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At Richard & Cosmo Wise’s Shop

October 28, 2011
by the gentle author

Cosmo Wise, proud of his collection of darned nineteenth century farmer’ socks

If you cannot get excited by the new styles in the stores this season, you might prefer to go along to Richard & Cosmo Wise’s shop at 68a Cheshire St where all the clothes are between seventy and one hundred and thirty years old. These are the raiment that your great-grandparents got dragged through a hedge backwards in and yet, miraculously, survived – through endless ingenious patching and artful darning – to fall into the hands of this father and son team who cherish these magnificently damaged old togs. Searching rural France and Japan, Cosmo & Richard have amassed an extraordinarily charismatic trove of glad rags and work clothes that have inspired them to pursue a tender aesthetic of loving repair, renewing these garments and giving them a fresh life, in which their histories and idiosyncrasies can be appreciated by aficionados.

“I learnt a huge amount from those anonymous people,” Cosmo admitted to me, producing a lovingly patched-up coat from a rail and stroking it,“I feel I have a symbiotic relationship with the seamstresses of a hundred years ago. They each had their own styles of darning and repair. More than utilitarian, there’s a real sensibility present.”

The garment in question appeared to be half-and-half, two different jackets joined laterally to create a new coat in which Cosmo’s repairs were indistinguishable from those done generations ago, and lined with vintage quilted French and Japanese fabric. This eye-catching collage of textiles was also undeniably contemporary in appearance, sewn together with superlative skill and possessing a certain charisma no mass-produced item could ever match. Cosmo is keen to emphasise that his interventions are always based upon precedents, such as – in this case – the half-and-half shirts of seventy years ago with extended tails in contrasting fabric to be worn over trousers like smocks.

For just a couple of weeks, until 20th November, you can try some of these fascinating clothes for yourself in an enchanted space full of Richard & Cosmo’s glorious paraphernalia. “It’s a place where people can come to find out what we are about – where everyone’s always welcome to come round for drink,” Cosmo declared to me with reckless abandon, both supremely excited about the new venture and lacking two nights’ sleep.

In the shop you will find fine specimens of their discoveries – examples that have been sympathetically renovated alongside clothes which have been newly-made from patterns based upon old designs using pre-war fabrics, sold under their own label, “De Rien.” “We live with this stuff,” Cosmo confessed, gesturing affectionately to the rails of the most characterful old clothes I ever saw,“this shop is a more ordered version of our home. Here you will find a lot of indigo, old French hunting gear, and plenty of exceedingly patched up workwear with a lot of life to it.”

In an age of mediocre disposable High St fashion, Richard & Cosmo are visionaries who recognise the rich poetry in patched-up old garb, respecting the tale these rags tell of the time when almost all had well-made clothes. By appreciating the dignity and restraint in modest garments tailored for working people, they honour the lives of those who for whom it was the custom to wear their clothes out, rather than simply dispensing with last year’s fashions.

Each item of clothing in Richard & Cosmo’s shop has a story, and every one speaks of a different life and another world.

Click to enlarge

Dating from 1879, this tricolore fireman’s uniform was created to celebrate the centenary of the French Revolution. Designed for a pageant or parade, it is a homemade garment of the finest glazed linen. At this time, the French often sewed tricolore ribbons inside the inner pockets of frock coats to remind them of their country’s liberty.

Dating from the late thirties or early forties, this cotton flannel shirt – where the bottom is lengthened by the addition of a contrasting fabric – represents a classic example of a certain style of repair where an aesthetic choice is apparent which transcends mere utility.

This chambray shirt from the same period has been extended with the addition of two layers of fabric, a flannel and a poplin – the stripes on the extension have even been aligned with those on the original shirt. This garment is also notable for the fine darning which complements the white stitching upon the seams.

A moleskin cycling jacket from the nineteen thirties in an attractively faded ochre, with extended sleeves and a high waist to suit the posture of a rider.

Manufactured of heavy duty cotton which is brushed on one side, this grey patched jacket dates from the nineteen forties and sports some attractive contrasted patching including a waist band that resembles a built-in cummerbund.

The survival of woollens is rare and this plaid specimen with a zip-up collar dates from the early forties.

This child’s sweater with a characteristic ‘gate’ motif is also from the nineteen forties and displays some spectacularly intricate darning, especially in the armpits.

An early twentieth century apron, from the period 1915 to 1930.

Garment photographs copyright © Sofiane Boukhari

The shop was styled by Marisa de la Lopez

You may also like to read about

Richard & Cosmo Wise, Rag Dealers

Richard & Cosmo Wise’s Collection

At 68a Cheshire St daily from 11am to 7pm, seven days a week, until November 20th.

12 Responses leave one →
  1. October 28, 2011

    Absolutely marvellous!

  2. Ros permalink
    October 28, 2011

    And how!

  3. Jackie Sopp permalink
    October 28, 2011

    Really interesting to see how ‘make do and mend’ was a regular and common occurrence.
    I once had a blouse Mother made from the tails of my Father’s shirts, (in the 1950s,) and my Grandmother’s darning was a work of art in itself… we simply throw it all away and buy new!

  4. Rowena Macdonald permalink
    October 28, 2011

    This guy is so stylish. Can’t wait to check out his shop, though I’m not sure I will be able to carry off the ragamuffin look as well, but I love their aesthetic. My grandma used to darn and patch things beautifully – she was an excellent seamstress and knitter and taught me a lot – but all these skills are just disappearing, although I have noticed it now seems all the rage to do courses in sewing and handicrafts. There’s nothing like learning it at a young age from your family though.

  5. October 28, 2011

    Wonderful. Wish I could get over to London just to stand in that shop for a bit.

  6. October 28, 2011

    What fascinating people and places you unearth. I visit and enjoy yuor blog frequently. I was at the Landmark Trust site the other day, checking for accomodations in London, and they had some in Spitalfields. I know where we’re staying on our next visit, and will use your blog as a guide.

  7. October 29, 2011

    I love reading about this Father & Son love of textiles, and would love to get to London to see the shop!

  8. andrea permalink
    October 29, 2011

    I found myself wondering what it smells like in there. I imagine a combination of mothballs and incense.

  9. Tony Daly permalink
    October 30, 2011

    Oh man,that shop is so cool !!

  10. Peaches permalink
    October 31, 2011

    My dad reckons this is the best London vintage clothing shop since “Granny Takes A Trip” back the sixties,and he’s right.

  11. October 31, 2011

    I thought I was one of the last generation taught to ´make do and mend´ (I’m in my 60’s). I remember being taught to darn socks, and to ´sides-to-middle´sheets. Clearly the skill is alive and well, and so much more creative now. Hats off to Richard and Cosmo Wise!

  12. Maria permalink
    December 21, 2013

    Dear Richard,

    How are you?

    I went to portobello market this morning looking for you, but the women from 282 shop said that you are in just on friday. What a shame! I really love your stuff! Im looking for a fisherman Japanese workwear and the last time i saw you you had it. Do you still have?
    I hope you see this text!
    My number is : 07450265694

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