The Return of Crescent Trading
The boys are back!
No doubt you remember my pals Philip Pittack & Martin White - the Mike & Bernie Winters of the textile business – famous for their ceaseless repartee and classy taste in fabrics? They run Crescent Trading, Spitalfields’ last cloth warehouse, and possess more than one hundred and twenty years of experience in the trade between them.
Last winter, they suffered a fire that nearly put them out of business but, displaying singular tenacity and strength of purpose, they are now open again with their premises restored and an entirely new stock of cloth.
During the interim, I visited regularly to offer moral support while they carried on trading with a hole in the roof, arriving to discover Martin lugubrious in Wellington boots as he spent four hours each day sweeping out rain water and Philip shedding sentimental tears over fire-damaged rolls of rare cashmere. Every single piece of fabric had to go, the roof had to be replaced, and the interior restored and repainted. Yet through all the grim winter months, Philip & Martin came into work each day, greeting customers brightly in spite of their pitiful circumstance.
“It cost us everything,” admitted Philip last week, sitting with Martin in their newly-painted office and looking out in wonder upon the shelves of brand new stock in the refurbished warehouse. It was a rare moment of contemplation, afforded now that they have reached the other side of their ordeal. Having witnessed the extended struggle, I enquired why they did not simply close the business and retire after the fire – a question that Martin seized upon with a passion. “This is our life and our livelihood,” he declared, his eyes shining and his voice raised, ” We love doing it and, as long as there’s breath in us, we will continue – we are not interested in retiring.”
“Jews don’t give up,” was Philip’s simple summation, crossing his arms demonstratively with a broad smile as, from the other side of the room, Martin nodded in agreement.
“It’s a way of life, and it’s been my way of life for sixty years,” Martin assured me, turning to catch Philip’s eye as he proceeded to speak for them both, “We’ve been wrapped up in fabrics all our lives. We love touching fabrics. In Yiddish, it’s called ‘tupping.’ To understand fabrics, you’ve got to touch them and know the feel in your hand.”
“We are passing on our knowledge about fabric to fashion students and young designers that even their teachers don’t know,” continued Philip, picking up Martin’s drift, “We like the youngsters coming in and having a laugh, it keeps us young.”
“I couldn’t afford to retire,” barked Martin in comic affront, as an afterthought, recalling my initial question.
“We’ve worked bloody hard,” declared Philip, folding his hands with incontrovertible authority and pride, and casting his eyes around the refurbished warehouse to meet Martin’s gaze in an exchange of unspoken understanding.
I was delighted by such a lively display of emotion which demonstrated that Philip & Martin are undaunted by the fire and undiminished in enthusiasm for business, even after all these years. Their warehouse in Quaker St is the last remnant of the textile trade that occupied Spitalfields for centuries, and Philip & Martin embody the culture with aplomb. At Crescent Trading, you will discover an infinite variety of ends of runs and surplus stock of high-end fabrics, mostly from British mills. The place is a magnet for students and fashion designers, and – once again- during business hours you may walk in and reliably encounter a lively social scene, centred around the selection and purchase of luxury textiles at bargain prices.
Martin organises his new stock in the refurbished warehouse.
Photographs copyright © Jeremy Freedman
Crescent Trading, Quaker Court/Pindoria Mews, Quaker St, E1 6SN. Open Sunday-Friday.
You may like to read my earlier stories about Crescent Trading.