Earn Your Stripes
Jason Kelly and Oscar Elliston at Windridge & Young are looking to bring a breath of fresh air to the mysterious world of establishment neckwear
Article by Rupert Watkins
In a fast and frenetic world of style, fashion, dandyism and bizarre trends, certain items retain an aura of under-the-radar exclusivity. Despite an ever more politically correct environment – and the discreet question of does one want to shout one’s membership of a certain grouping to the world – the market for school, club, regimental or institutional ties remains resolutely and buoyantly strong.
Windridge & Young was born in late 2013. During an eight-year career in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as well as working on nuclear non-proliferation and counter-terrorism, Jason Kelly was also tasked to curate the centenary exhibit for the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). Through this he met the brand director for Aston Martin and, upon leaving Charles Street, worked with the revered car brand for their own centenary. At this time, he met his now business partner at Windridge & Young, Oscar Elliston who was in art public relations at the time, working for a number of high profile fairs such as Masterpiece.
A discrete government agency then reached out to Jason to ask whether he would be able to make up a tie for one of their departments, “reflective of the quality you can find in the UK but also showing something different” in his words. Asking Oscar for assistance, Jason investigated the possibilities with Vanners of Sudbury and the commission was successfully completed, with the agency using it as a liaison gift. Whilst the tie was being photographed, completely fortuitously the pair began chatting with the secretary of the St Moritz Tobogganing Club who happened to be in the studio. The club was looking for a new tie and this proved to be the creative spark for Windridge & Young – whose name merges their parental and grandparental surnames.
Jason and Oscar focus on the quality of their products and in taking time to understand the needs of the various establishments they work with. As they point out, many bodies are simply unaware of the options available to them. Working with Vanners, amongst other mills, Windridge & Young are able to offer hundreds of options, not just pattern wise but weave wise as well. As such it is a pretty even 50:50 split in their commissions between refreshing current ties and designing completely new patterns, “it’s a matter of challenging clubs to go away and rethink” Jason comments. They have also uncovered in Vanners’ archives many commercial organisation’s patterns and stripes which they believe some firms simply no longer know about.
Oscar points out that many sports teams – be they university or social – increasingly want some form of badge or colours and so the pair often find that they are approached by club’s committees seeking a specific design. Windridge & Young is currently dealing with around 40 organisations ranging from Oxbridge colleges to Pall Mall clubland, some to refresh their main tie, and others to design ties for teams and groups within that establishment. One of their notable commissions was designing from scratch the Submarine Service tie for that branch of the Royal Navy. Surprisingly the Silent Service has never until this point had their own unique tie.
Despite ties no longer being seen by many as a societal and wardrobe essential, Jason and Oscar believe that the tie remains a key part of the man’s wardrobe. They point out many silk mills have seen a year on year increase in tie sales for some time, proving the tie’s continuing longevity and appeal. Even though men may no longer own large numbers of ties, as Oscar says, “they may not be worn as much but increasingly a man may want to wear something that has meaning to him.” Despite the elitist overtones of the club or college tie, they both rightly point out that showing off an affiliation does not have to have connotations of class – they deal with a number of new social sports clubs who simply wish to have something unique. Even now at many sports clubs it is still compulsory to wear a tie for at least the away matches and frequently in the bar after a game. The young are still embracing ties. The two agree that ties are narrower than they were traditionally in this country – down to between seven and a half and eight centimetres from nine centimetres – but are as frequently worn to dress up in the evenings as to give a top level board presentation. Windridge & Young certainly benefit from the increasing preoccupation and interest in returning to dapper and more formal dressing.
Given they are a new and small business Windridge & Young’s biggest challenge has been merging client’s decision-making timelines with commercial viability. Jason says, “it’s a process on all sides; high quality takes time.” They recognise on the other side that many establishments have not considered refreshing their tie for many years and that it does take time to get member’s consensus. However, both comment that all the organisations they have dealt with have been very understanding about the issues the two of them face. The other biggest challenge they both openly admit has been the stresses it has occasionally placed on their friendship; the constant close proximity of working together. Disagreeing, but still being able to put issues to one side to enjoy a pint, has at times been hard. As Jason says, “I have actually learned a lot about myself doing this.”
Certainly the two appear to work well together. Oscar believes Jason’s ability to focus on the bigger picture is invaluable. From his time in the FCO, Jason clearly sees that a huge transferable skill has been in the ability to work with anybody and to understand how people tick. In return he believes Oscar’s PR background has been useful in being able to spot what’s trending: to see what’s in fashion. Both disarmingly admit they are in a very lucky position to be able to create a start-up firm. Indeed, when they came to creating the branding for Windridge & Young, Oscar was usefully able to call on a family relative who had designed branding for, among others, Marc Jacobs and Céline.
Windridge & Young’s focus remains firmly on ties. Oscar points out that “people want a luxury English-made quality product” and as such the pair remain keen to capitalise on their ever increasing client base and knowledge. The firm has dabbled in pocket squares but mainly as an accompaniment to their ties. For one club client they scanned a photo of the clubhouse and printed it onto silk. There are plans to launch a collection of ties in 2017, “inspired by the heritage of our clients thus far” and they are keen to push English-printed silk as part of this, working with Macclesfield silk printers.
However, at their core, Windridge & Young will continue to work with intuitions and establishments. They have already been described, “as the possible future guardians of the club tie” by one content client. There are no plans to offer women’s equivalents, “it’s a tricky area as women really don’t want to wear the same thing as each other” Oscar remarks. With this new brand dealing with ever-more establishments and with bold and ambitious plans in the offing for 2017, this tie duo are certainly really starting to earn their stripes.