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From the Silk Road to you

David Nieper
Style Advice

The world’s most lustrous, luxurious fabric has a long and intriguing history. The silk that we select for you to enjoy wearing today has travelled across continents, from China all the way to Europe, then to our sewing rooms in Derbyshire. Finest silk has been making this kind of journey for centuries, along the ancient Silk Road.

This legendary path saw a rise in trade during the Han Dynasty, which began its rule in China in 206 BC. Such was the demand for silks and other treasures coming out of the East, the Chinese protected the route by extending the Great Wall of China. Venetian explorer Marco Polo used the Silk Road to venture from Italy to China, travelling by camel to the glorious summer palace of Kublai Khan. Even the names of the places along the route have a mythical appeal... Antioch, Samarkand and Constantinople. These days, most silk does not travel down the Euphrates or the Tigris rivers, but it still comes from the same authentic sources where farmers and weavers have been making splendid silks for generations.

Pure Silk Kimono Pure Silk Kimono

One of the first Englishmen to bring Chinese silks to Britain at the start of the 20th century was William Bennett of Manchester. His wealth of knowledge about the quality and manufacture of silk was highly sought-after in Lancashire’s burgeoning textiles industry. His company, Bennetts Silks, is still thriving today and is run by William’s great-grandsons. We’ve been buying our coloured silks from Bennetts for many years, so we ask Emily, our senior designer, to tell us a bit more about them. “The trade links with Chinese silk merchants that William Bennett formed over a hundred years ago are still going strong. The company seeks out the most gorgeous pure silks and brings them back to England. They are one of the few companies in Britain who offer a bespoke dyeing and printing service, so they can create fabulous, exclusive silk fabrics for us.”

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Having the best silk to work with is just the beginning. It takes a great deal of skill to turn the bolts of fabric into quality silk dresses and clothing. We ask Ali, our silk sewing team leader, about what happens when the silk fabrics reach our Derbyshire sewing rooms. “The seamstresses in our silk team are chosen for their long experience. It takes time to learn how to handle silk. I always think of a silk seamstress as being a bit like a painter. Her movements are very precise but light and flowing. Every stitch counts. We’ve all experienced that wonderfully soft and slightly slippery feel of pure silk – it’s lovely to wear but you can probably imagine how tricky it is to work with. Our team are so used to it that it’s second nature to them. They’re real masters of their craft.”

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Luxury Pure Silk Dress Luxury Pure Silk Dress
Luxury Silk Tee Luxury Silk Tee

Emily tells us more about the silk in this season’s collection. “We have three different types of silk for summer; coloured silk, printed silk and washed silk, which is more matt in texture. Each one will bring something unique and luxurious to your summer wardrobe.” Unlike in ancient times, there’s no longer any need to keep your prized silk clothes under wraps, to be worn only on special occasions. We only select the best silks with a high momme count. That’s a sign of quality, rather like a thread count for cotton. So you can be sure that your superb quality silk clothing can be worn and easily cared for without losing any of its wonderful lustre over time. While the romance of the silk road may have faded a little in these days of speedy air travel, the allure of silk is as strong as ever. Every time you slip on a sumptuously soft silk garment, you’re weaving yourself into the story of nature’s finest fabric.

A story destined to continue for centuries to come.

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Ways to wear silk

“Every woman deserves to have at least a few lovely garments in her wardrobe. You can wear this silk blouse and silk skirt together to create the look of a dress – a lovely style for a special occasion, especially with a smart jacket. Or wear them separately with trousers or a simple top for a less dressy look.”
Emily Walker, Senior Designer

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