History of Hilditch & Key
In 1899, two employees in the shirt making company of Harman’s Duke Street decided to open their own shop in Tottenham Court Road in London. They were Charles F. Hilditch and W. Graham Key. The partnership soon prospered, and the name of Hilditch & Key became a favorite with the fashionable London gentry of the day. MI. Hilditch also became a familiar figure at the great universities, offering personal services to the gentlemen undergraduates.
After a few years it was necessary to move into more extensive premises on the corner of Duke Street and Jermyn Street, establishing their long association with the exclusive St. James area. The Company enjoyed further prosperity, and in 1907 another branch opened in the Rue de Rivoli, Paris which was equally successful.
During the “London Blitz” of World War II, the St. James’s shop and a large workroom in Store Street were both destroyed on the same night and temporary premises were founded at 65 Jermyn Street. After a short while, the Company moved to 39 Jermyn Street. In 1978 an additional shop was acquired in Jermyn Street at No. 37. Today, you can find Hilditch & Key shops in Jermyn Street at No. 37, 73 and in the Rue de Rivoli in Paris.
In 1981 Hilditch & Key began to sell their shirts at selected stores worldwide in order to market its collection for the first time. This wholesale section of the business has been considerably developed in the United States, Europe, as well as the Far East in recent years. In existence from January 1993, the Wholesale Division has been further expanded to speciality menswear retail outlets throughout the United Kingdom. The brand, with its reputation for very high-quality merchandise—shirts in particular, is exclusive in itself and, therefore, its distribution is carefully monitored by Hilditch & Key. Point of sale and promotional material is produced in at least four foreign languages.
The shirts are cut by hand: the bodies with shears, the collars with a knife, whereas body patterns and collar styles are of their own design. Their shirts are manufactured in their factory on flat sewing machines, which are basically the same as in the past, and the seaming is single needle. The stitch length is very small giving clean, strong, neat seams, but not so small that it leads to too great a tension and thus “puckering” on the seams.
The two-piece collars, which are the most important part of the shirt, are all turned by hand and have removable stiffeners (which must be taken out for laundering). The buttons are never synthetic mother-of-pearl, and the shirts are pressed by hand. The yoke is split at the back and cut on the bias for better shape, fit and comfort. Extra fabric is stitched on both sides of the gauntlet to give a good overlap and finish. Thus, it is not necessary to have a little button on the gauntlet.
A Hilditch & Key shirt is long: as much as 1 inch longer at the back than the front, and the triangular gusset at the bottom of each side seam ensures extra strength and comfort over the hip. If the shirt is manufactured from a striped fabric, the stripes are matched at the following places: the front and back of the collar, giving a clean leading edge, the split yoke, where the shoulder meets the sleeve, and where the extra fabric is placed on the sleeve for the gauntlets. Only the very finest fabrics are used in the production of a Hilditch & Key shirt. All the traditions and skills of Jermyn Street shirt making are to be found at Hilditch & Key.
Apart from the obvious basics—solids, end on ends, Bengal’s, ans so on—there are always a number of designs in each collection that are exclusive to Hilditch & Key worldwide.
All ties are hand-slipped by their own tie-makers, and feature the distinctive Hilditch & Key tipping. Hilditch & Key have developed their own exclusive tie shape in recent seasons; whilst a little longer than most ties, the main feature is the slightly broader shape of the blade. From a width of 9.5 cm, the tie blade is kept broader as it moves towards the area of the knot. This enables the wearer to present the beautiful colors and patterns associated with silk fabric more clearly.
Hilditch & Key have been described in the Financial Times of London as Europe’s leading maker of custom shirts. These shirts are made in the same way as their ready-made shirts with the exception that each customer has his own complete cutting pattern, which is kept in perpetuity. In addition, they will embroider the customer’s initials by hand on the shirts, and even engrave his initials on the buttons. Their clientele ranges from the crowned heads of Europe to diplomats, government ministers and a cross-section of international figures in the world of art, fashion, entertainment and business.
Pictures which do not bear the Gentleman’s Gazette logo are displayed with courtesy of Peter Owen.