Shopping with experts: John Smedley knits

Colour card We went to the newly refurbished John Smedley store in Brook St, London this week. Smedley is 225 years old as a brand, which in fashion years is staggeringly ancient. It has a terrific heritage (the long-john is named after John Smedley), forms close releationships with all its New Zealand farmers (all the sheep used for yarn are traceable) and Derbyshire workers (all the garments are made in the UK) and the quality of the clothes is ace, yet dispite these bang-on-trend qualities, it's been ages since we checked out the clothes, why is that?

Could be because the clothes are expensive (because, of course quality doesn't come cheap), womens knits start at just over £100 and those classic twinsets we associate Smedley's with are now available anywhere. And of course there's been our love affair with cashmere which means we were blinded to anything that wasn't as fluffy as a kitten. Well guess what? Cashmere is a pain, it pills like mad and moths LOVE it, we're going off it big time.

Our visit to the store taught us the following, firstly the colour range is quite outstanding, there are about twenty colours used in the range so if you are looking for a tricky colour in a knit, this is probably the place to start. 12 new shades alone were added to the winter range including the romantically named morning blue, imperial purple and star anise.

The second thing we discovered is the toughness of the merino yarn, which despite feeling expensively delicate is in fact machine washable and will not fade. The brand employs a rigerous testing system in the factories that involves washing test pieces at 60c and then tumble drying with tennis balls (I am not making this up). If the tested garments show any sign of pilling damage, the whole batch is rejected. And although we don't suggest you put your Smedley's through a hot wash, what ever you buy will easily stand a 40c wash in your machine. We didn't know that.

And then thirdly there's the more fashionable pieces that Smedley has done, the dresses (which I ended up buying, £165), the cardi called Nan, which looks beautiful in autumn gold and anything with the delicate filligree point-of-difference detailing that the brand's specialist machinery can do. I even loved the super fine knitted pyjamas which take their inspiration from original Smedley underwear from the 1950s. One piece, although expensve, will go a long way for a long time if you choose it carefully.

Some readers might also like to know that Bill Nighy is a very big Smedley fan (as are Helen Mirren and Paul Weller), the store is used to him frequently popping in and buying 'his usual', according to the lovely store manager Neil Tweddell, who himself has been called the 'best store manager in London' by Mary Portas. Since we have a bit of a middleagecrush on Mr Nighty we can't think of a better reason to hang about the store.

John Smedley

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