent Garden, London in about 1982. I am here on the wintry East Yorkshire coast with my pals Katy Wheelwright, her husband and my oldest friend Jeff Wheelwright, plus Sara and Gary Armitage, chums from Hull University.

Thousands of these American garments were shipped over to Flip. They were such a craze we featured them in Men’s Wear magazine, where I was deputy editor from 1982 until 1984. Like Alfred Hitchcock, I appeared in one of my own productions. I once discussed the wool tweed coat with an American colleague who told me it was a “Spring weight” cloth. The idea of different qualities of topcoats was then a new concept to me.

Somewhat heavier was this brown wool British coat that was warm enough to keep me insulated from the Russian winter when I visited Moscow and Leningrad (now St Petersburg) in December 1986. Apologies for the poor quality shots – it was a simple single-breasted model with a fly front.

I did without a conventional tailored topcoat for years, relying instead on parkas and the like. Then c 2012 I borrowed this Made-in-England Aquascutum “shorty” coat from the company for a few years. Had I known the once-mighty brand was going to go pop, I probably would not have returned it to them.

My longest-serving topcoat is this rather handsome cashmere example by Polo Ralph Lauren (Blue Label). It was made in Italy by Corneliani and I bought it in a sample Sale from my pal Gerry Dixon, who was the Italian firm’s UK agent. It’s a classic.

It was a treat to be given this Made-in-England topcoat in 2013 by Marks & Spencer‘s menswear design chief Tony O’Connor. It was made, I think, by the now defunct Cheshire Bespoke factory in Crewe using a lovely soft wool cloth woven by Abraham Moon in Yorkshire. It was part of M&S’ Best of British collection.

My latest and current favourite topcoat is this one, which I designed. It was made for me by Stewart Christie in Edinburgh and they kindly created a matching cap. The excellent cloth is from cloth merchant W Bill.

 

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Fine Scottish knitwear from Scott & Charters

Friday, August 27th, 2021

Shirt and bowtie by Brooks Brothers. Bespoke cotton trousers by Fred Nieddu. Spex by Ray-Ban.

A very welcome addition to my wardrobe this year is this fabulous pure cashmere cardigan from Scott & Charters.

Cashmere scarf by Begg & Co. Bespoke spex by Cubitts.

Unless you really know your knitters based in Hawick, Scotland’s “cashmere capital”, you probably will not have heard of the firm, but it has been based in the Borders town since 1955. Although it has had its own brand for most of its history, it’s mainly been a manufacturer for other brands and retailers worldwide.

Happily, the name itself is to be promoted again. In 2020 the business was acquired by Ayr-based scarf specialist Alex Begg whose products are among my favourite Made-in-Scotland pieces. Great potential is seen for Scott & Charters and its team of skilled people as an authentic top-end specialist Scottish knitter. I agree with that assessment.

I received my super cardigan for helping out Scott & Charters with some editorial work for its website and press information. Sometimes it’s called the Yacht Cardigan, but officially it’s Style No CH03212, described as a “men’s 5N (five needle) cashmere full cardigan stitch shawl collar cardigan”.

For the technically-minded reader, it’s made on a 5 Needle Shima Seiki knitting machine using 4 ends of 2/28 Nm 100% Cashmere from Scottish spinner Todd & Duncan

Polo shirt by Brooks Brothers. Bespoke tartan trews by Grant Mitchell of Dundee. Bespoke spex by Cubitts.

Knitted seamless on the Shima Seiki machine, the cardigan is made on a saddle shoulder shape, which fits really well. It closes with 32 & 24L horn buttons. Containing about 2lbs (1kg) of pure cashmere yarn in the College Red shade, it is a truly luxurious garment. Fine Scottish Knitwear indeed.

 

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The Modern Shetland Sweater by Skippers Mill

Wednesday, August 18th, 2021

Autumn is not that far away. If you are in the market for a great-looking sweater Made in Scotland by experts, check out The Modern Shetland series from new brand Skippers Mill

Made in Annan in Dumfries & Galloway, the sweaters are 100% wool, so they are soft, warm and light. Knitted on advanced Japanese machines using 100% renewable electricity, they are seamless and waste-free.

In five sizes from XS to XL, the sweaters are in one style only, with a refined saddle shape that echoes the human shoulder and fits like a glove. The branding is very appealing too.

Although there is only one style, there are 31 superb colours to choose from – one for every day of even the longest months.

I was thrilled to be given my Skippers Mill Modern Shetland in the Goldcrest shade. They are so well-priced at just £89. Highly recommended by me!

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Leeds Then And Now evolves

Monday, August 9th, 2021

It is scarcely two years since my book about the buildings of my home city, Leeds Then And Now was published by Pavilion but Leeds city centre is continuing to develop and evolve.

Just on the left of this 1928 image of Kirkgate is the department store Matthias Robinson, which was opened in Leeds in 1914. The Hartlepool-based business built a new store with Art Deco details on the site in 1936. The store is seen here in 1968.

Matthias Robinson was acquired by Debenhams in 1962 and the store was renamed Debenhams in 1972. Last year Debenhams collapsed and the Leeds store, seen here in 2019 in a photo by David North, was closed along with all the rest.

Permission has now been given to convert the building into student accommodation. Some retailing units may be retained on the ground floor. Let’s hope the lovely details of the 1928 building are maintained and protected.


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Celebrating Sportswear International

Wednesday, August 4th, 2021

Since last December on my Instagram account @musgraveeric I regularly have been highlighting the brilliant magazine Sportswear International, which flourished from 1975 until spring 2021.

This was the first IG post https://www.instagram.com/p/CIRWUshLi-W/

As a freelance writer, I was UK correspondent for SI from 1987, then from 1994 I worked in the magazine’s head office in Milan for about 18 months as deputy editor (although my title was managing editor).

Covering almost a decade, this was an exciting period for the fashion biz.

Sportswear International had been founded as Jean Intern in Germany in August 1975 by Peter Schindler, who created what became the No 1 trade title for the jeans, casualwear and young fashion sectors. Originally publishing only in German, he hit on the idea of giving SI international appeal by producing an identical edition with the same images but with the text in English.

The Sportswear sub-brand – used in the American sense to mean casualwear – was introduced in 1978. By 1983 the magazine was known as Sportswear International. By the time I joined the excellent team, which by then had its head office in Milan, the magazine’s reputation was rock solid. By 1987 the frequency followed the fashion trade fair calendar, so we had three issues in the spring (Jan, Feb and March) and three in the autumn (July, August and September). They were sizable productions – heading for 200 pages was not uncommon.

The original large almost-A3 format (which was slightly reduced in later years) and the high-quality paper and excellent production values meant the publication was brilliant for impactive fashion shoots. Skilled photographers and stylists loved working for Sportswear.

Equally importantly, the large format and SI’s position as THE authority in the denim jeans market, the young fashion market and, from the late 1980s onwards the new Fashion Sport sector, made it a very popular and effective choice as an advertising vehicle for big brands in the market. The impact of editorial and advertising made this a visual feast.

Working for Sportswear was one of the highlights of my career as I was allowed to interview and feature anyone who I thought would be of interest to our readership. A significant part of my time was spent visiting interesting retailers around the UK, with special emphasis on innovative independents. Occasionally I would also cover a major new developments for a big brand, such as the Emporio Armani store in Knighstbridge, London.

Peter Schindler sold SI to the German trade publishing house Deutscher Fachverlag (dfv) in 1994. I have featured lots of pages from Sportswear International on my @musgraveeric Instagram feed since December 2020 but when I started the sequence I had no idea that dfv planned to close Sportswear International in spring 2021 and replace it with a new publication called The Spin Off, which has as its focus sustainable fashion.

I was pleased to see SPortswear INternational referenced in the word Spin.

Good luck to all involved in The Spin Off. I hope you have as much fun on it as I had on Sportswear international.

 

 

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Good luck to Brooks Brothers

Tuesday, August 4th, 2020

“I wear Brooks clothes and white shoes all the time…”

In the first line of “Harvard Blues”, a 1941 tune by Count Basie and his Orchestra, vocalist Jimmy Rushing lets us know exactly what sort of cool Ivy League student he is. Since 1818 the firm of Brooks Brothers has been dressing America’s leading lights and power brokers, along the way developing an unmistakeable look that became known as preppy (after the preparatory schools where Ivy League university undergraduates begin their expensive education).

I am a big fan of Brooks Bros, simply because its signature styles are, well, simple. In my experience they are well-made, long-lasting, neat and easy to wear. They offer the comfort and familiarity of a uniform – and they are often as recognisable as a uniform.

Its button-down shirt in an oxford-weave cloth is a classic, as are its short-sleeved polo shirts, available in a huge palette of colours and decorated in an understated way with the firm’s logo of The Golden Fleece (or The Hanging Sheep to those of a less romantic nature).

With a single-breasted navy blue blazer and khaki cotton chinos, finished off with cordovan-coloured penny loafers on my feet, I can pretend I am a WASP from New England as opposed to a White Anglo-Saxon (lapsed) Protestant from Olde England.

Another huge attraction for me over the years has been Brooks Bros’ confident and enthusiastic use of pattern and colour, whether in solid shades, stripes or checks. For a “conservative” brand, it avoids dullness very easily.

On trips to America, whenever possible I would head to a Brooks Bros outlet store and then head for its Sale rail, where I’d hope to find the sort of clothes that did not attract a mass of followers, such as salmon-coloured summer slacks, wide-legged apricot-coloured linen trousers or heavyweight chinos in a vivid apple green. Happy days indeed.

One of my favourite Brook Bros garments is my boldly-checked sports jacket in Pure New Wool. It was given to me as a present around Christmas 2005 by John Hind, who was running the then fairly-new London operation for Brooks Brothers. When he saw me admiring the jacket in the City of London shop, John revealed that not one had been sold during the autumn season and if I wanted one, I was welcome to it. Every time I have worn it since I have been complimented on it.

Sadly, lots of other things have not been selling in recent years, even in the USA. After 202 years, the business founded by Henry Sands Brooks in 1818 and renamed Brooks Brothers by his sons Daniel H, John, Elisha and Edward in 1850, has lost its way and in early July declared itself bankrupt. It might be rescued yet and will hopefully survive, but probably as a much smaller concern. As long as it stays true to its style and quality – and that’s a big if, obviously – I’ll be happy.

I might even look out for some white shoes to wear with my Brooks clothes.

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Carve his (correct) name with pride

Saturday, June 27th, 2020

Having spent too much time in my adult life explaining “It’s not Musgrove, it’s Musgrave”, I am particularly keen on getting people’s surnames right.

Examining the handsome and poignant World War One memorial in the village of Norham, Northumberland, I noted that the fourth-mentioned fatality was Corporal Thomas Quin of the Northumberland Fusiliers. Now that’s an uncommon version of Quinn, I thought.

Meandering into the peaceful graveyard of St Cuthbert’s Church behind the cenotaph, I located an impressive headstone for the man. Its inscription informed me: “Sacred to the memory of 291016, Cpl. T. Quin. N.F. Only son of Tom and Annie Quin, who died in Hornsea Hospital, 23rd Nov 1918, aged 20 years. Enlisted 28th June 1915, served 11 months in France, and 10 months in Salonica.”

This caught my eye as I have friends in Hornsea, a small coastal town in East Yorkshire. How sad that the young lad died aged only 20, I thought, less than two weeks after the Armistice, and away from his folks.

Also catching my eye was the Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone alongside the family memorial. On here, annoyingly to me, gallant Thomas’ surname is rendered in the more familiar form of Quinn.

Surely, I reasoned, that’s a mistake as the family and the village memorial cannot have got it wrong.

A quick online check confirmed that the Army records do indeed have Northumberland Fusilier 291016 as Quinn. This looked to me like an Army clerk’s admin error.

On 28 May I posted my photos and a brief text on a Facebook group I belong to called Britain in detail: quirk, charm and craft in the built environment, which highlights interesting stuff we can see around us. Within no time at all, Nick Basden, an Edinburgh-based member I didn’t know, had searched the 1911 England Census and confirmed what I had suspected – the family and village had it right and the Army had made, to use a wartime military term, a SNAFU (Situation Normal, All F*cked Up).

I planned to contact the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to point out this anomaly because anyone searching for Thomas Quin in Army records will not find him, but Nick beat me to it. The reply from the CWGC Enquiry Support team was prompt, courteous and pleasing:

Re: 291016 Lance Corporal THOMAS QUIN, Northumberland Fusiliers

Thank you for contacting the CWGC.

I have amended our records to show that Thomas QUIN is his true family name, and that he only served as Thomas QUINN.

Please allow 24 hours for the amendment to show on our records.

I doubt the commission will go to the trouble of replacing or correcting the Norham headstone, whose design – created in 1917 by a panel including architects Edwin Luytens, Herbert Baker and Reginald Blomfield, plus font expert Leslie MacDonald Gill – leaves little room for amendments. It is possible, however, the local branch of the Royal British Legion could request a replacement.

In any event, I am pleased to have helped to cherish and protect the memory of young Tom Quin. Like his thousands of fallen comrades he deserves to be remembered accurately as the man he was.

The CWGC is responsible for the commemoration of 1.7 million war dead, whose graves and memorials are at 23,000 locations in more than 150 countries and territories. In the UK alone there are 300,000 war graves in the Commission’s care, across 13,000 locations. I wonder how many others have been affected by the slip of a clerk’s pen.

 

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45 years in an Hawaiian shirt

Sunday, June 14th, 2020

The ideal garment for a sunny day is an Hawaiian shirt. I’ve been wearing them since I was in my early twenties. Soft and drapey, ideally in viscose (aka rayon), they are cool in all senses of the world.

Here I am in the late 1970s in what was possibly my first Hawaiian shirt. I don’t often wear them with a suit. It was almost certainly made of viscose fabric.

This cotton version, from 1977, is more a Hawaiian-inspired fashion shirt than a true aloha shirt, but it’s a jolly print.

Another inexpensive viscose one from the late 1970s, possibly bought at Flip, the large store selling vintage American clothes on Long Acre, Covent Garden, which had tons of old aloha shirts.

A couple more I wore on a road trip to the USA in the early 1980s. The full-length image was taken in Las Vegas, the darker one in Los Angeles.

Another related shirt: This heavy cotton number with the charming and naive print had a label bearing the slogan “Hechado in Mexico” (Made in Mexico). I bought it from a thrift store on a visit to the USA and kept it for many years.

Another favourite aloha from the late 1990s (my son Teddy was born in 1994). This is a very sophisticated print with lots of colours. I probably bought it new in the USA.

On a trip to California in the late 1990s, I bought new some aloha shirts by the Hawaii-based maker Reyn Spooner which today has a website to sell in Europe.

As the label explains, they are made in Hawaii of Japanese spun rayon fabric. My favourite example is one that features a print of Hawaiian shirts. Even the pocket is matched neatly.

This remains my No 1 shirt. All I need is for the summer to arrive and it will be on show again.

If you want to know more about Hawaiian shirts, seek out the book “The Aloha Shirt” by Dale Hope & Gregory Tozian (Thames & Hudson 2002). Its a superb history of the phenomenon with 725 illustrations. Highly recommended.

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RIP The Weekly News

Sunday, April 26th, 2020

My first job in journalism was as a trainee reporter on The Weekly News. I lasted for five and a half months of a six-month probation period in 1978 before being sacked without any warning. It was a bit of a blow at the time.

The owner of The Weekly News, the Dundee-based D C Thomson, has just announced that the title is to close after 165 years. It is another victim of the decline in print journalism but I am surprised it lasted as long as it did.

Unless you were brought up in the north of England or Scotland in the pre-1980s era, there’s a good chance you’d have never seen or heard of The Weekly News. It was hugely popular in those regions, however, with the working classes, especially women. It belonged to a group of now-generally-forgotten general interest publications such as Reveille, Titbits and Weekend, which were weekly magazines of entertainment.

The Weekly News was by far the most “respectable”. It was wholesome, traditional and conservative, rather like D C Thomson itself.

The company was privately-owned, very secretive and notoriously did not recognise unions. The story went that the Thomson family was offended when some of their workers walked out during the General Strike of 1926, so they were to have no truck with unions after that. The family was said to be so staunchly Protestant that it would not hire Roman Catholics. I don’t know if that is entirely true, but I was asked my religion and my political persuasion at my interview. I was C of E, so that was fine. I probably said I was not interested in politics.

After unsuccessfully applying to many publishers to get a start in journalism, I was advised by a pal from university, David Belcher, who was working for The Weekly News in Glasgow, to write to the company, famously predicting: “If they don’t take you, no one will.” I duly was summoned from London to an interview in distant Dundee – the company paid for my train and overnight hotel – and was subjected to the equivalent of a speed-dating session as I was interviewed very briefly by representatives from some of its many titles, such as The Sunday Post, People’s Friend, Dundee Courier, People’s Journal, Jackie and even Beano and Dandy. I was delighted when I was offered a position on The Weekly News in D C Thomson’s Fleet Street office.

The centre of D C Thomson’s powerful and influential universe was Dundee, which had by far its biggest office. The Glasgow office was a decent size. The Manchester one was smaller and its London one was the smallest, with perhaps about 20 journalists at most plus advertising and other staff. The facade of the building, carrying beautifully-rendered names of four of its titles, is still there, It caused much amusement to employees that the offices stretched above a religious book shop called The Protestant Truth Society. Quite.

The business was run on the strict hierarchic lines that were common at the time, which meant that me as the untrained newcomer was on the bottom rung. The editor was a somewhat crusty Scotsman called David Norrie or Mr Norrie to the likes of me. The popular belief was he was so disliked by his Scottish colleagues that he was exiled to the furthest outpost of the empire. The day-to-day running of the journos was left to the deputy editor, a very nice and supportive Cockney chap called Sam, whose surname I cannot recall. Sam, who’d been aircrew on RAF bombers during World War II, was extremely patient with beginners like me.

The workload – by modern standards and by what I experienced later – was incredibly light. Unbelievably, we had a fixed break for coffee in the morning and one for tea in the afternoon. No one ever worked late as far as I knew. Mr Norrie dashed out at 4.57pm every day to catch his train home and the rest of us departed promptly three minutes later, sometimes to a local pub.

The work comprised mainly or reading lots of local papers to spot a story that would suit our family-oriented stance (so nothing about sex, politics, suicide or other unpleasantness of that type). Then we’d track down the subject via the local paper or telephone directory enquiries – remember them? – and bash out on the typewriter a short newsy piece. I was far too lowly to be asked to write a feature. That was left to the likes of Simon Cornes (later a BBC local radio host and station manager), Mike Burton (who was destined to edit the public service title Municipal Journal) and Kitty Corrigan (who was for many years deputy editor of Country Living).

After a while I was judged advanced enough to be given the Police Flash column to compile. This was a weekly time-consuming task that involved me calling police press officers around the country looking for stories about very large heists or very curious ones. Again, nothing involving violence or unpleasantness was required. Sometime I struck lucky and got five stories with relatively few calls, but usually I was scraping the barrel by the end of a long day on the ‘phones.

Sadly, my wardrobe choices did not sit well with Mr Norrie. I was in my Humphrey Bogart stage and dressed almost exclusively in retro styles from charity shops. Twice he called me over to his desk to “have a wee word”. The first time was because I was wearing braces on my vintage high-rise trousers. “You’ll best be wearing a waistcoat or keeping your jacket on if you are wearing braces, especially as there’s lassies in the office,” he told me quietly. I thought he was joking but soon realised he was serious.

The second time the problem was my collarless “grandad” shirt. This time the editor asked me what I would do if I was suddenly called to Buckingham Palace to interview the Queen for The Weekly News. I thought such an occurrence was highly unlikely, but didn’t say so and promised to wear a shirt and tie in future.

And so it came to pass that on a Friday afternoon at about 4.45pm I was asked to go down to a different floor to see the general manager of the office, whose existence was news to me. My sacking was quick. Nothing personal, but they did not think “I was on the wavelength of the paper”. I was being given two weeks’ notice but as I’d obviously want to look for another position, I needn’t come into the office again. They handed me my P45. The execution had taken barely five minutes.

I was so shocked that I couldn’t tell my friends in the office what had happened for fear of bursting into tears. So I went home and burst into tears. I did return on Monday, partly to say goodbye to everyone, but mainly so that my pal Rob would not get landed with the dreaded Police Flash ring round. My colleagues were astonished by the news and to their eternal credit a few, led by journo “head boy” Simon Cornes, remonstrated with Mr Norrie that I had been unfairly treated to have been kicked out without any previous warning. No matter, that Monday was my last day.

Coincidentally enough, the only job I could get some months later that was vaguely connected with journalism was to be a seasonal public relations officer with Butlin’s, which was a regular advertiser in The Weekly News.

It was funny too that I made my career writing about clothing when that was what possibly did for me at D C Thomson. RIP The Weekly News. Honestly, it was fun while it lasted.

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2000: A new editor at Drapers Record

Tuesday, April 14th, 2020

Twenty years ago this week I took up the role of editor-in-chief of Drapers Record and its stablemate Menswear.

Although this was an unexpected – and unsought – career move for me, the April 15 2000 i marked the start of a memorable adventure lasting five and half years during which time the current incarnation of Drapers as a pan-fashion industry title was devised and launched under my editorship.
At the time Drapers Record and Menswear were part of the B2B magazines empire of Emap plc , specifically in a division called Emap Fashion. I had been working for Emap since 1996, but I had moved from magazines. I had been on the Events team for a couple of years, running the mainstream menswear fair MXL, an undistinguished exhibition greatly overshadowed by its cool casualwear cousin 40°.

I was enjoying my job and I had no desire to go back into journalism and when my boss, Emap Fashion’s deputy managing director Neshat Ahmed, called me in for an urgent meeting I actually thought she was going to sack me to save the company a bit of money.

But no. I was being “volunteered” (ie ordered) to take control of the great cash cow Drapers Record (aka DR) and its little brother, which just ticked over financially. DR had lost its way with the industry, its reputation was in decline and its revenues were declining. That was not good news for Emap. The 20-or-so-strong team (see the “flannel panel” of personnel here) was demoralised and the previous editor had left rather abruptly at the company’s request.

My brief was to get DR back on track ASAP and to set it and Menswear up so they could be merged to create one title to serve the entire fashion industry. My partner – also my publisher and my boss – in this enterprise was Sarah Cookson, who knew her way round a financial spreadsheet from her background in advertising sales. A Lancashire lass teamed up with a Yorkshire bloke – Sarah and I turned out to be a proper Northern powerhouse. As a reader, I had been particularly irked by DR’s clumsy design. I hated the masthead, with the two words of Drapers Record rendered in different colours. It was a very popular and to my mind pointless design trend at the time. I hated the masthead bar that turned the cover’s portrait shape into something like a square, thereby limiting its visual impact.

And I really hated the horrible mix of ugly typefaces, random coloured letters, colour tints, blobs and other paraphernalia that clogged the news pages in particular. Improving this mess without going a full redesign, with the expert assistance of art editor Alan Bingle, was a high priority for me.

Within four issues putting Drapers Record in just one colour on the mast head made a huge improvement in my eyes.

The great leap forward came with the fifth issue I directed, dated May 27, on which, thanks to Alan Bingle’s efforts, the bar on the cover disappeared and the pages were much cleaner and packed more info on to them instead of wasting space with design “effects”.

Another important change in the May 27 2000 issue was the addition of a photograph of me in the weekly “Drapers Record says” opinion column. I was against the cult of the journalist with the picture byline – the words were more important than who wrote them, I believed – but my boss Sarah Cookson argued correctly that Drapers Record needed a personality, a “face”, with whom readers could identify and that face was going to be mine.

Another issue I remember is from 22 July 2000 when I unveiled my new and soon-to-be-famous spex to the Drapers Record community. From Kirk Originals in Covent Garden, they became my trademark as “That man from Drapers”.

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