The firm W Bill was founded by William Bill in 1846, in Mold, North Wales. Originally WIlliam Bill specialised in blankets and Welsh flannels, but they soon branched out into tweeds and later into the finest cashmeres. Initially using tweed for menswear was a radical move, popularised by the Duke of Windsor in particular. and the firm moved to London in 1892. W Bill tweeds and knitwear were worn by Picasso, Shacketon and Hilary. The firm also exported a lot of cloth to the US through Brooks Brothers and other suppliers.
Until recently fabrics for tailored suits and mens’ outfits were available in the Saville Row area, kept in vast vaults. The tailor could send out for a bolt of cloth (with say 100 metres on it) and it would be brought around to drape on the customer. Personally I find this is the only satisfactory way to buy fabric. Choosing a nice colour and fabric from a pattern bunch is just not the same experience as feeling the weight and drape of a fabric on your body and seeing the impact of the texture, scale and colour against your own shape, size and colouring.
I first heard about this company though an article in the Financial Times “How to Spend it” Magazine. It explained how the vintage fabrics are in demand because of their quality, the fact that they are “London shrunk” and much more robust than contemporary clothes.
Until 1988 the firm was run by descendants of William Bill. The company was sold in March last year, having been sold by the family in 1990. The name is now owned by a major supplier of cloth to the tailoring trade. The whole warehouse was liquidated and the cloth ended up with tailors, on eBay, and in local sales.
Anyway the other day I dropped into one of my favourite London fabric shops Misan, in Berwick St, which has a ( rather pricey) bargain basement. There are some super choices here. I was very pleased to get the yellow wool that I have used for Esme’s coat. And if you can’t get to central London there is some W Bill cloth available on eBay.