An association between a 1960s blues guitar legend and an English country clothing store seems unlikely, but it is just this odd, eccentric twist on the traditional that makes Cordings of Piccadilly unique among its Jermyn Street neighbours. Eric Clapton became co-owner of Cordings in 2003, but that milestone was only one of many in the company’s illustrious past.
John Charles Cording opened his first shop as an outfitter and waterproofer in 1839 at 231 Strand, manufacturing and selling mackintoshes developed by Charles Mackintosh. Cordings became so well-known for outdoor clothing that when Sir Henry Morton Stanley was preparing for his voyage to find Dr. Livingstone, his first port-of-call was Cordings.
In 1877, the business transferred to its current premises at 19 Piccadilly, and in 1902 became J.C. Cording & Co Limited. They secured their first Royal warrant in 1909, when Cordings was granted the Prince of Wales warrant as waterproofers to the future King George V. The young Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, adopted Cordings as one of his many London outfitters, clearly impressed by the famous Newmarket and Idstone boots on display in the shop window, submerged in a glass tank full of water (where they remained for so many years that they became part of the London taxi drivers’ ‘knowledge’).
It was during the difficult years of the late 20s and early 30s that Cordings survived economic gloom by expanding their range from predominately outerwear and boots to a comprehensive range of country wear. Various mergers and acquisitions took place during the 1970s, 80s and 90s, with Cordings emerging victorious and independent, and with larger premises incorporating number 20, Piccadilly next door to the original store.
The buyout by Eric Clapton in 2003 kept the company buoyant enough to survive changing fashions, increases in West End rent and the gradual erosion of Piccadilly from a street for gentlemen to a street for tourists. However, step inside Cordings and you are immediately transported to the early 20th century. All the original brass and wood fixtures remain; the impressively aged brass plaque on the door has to be polished daily to maintain its lustre. Eric Clapton didn’t change a thing, because the reason he invested was precisely to keep Cordings exactly as he’d remembered it from teenage visits to London from his country home. The only influence one might assume had come from 1960s psychedelia is the extraordinary range of colours in Cordings’ corduroy trousers, from English mustard to deep purple. Mr. Clapton’s other contributions include deciding to branch out into womenswear and choosing the tweeds for the new seasons.
When The Chap dropped in recently to photograph some of the Cordings range, there was no need to rearrange the furniture or hide any unattractive fittings: the entire shop provided the perfect Edwardian setting in which to photograph our Chaps and Chapettes. Choosing which clothes to dress our models in would have been a time consuming and endless task (there was nothing we didn’t want to photograph), but luckily the sharp choices were made by Cordings’ Head of Marketing Hillary Beque, who also provided crucial attention to sartorial detail, leaving The Chap team exclusively focused on the equally pressing task of selecting the correct pipe and which tobacco for each model to use.
The photographs above show a small selection of those taken in and around Cordings. The full set will be published in our Winter 18 edition, out on 17th November.
Photographs by Peter Clark. Models: David Evans, Rachel Handler, Christopher Styles.