Sarah Ford meets a young designer who is bringing traditional country clothing to a new generation
If you have been lucky enough to visit some of this year’s top events on the social calendar – perhaps Henley Royal Regatta or the Gatcombe Horse Trials – the chances are that you will have been introduced to an exciting new fashion label.Henry Hunt is a unique take on quintessential English clothing, and the company has been busy showcasing its original and exclusive designs at fashion shows and county and equestrian events up and down the country.However, it may surprise you to learn that the face behind this hot new name is no Johnnie Boden clone but a young university student from Somerset.Phoebe Garlick is still only 21 years old, but she has seen her business grow at an incredible rate since the launch of the label last December.
The former SCAT student and pupil of Queen’s College in Taunton says she began researching the idea for her business while studying for her degree in fashion design at Westminster University in London.“I got really enthusiastic about it and once I got the ball rolling it got bigger and bigger,” recalls Phoebe, who was keen to combine the clothes she wore at home in the country in Somerset with her high fashion city style.“So, for example, we have taken a classic garment, like a tweed hacking jacket, and given it silk trims and bright linings to make it appeal to our market.”Phoebe lives in the middle of the countryside in the Blackdown Hills in a beautiful home renovated by her father, Andrew, a harpsichord maker. Mum Jane and elder sister Hannah work at Henry Hunt with Phoebe, who has deferred her return to university for the time being.“I have the option to go back next year. It feels like the time has gone by so quickly,” she says.Phoebe’s interest in fashion began as a youngster watching her mother at work on her wedding waistcoat business.“I used to have my own desk and made waistcoats for my Barbie dolls,” Phoebe smiles.“I wasn’t allowed to use the sewing machine when I was very young but I would hand-stitch these dresses for my mum and make her wear them!“I think a lot of people are surprised to hear that I run a company but they also want to know how it all started. I like doing the shows because I get to speak to the customers and hear their feedback.”The Henry Hunt collection features an exclusive range of soft tweed skirts, snugly hoodies, casual-fit shirts, waistcoats, tweed jackets and tops. Phoebe makes all the samples herself, and then wears and washes the samples to ensure that they are just right, before they are created for the customer.The company uses factories in Chard, Plymouth and Exeter to make their collections and all of the fabric is sourced in England. This includes tweed from Fox Brothers and Co Ltd in Wellington, which was founded in 1772 and is now co-owned by entrepreneur Deborah Meaden, famous for her appearances on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den.“There are many different weights and types of tweed, and when you are working with it you find out how it moves,” Phoebe explains.
“Tweed moulds to your body and that’s what makes it so comfortable to wear; every fabric is so different and we have to make up a sample to see how it will perform. Tweed is also quite good in the rain – not waterproof, but so durable. Pockets are also very useful, they are not just for decoration. “It’s all very well designing a tweed jacket if you have lived in London all your life but you don’t know where the original inspiration comes from and why it’s got all the bits and pieces. The jackets are classic, have a flattering cut and appeal to a wide age range; we get customers from all corners of England, from Europe and even Australia.”While I am here with Phoebe I also get to meet another star of Henry Hunt – Pickles the black Labrador – who is the model for the company logo. And I also take time to appreciate the glorious countryside that no doubt provides much inspiration for this young designer and company director.“Growing up here we had free run of the countryside and my sister and I have always ridden horses. We used to have lots of animals – parrots, cows, sheep,” says Phoebe, who tries to get up to London as much as she can to keep up with the latest trends.“London is one of the best places to be for fashion. English style is different from anywhere else in the world; there is an eccentricity about it. But rather than bringing fashion into the country, we wanted to show the countryside influence on fashion.”