Established in 1805 by John Crombie, the son of a family of weavers, the company began production at Cothal Mill on the River Don near Aberdeen. The dense woollen cloth it produced was scoured, milled, spun and woven to provide protection against the Scottish winter. His reputation growing, each year John Crombie would travel the country selling his high-quality luxury fabric to cloth merchants and London tailors who were looking for new and exciting materials for their wealthy customers. In 1821, when Crombie’s eldest son James joined the company, it became known as J&J Crombie Ltd. At the Great Exhibition in 1851 Crombie was presented with a medal by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and at the 1855 Exposition Universelle in Paris the company won a commendation from Napoleon III. Crombie cloth soon became the fabric of choice with Savile Row and other fashionable drapers in Great Britain and abroad.
Export markets expanded in 1861 when grey fabric was supplied to the Confederate side during the American Civil War. And, not content with providing protection against the winters of northern Britain, Crombie turned their attention to the harsh conditions in Russian. The famous Russian Coat was born in 1880 and it was soon the favourite of the Tsar and his royal court. Although Imperial Russia with its emperor and aristocracy was the antithesis of what the Communist Party believed in, members of the KGB and the Politburo, the ruling elite of the Soviet Union, had a preference for Crombie overcoats too. When Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev visited Britain in 1984 it was noted that he wore a Crombie. Obviously, not everything that the great enemy, Western Capitalism, produced was wrong!
From the 1870s Crombie’s grandson Theodore did much to increase the company’s presence in the world. He developed markets in countries as diverse as Canada and Japan and it wasn’t long before Crombie was manufacturing lightweight coats, suits and jackets for the Continental markets in France, Belgium and Germany. During World War One the company produced the serge, khaki and flannel materials that made up the greatcoats and uniforms of the officers of the British Army. And during World War Two it provided the cloth for the overcoats of hundreds of thousands of military and civilian personnel in Britain and the US. Historical figures of the time wore Crombie coats. King George VI wore a double-breasted Crombie overcoat with peaked lapels, as did the Hollywood actor Cary Grant, while Winston Churchill preferred a single-breasted Crombie overcoat with notched lapels. Not to be outdone, American presidents Dwight D Eisenhower and John F Kennedy were also fans.
In the 1920s the Crombies retired from the business and J&J Crombie Ltd was taken over by the Salt family of Saltaire in West Yorkshire. Later, in 1958, it became part of Illingworth Morris, Britain’s largest textile group. During the 1960s and 1970s Crombie coats entered British popular culture when they were worn by superstars such as the Beatles and became the trademark of sub-culture groups such as the Skinheads and the Mods.
Today, the scouring process is more refined and production has evolved to suit the technological age. Crombie is now a high-end fashion brand with stand-alone stores in Edinburgh, Manchester and London and an online store providing direct access to its products for international as well as domestic customers. With its sense of heritage, the Crombie coat is available in various styles, including the Retro, the Covert and the Authentic Greatcoat. Crombie jackets are currently offered, double- or single-breasted, in classically cut plain or striped wool. Women will be happy to learn that they can also avail themselves of the Crombie coat as there is a comprehensive range of beautifully stylish luxury ladies’ coats and jackets in cashmere and wool.