The world's coolest coat - made in Aberdeen

The Crombie has for generations been associated with men seeking a certain edge with everyone from skinheads to politicians, KGB agents and royalty all adopting the thick wool overcoat.

Wednesday, 19th October 2016, 8:41 pm
Updated Tuesday, 25th October 2016, 7:21 pm
A 1970s Russian advertisment for Crombie. PIC Crombie.
A 1970s Russian advertisment for Crombie. PIC Crombie.

The Crombie story began more than 200 years ago on the River Don in Aberdeenshire when John Crombie, son of a family of weavers, took over Cothal Mills at Fintray in 1806.

Parish records note the “plentiful supply of excellent water and a power waterfall, which saves the expenses of steam-power” at Fintray, the conditions allowing Crombie to forge ahead an make some of the world’s finest wool cloth.

It is said that an early company scourer used to clean the raw materials contained blood, ammonia, soap and urine bought from locals.

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An early 20th Century advertisement for Crombie overcoats. PIC Crombie.

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Crombie’s efforts to create a durable but attractive material paid off with the company receiving backing from the Board of Trustees for Fisheries and Manufactures in Scotland given the exceptional standard of its Forest cloth.

From this point, the Crombie brand became a byword for the well-dressed man.

Crombie started in a mill on the outskirts of Aberdeen more than 200 years ago. PIC Crombie.

Crombie, who hawked his cloth around London and Paris - often on horseback - received further accolades from Queen Victoria and Napoleon III for the quality of his wares.

It was from here that the firm moved from simply selling material to other manufacturers to designing its own coats.

The founder’s son, James, who was later to become a Liberal MP in Kincardineshire, was at the heart of the operation.

King George VI (right) visiting the Crombie Mill in Yorkshire in 1932 when he was still the Duke of York. . PIC Crombie.

Demand remained high for Crombie, no less because the company won several military contracts from the mid 1800s.

The firm supplied ‘Rebel Grey’ cloth for the Confederate Army in the American Civil War, and also supplied officers’ uniforms to the British Army and Royal Air Force during both World Wars.

During the Prussian siege of Paris in 1870 an order was sent by hot air balloon to secure delivery, according to company legend,

Theodore Crombie, grandson of John, continued to set up sales around the world. In Japan the brand got a foothold with Thomas Blake Glover - a North East industrialist who helped to establish the Mitsubishi Corporation - acting as an agent in Nagasaki.

John F Kennedy wearing a Crombie coat. PIC Crombie.

Meanwhile, in Aberdeen, Crombie outgrew the mills at Cothal, and in 1895, took over part of Grandholm Works in the north of the city and went through a period of unabated expansion. Grandholm’s waterwheel was claimed to be the largest in the world

Today, part of the mill is Category A listed - but remains largely an abandoned relic of the city’s textile past.

By the time the company relocated to Grandholm, Crombie was breaking new ground with the “Russian Coat” - a garment made from the heaviest pile that was to become the outerwear of choice for Tsars, the Russian imperial court and the Politburo.

It did not go unnoticed that former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was wearing a Crombie when he stepped onto British soil for the first time in December 1984.

Winston Churchill, John F Kennedy, Cary Grant and King George VI have all been photographed in the classic brand.

Crombie became part of the Illingworth Morris Empire in 1958 following its purchase by a Yorkshire textile family 30 years earlier.

An early 20th Century advertisement for Crombie overcoats. PIC Crombie.

The mills at Grandholm in Aberdeen, where the Crombie brand was stitched into textile and menswear history, were closed for good in the early 1990s.

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Crombie started in a mill on the outskirts of Aberdeen more than 200 years ago. PIC Crombie.
King George VI (right) visiting the Crombie Mill in Yorkshire in 1932 when he was still the Duke of York. . PIC Crombie.
John F Kennedy wearing a Crombie coat. PIC Crombie.