Paul Harnden started out as a shoemaker, more than 25 years ago. He’s all about handcrafted items and an old school style of manufacturing. The first time I visited Dover Street Market (a ‘department store’ by Comme Des Garçons in London. www.doverstreetmarket.com) I saw a pair of shoes, brilliant in style and making, I would have loved to buy them, even if only for looking at, like pieces of art. Laced up, old-fashioned, low booties with wooden heels…I can still picture them. I was so excited, I forgot to write down the name on the label, but I am quiet sure they were of the collaborated collection of Paul Harnden and Comme des Garçons…
Some time later, I visited my friend, who works in a designer store and showed me the new brand the store was selling; Paul Harnden Shoemakers. She told me, the designer used to be a shoemaker, who now also created a clothing division. The clothes silenced me completely, brilliant, beautiful, phenomenal, genius… The level of craftmanship is beyond compare!
Pictures above from: (http://le-21eme.com/category/designers/paul-harnden/#/page/1)
In an interview in 2010, John Galliano said: ‘He’s an English boy… he’s very Greta Garbo. He does rough kind of tweed and stuff. I buy all my stuff from him. I believe he lives in England by the sea.’
By now more is known about Paul Harnden. He was born in Canada, lives in Brighton, England and is pretty willfully obscure. His company, Paul Harnden Shoemakers ltd’ sells to a tiny, elite, culty group of stores, like Dover Street Market in London, Envoy of Belfast in Ireland, If in Soho, L’Eclaireur in Paris and Van Ravenstein in Amsterdam. His aesthetic is very wrinkly, fantastically well-made clothes and handmade shoes inspired by Civil War, pre-Industrial Revolution /English country and Amish.
In 2000 he started his clothing division, Paul Harnden Clothiers with co-founder Elena Dawson, she was an instrumental part of the design, concept and business until 2006, when she started an independent clothing and shoe label. www.elenadawson.co.uk
Lately Paul Harnden is ‘getting out there’ a bit, like at the release party of Some/things magazine chapter005 at Dover Street Market november last year, where he presented his super 8 film ‘Pattern mill’. He gave his first ever interview to Derek Thomson and talked about the pattern mill & its director, Gordon Hawley. In the interview comes very clear his passion and admiration for craftmanship…A part of the interview with Derek Thomson.. The entire article only printed in Some/things magazine chapter005
[…DEREK THOMSON / HOW ABOUT YOUR CLOTHES, WHERE ARE THEY MADE?
PAUL HARNDEN / THERE ARE THESE SMALL MILLS IN ENGLAND WE WORK WITH. THEY DO TEST WEAVING BASICALLY. WE COME UP WITH AN IDEA, A DESIGN, & WE GO TO OUR WOOLEN MILL & THEY GO TO THE PATTERN MILL TO HAVE IT WOVEN UP, ON A VERY NARROW LOOM. THEY’LL DO A SAMPLE OF JUST A COUPLE OF YARDS. I’LL SAY ‘I WANT TO DO A HERRINGBONE WITH THESE PURPLE & BROWN COLOURS, & WE WANT TO RUN A STRIPE OF RED THROUGH IT. I WANT TO SEE IT IN A FEW VARIATIONS ON THAT THEME.’ THEY’LL RUN A FEW DIFFERENT COLOURS THROUGH A TEST PIECE OF CLOTH THAT THEY PUT ON THE LOOM— IT’S CALLED A BLANKET, A PATTERN BLANKET. IT’S A SINGLE PIECE OF CLOTH WITH 12 DIFFERENT COLOURWAYS. DID I SHOW YOU one WHEN YOU CAME IN HERE?
DT / YES. IT WAS A DARK GREY WORSTED. IT WAS FASCINATING. SOME OF THE SHADES I COULD BARELY TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN. BUT I IMAGINE WHEN YOU LOOK AT IT, ONE JUST FEELS RIGHT OR NOT.
PH / YOU GET A FEELING, AN INTUITION. IT’S LIKE ALCHEMY, BECAUSE WHEN YOU CHANGE one SHADE, OR one WEAVE, IT CHANGES IT COMPLETELY. I FEEL AS IF I SHOULD HAVE DONE A DEGREE IN WEAVING & FABRIC TECHNOLOGY, BECAUSE I’M TRYING TO DESIGN CLOTH & IT’S GOING THROUGH A DESIGNER AT THE WOOL MILL, WHO THEN GOES TO A PATTERN MILL, & THE IDEAS CAN SOMETIMES MISS, & SOMETHING COMES BACK & IT’S COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. IT’S VERY UNPREDICTABLE. YOU CAN’T IMAGINE & PREDICT HOW THE CLOTH IS GOING TO TURN OUT REALLY. I MEAN, YOU CAN TO A CERTAIN EXTENT, BUT IT’S STILL A LARGE MEASURE OF CHANCE & ALCHEMY. ANYWAY, IT’S A VERY LONG STORY ISN’T IT, THE YARN & EVERYTHING… IT’S TERRIBLE BECAUSE THE WOOL MILLS ARE RELYING ON THE YARN MILLS & THE YARN MILLS ARE RELYING ON THE FARMERS & THE SHEEP & EVERYTHING. IT’S A WHOLE CHAIN, ALL INTERCONNECTED, & IF one OF THE LINKS FALLS OUT, IF THE YARN DYERS OR THE PRODUCERS STOP, THEN THE MILLS ARE UP A CREEK. IT’S ALL GONE TO CHINA. IT’S BEEN DEVASTATED. THE DEVASTATION STARTED AFTER THE second WORLD WAR; IT JUST STARTED GOING DOWN AFTER THAT. IT’S JUST A MIRACLE SOME ARE STILL GOING.
WE’RE PRODUCING A FILM ABOUT THE PATTERN MILL & ITS DIRECTOR, GORDON HAWLEY. IT’S JUST AMAZING THAT IT’S STILL HAPPENING LIKE THAT IN 2011. I MEAN, IT COULD BE A HUNDRED YEARS AGO, COULDN’T IT? THE MACHINES ARE ANCIENT. THEY’VE GOT ABOUT 40 LOOMS GOING AT ONCE. THERE ARE MILLIONS OF MOVING PARTS ON JUST one OF THESE LOOMS. IF JUST one COTTER PIN BREAKS, YOU CAN IMAGINE— WHEN IT GOES WRONG, IT REALLY GOES WRONG. & ALL IT TAKES IS A HEALTH & SAFETY GUY TO COME IN & SAY ‘WE’RE CLOSING IT DOWN, IT’S TOO NUTS’ & IT’S OVER. WE’RE MAKING THE FILM TO RECORD IT FOR POSTERITY. IT’S PART OF OUR HERITAGE. THESE THINGS TAKE GENERATIONS TO DEVELOP, & THEY’RE GONE IN A SECOND AREN’T THEY? I’M REALLY PROUD OF THE WAY THEY’RE WORKING THERE. I JUST WANT TO RECORD IT. THEY’RE NOT MAKING THAT MUCH MONEY, IT’S ON A WING & A PRAYER, YOU KNOW. & WHEN GORDON RETIRES, THE HISTORY IS GONE. THIS IS THE LAST PATTERN MILL IN THE WORLD…]
Pete Cunningham commented on Paul Harnden Shoemakers post October 13, 2013
Just read your very interesting article on Paul Harnden…………..I worked with him, and Helena, in 2005 and 2006 when he was doing specially commissioned fabrics with Fox Bros of Wellington (Somerset), where I was Designer at that time. He liked to go through the archive books (some dating back to 1779), looking for his ‘inspirations…..and he really could ‘tweak’ original new concepts from those old swatches….we made some amazing fabrics for him during those years. The other thing that stands out for me, is that he used to take the fabric from us straight from the loom (unwashed!!!, unfinished!!!) which was almost unheard of because it is during finishing that fine woollen / worsted fabrics transform from a raw, rough commodity to a thing of beauty!! — not for him though, he explained to us that he would “bury the cloth underground for several weeks and let nature do the finishing work”!!! — which is how the fabrics achieve his ‘antique’ appearance.
Finally, I left Fox Bros myself in 2007, after six VERY interesting years, (so I don’t know if they are still doing fabrics for Paul) and I am now based in Yorkshire, near Huddersfield, where the old pattern weaving mill is located…….Gordon Hawley is now retired, but the mill is still going strong – now run by a very nice guy called Adrian (sorry his surname escapes me)……..in fact they are weaving some of the blankets I design for my current employer, Lassiere Mills, of Bradford.
Hope this info is of some interest, Pete Cunningham.