All in a day’s work: Racing silks maker Adrian Wray *H&H Plus*

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  • Allertons managing director Adrian Wray on the glamour of silks, the royal colours and switching to scrubs during lockdown

    A great pal of mine was riding in the Fox Hunters’ Chase at Aintree in 1988, in a roll-neck woolly jumper.

    He fell, and the following day, having broken his collar-bone at Aintree – which he didn’t own up to – he rode at a point-to-point in horizontal snow. I refused to get out of the lorry. He was third in fearful conditions, and came back freezing cold and soaking wet.

    I said, “It’s ridiculous; you spent all week trying to lose weight and come back in a woolly jumper that weighs a huge amount more than when it started out.”

    So I came up with the concept of weatherproof racing colours and made our first set for him. Then we put a quarter page ad in Horse & Hound – I’ve still got it – and got 89 enquiries.

    My wife and I cleared the decks in our small London flat, laid the patterns and fabric on the floor and spent all weekend hand-cutting. We took it to a lady to machine them, she said, “Sorry, you’ll have to do it all again; you haven’t done it well enough.”

    Hours of blood, sweat and tears, and hundreds of pounds worth of fabric up the swanny!

    Thirty years later, we still make weatherproof colours, as well as Flat summer colours, rugs, number cloths and winners sheets. Silks have amazing glamour and cachet and those of us who go racing get an immense amount of pride watching horses parade or race and seeing our silks.

    We’ve had winners at the Derby, the Grand National, the Gold Cup, the Arc, the Dubai World Cup – even the Melbourne Cup with Joseph O’Brien’s Rekindling. We’re a tiny workshop on the world stage.

    The silks are all bespoke, and handmade, in Britain. We have some highly-skilled artisans, and they are all women. The jockeys like the silks as they’re high performance, properly shaped and lightweight; trainers like them because they’re machine-washable and relatively durable, and owners like them because the patterns and design are all perfect in shape and proportion and precision-cut.

    It takes from three to eight hours to make one set and we make 40 to 50 a week.

    We sell a lot of red white and blue, and emerald, green and orange. People favour national, football or heraldic colours. There’s a dark green and gold scheme in the workshop at the moment; silks, a velvet cap with gold tassel, and rugs to match, with white trim. It looks fantastic.

    When Prince George was born in 2013, he was presented with a teddy bear when he came out of hospital. On the bear was a set of The Queen’s racing silks, made by us.

    When the Covid-19 crisis emerged, it was clear racing was going to come to a halt. I woke up one morning and thought, “If we’re not going to be making silks, what can we do to help?” The press was banging on about the NHS being under-equipped with scrubs.

    We emailed all the local hospitals and Warwick said, “Thank goodness you can help, we have dozens of doctors joining us, students or people coming out of retirement and we have no scrubs for them.” We started from scratch, we didn’t have a pattern or fabric, but the team pulled together; they worked out a pattern, sized, sampled and tested it, and the purchasing team begged the fabric from someone.

    We made 800 garments over about five weeks. The benefit to the NHS is great, but the amazing thing I hadn’t thought of at the time, was the benefit to the people in the business. We had a focus which was positive. Everyone was isolating and following all the rules of lockdown and they would have been sitting with little to do and lots to worry about.

    Instead, they worked weekends, evenings, bank holidays – the atmosphere was incredible.

    Everyone mucked in; the book-keeping lady, the production team, and my wife drove the scrubs to the hospital. They did themselves and the NHS proud.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 30 July 2020