Priceless Fletcher Jones coat that fits us all
By Carol Altmann
Moments of magic happen when they are least expected which is, of course, what makes them so special.
And such a moment happened Saturday night (19/9), under the stars, in the chilly breezeway next to The Artery, in Warrnambool, when a small group of people bought a coat for the community.
This was no ordinary coat.
Like all of the other items up for sale at the Fabrication II auction that night, the coat was made of unwanted offcuts of vintage Fletcher Jones fabrics that had been retrieved by members of the art collective, The F Project, after the Fletcher Jones factory closed.
Except these offcuts were made of the finest cashmere and wool, designed and made in the United Kingdom exclusively for Fletcher Jones’ suiting when the company was at its heights and known for its clothing of enduring quality.
Young clothing designer Jack Hancock, who grew up in Warrnambool and is now finding his way in Melbourne, knew this fabric was special and the mere thought of it being destined for a dumpster made him almost weep.
Jack took these offcuts and created something exquisite: a single-button, double-breasted coat that fitted across the shoulders, but was deliberately “shapeless” across the hips so that it could be worn by either a man or a woman. The collar flipped up to reveal a splash of bright orange, a daring bolt of colour.
Turned, the back of the coat revealed an aerial view of the veins of Warrnambool – its waterways – the Merri and Hopkins rivers flowing toward the sea.
Each river was hand-sewn, stitch by gorgeous stitch, using silk thread.
This was a coat of fairytales, of fantasy and of Fletcher Jones.
Read more about the coat here
Jack, who is 24, stood nervously to the side, shifting from foot to foot, as he waited and waited and waited for his coat, the last item of the night, to go under the hammer. Would it sell?
At 24, Jack is one year older than Sir Fletcher was when he set out in a hawker’s van to sell his wares around Victoria, having been entranced by the world of the tailor.
“The first time I saw a tailor, tape around the neck, pin cushion clipped on his forearm, a chest full of tape and scissors and things, I was spellbound,” Sir Fletcher wrote in his memoir, Not by Myself.
To see Jack standing on the sidelines last night, doubting himself, wondering what would unfold, was to see a 2015 version of a young Fletcher Jones about to set forth on his destiny.
Auctioneer Gary Webb opened the bidding at $500. It then climbed to $800, $1000 and stalled, still below the reserve.
And then the magic happened.
Warrnambool identity Roy Reekie, together with a bidder who would prefer to remain unnamed, and Bluestone Magazine, all decided there and then that this coat needed to be bought and it needed to be owned by the community.
The three of us all bid independently, but knowing we would all contribute to the final cost – $1400, $1500, $1800, $1900….$1995…sold!
And with the fall of the gavel Warrnambool now has a very special coat – the Fletcher Jones Memorial Coat – that personifies all that Sir Fletcher stood for: quality, care, community, endeavour and taking time.
Jack, it must be said, was shaking.
It is a coat that, both Jack and the buyers hope, will eventually be displayed at the former Fletcher Jones factory but, as Jack insists, in the meantime it “must be worn”.
And it will be worn.
But by whom? When, and where?
Wait and see.
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