Fashion in Leeds to return to its roots with new venture, says Harold Tillman

Harold Tillman
Harold Tillman
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A pioneering new Leeds city fashion and retail centre is set to bring a much-needed boost to local design and manufacturing, says former Jaeger boss and retail entrepreneur Harold Tillman.

Described as the “Covent Garden of the North”, Lambert’s Yard is currently under development on Lower Briggate in Leeds, and will offer independent designer fashion and lifestyle brands alongside art collaborations and studios to tutor and support young and emerging Yorkshire designers and makers. Due to open in November, the innovative project is a collaboration between Leeds-based property developer City Fusion, the charity Regeneration through the Arts, Leeds City Council and the Centre for Fashion Enterprise (CFE).

Chairman of the British Fashion Council for six years until completing his term last year, Tillman is ambassador and key advisor for Lambert’s Yard and has strong roots in Leeds. His Yorkshire father, an apprentice tailor at Benjamin Simon and Montague Burton in the city, met Tillman’s mother, a milliner, during the war. They married and lived in Chapeltown, moving to London a month before Tillman was born, although he still has family here. “Our roots have always been in Leeds,” he said.

After studying at the London College of Fashion and building a fashion empire in London, Harold Tillman took over Leeds manufacturer Sumrie Clothes in the early 1980s and in 1999 bought the Baird menswear brands from William Baird plc, also forming a division that launched clothing for Sainsbury’s.

“I have a heart still here,” he said. “The industry in Leeds was reduced dramatically by imports, tariffs being removed, quotas being removed, competition from low cost countries ultimately ended up demolishing the core of many hundreds of thousands of people’s livelihoods in this area.”

Now 68, Tillman is himself no stranger to the ups and downs of the fashion and retail world. In 2003 he bought Jaeger, and was credited with its revival, then bought Aquascutum in 2009, but lost control of both companies in 2012 when debts were sold.

He sees Lambert’s Yard as a pioneering project that could help kick-start design and manufacturing in Yorkshire, recovering long-lost skills. He said: “What I would like to see, instead of it just being a very good political comment to say manufacturing growth is on the up in the UK - I keep reading this, manufacturing output is going up - well, against what? Where are the Government investing or helping to invest?”

A champion of young talent, Tillman is chairman of Fashion Matters, which provides scholarships for London College of Fashion (he has put in a £1m personal grant).

Lambert’s Yard will aim to promote and support Yorkshire’s fashion, clothing and textile industries by bringing together independent fashion and design brands while assisting fashion designers to become self-supporting by providing work space, galleries and other facilities on favourable terms, establishing a permanent fashion incubator in the city.

Independent brands taking part include Stutterheim, Private White VC, Peridot London and Leeds designer Julia D’Arby. The centre will have relaxed, vibrant and creative environment with a cafe in an around the Grade II listed Lambert’s House, which was built around 1600 on Lower Briggate near Call Lane, an area that has been home to the city’s artisans since the thirteenth century.

Tillman, 68, was awarded the CBE in 2012 for services to the British fashion industry. He still has fashion and retail interests and owns a restaurants business with his son.

He said he hopes Lambert’s Yard will generate excitement in Leeds and Yorkshire, encouraging young people both to create and to make, outside of “overcrowded” London. “This is a wonderful opportunity to bring it back to its origins, which is Leeds,” he said.

“What we have to recognise is that the UK is still probably the most inspirational creative and inspirational fashion country in the world. We have an edginess and a fearlessness.”

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