Priceless Fletcher Jones coat that fits us all

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jack with coat
Designer Jack Hancock brings out his bespoke Fletcher Jones Memorial Coat as part of the fashion parade before the Fabrication II auction. Image: Kim Sargent-Wishart.

By Carol Altmann

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #DC943C;”] M [/dropcap]oments of magic happen when they are least expected which is, of course, what makes them so special.

And such a moment happened Saturday night (19/9), under the stars, in the chilly breezeway next to The Artery, in Warrnambool, when a small group of people bought a coat for the community.

This was no ordinary coat.

Like all of the other items up for sale at the Fabrication II auction that night, the coat was made of unwanted offcuts of vintage Fletcher Jones fabrics that had been retrieved by members of the art collective, The F Project, after the Fletcher Jones factory closed.

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Except these offcuts were made of the finest cashmere and wool, designed and made in the United Kingdom exclusively for Fletcher Jones’ suiting when the company was at its heights and known for its clothing of enduring quality.

back of coat
The Merri and Hopkins rivers on the back of the coat: Image Jack Hancock.

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #DC943C;”] Y [/dropcap]oung clothing designer Jack Hancock, who grew up in Warrnambool and is now finding his way in Melbourne, knew this fabric was special and the mere thought of it being destined for a dumpster made him almost weep.

Jack took these offcuts and created something exquisite: a single-button, double-breasted coat that fitted across the shoulders, but was deliberately “shapeless” across the hips so that it could be worn by either a man or a woman. The collar flipped up to reveal a splash of bright orange, a daring bolt of colour.

Turned, the back of the coat revealed an aerial view of the veins of Warrnambool – its waterways – the Merri and Hopkins rivers flowing toward the sea.

Each river was hand-sewn, stitch by gorgeous stitch, using silk thread.

This was a coat of fairytales, of fantasy and of Fletcher Jones.

[learn_more caption=”Read more about the coat here”] ….The internal structure of this wool/cashmere garment is supported by woven horsehair canvas, a traditional suiting canvas used to maintain form. Unlike contemporary suiting and coating construction, these breast plates were mounted against the wools by hand, using needle and thread. The lining is a combination of silk fabrics for the body and shirting for the sleeve. As part of my own process, I strive to maintain these traditional technqiues whilst experimenting with new themes. This coat could be worn casually on a day to day basis or kept as a special garment. It is intended to last for a long period of time and does not draw themes from fashion or trends. Investing in a coat like this could be likened to the purchase of a set of fine silver cutlery or a tea service of fine bone china. Both should be used and enjoyed, and with care, will one day be given to somebody else who will do the same. [/learn_more]

Jack, who is 24, stood nervously to the side, shifting from foot to foot, as he waited and waited and waited for his coat, the last item of the night, to go under the hammer. Would it sell?

young fj
A young Fletcher Jones in his days as a hawker. Image: Screen Australia.

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #DC943C;”] A [/dropcap]t 24, Jack is one year older than Sir Fletcher was when he set out in a hawker’s van to sell his wares around Victoria, having been entranced by the world of the tailor.

“The first time I saw a tailor, tape around the neck, pin cushion clipped on his forearm, a chest full of tape and scissors and things, I was spellbound,” Sir Fletcher wrote in his memoir, Not by Myself.

To see Jack standing on the sidelines last night, doubting himself, wondering what would unfold, was to see a 2015 version of a young Fletcher Jones about to set forth on his destiny.

Auctioneer Gary Webb opened the bidding at $500. It then climbed to $800, $1000 and stalled, still below the reserve.

And then the magic happened.

Roy Reekie, left, inspects the exquisite coat made by Jack that he helped purchase for the community. Image: Madeleine Peters.

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #DC943C;”] W [/dropcap]arrnambool identity Roy Reekie, together with a bidder who would prefer to remain unnamed, and Bluestone Magazine, all decided there and then that this coat needed to be bought and it needed to be owned by the community.

The three of us all bid independently, but knowing we would all contribute to the final cost – $1400, $1500, $1800, $1900….$1995…sold!

And with the fall of the gavel Warrnambool now has a very special coat – the Fletcher Jones Memorial Coat – that personifies all that Sir Fletcher stood for: quality, care, community, endeavour and taking time.

Jack, it must be said, was shaking.

It is a coat that, both Jack and the buyers hope, will eventually be displayed at the former Fletcher Jones factory but, as Jack insists, in the meantime it “must be worn”.

And it will be worn.

But by whom? When, and where?

Wait and see.

[box]While Bluestone would love to say we made a major contribution to this coat, in reality we only made a small contribution. Roy Reekie and the other donor were the major contributors. The Fabrication II auction is a major fundraiser for The Artery and F Project.[/box]

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newsletter Why Not StonesYou might also enjoy reading…

Fabrication II gives birth to new life: Delise Oldfield

No cutting corners: Jack Hancock joins Fabrication II

FJ studio proves to be a real plus: Danielle O’Brien

The twists and turns of textiles: Ruby Richardson

17 thoughts on “Priceless Fletcher Jones coat that fits us all”

  1. Just had a little weep when I read this story, how absolutely wonderful. Wish I could have been there to see it unfold. Congratulations Jack and thank-you Bluestone, Roy Reekie and the other generous contributor. Warrnambool is now richer in so many ways…..

  2. Well done everyone. What a great idea. Congratulations to all who had anything to do with the auction.

  3. Lovely to see this purchase unfold at The Artery last night. Now we know the intention of the bidders and can applaud it. Well done to all.

  4. What a stunning outcome to a wonderful story. It’s gratifying to read such a positive report on the generosity in the community. Well done to everyone concerned.

  5. I am presently in Canada visiting my family. My son Robert sent me the article in the Standard. It brought tears to my eyes Maurie, who was chef at F J , always considered him as his role model. You will never be forgotten F.J

  6. What a wonderful story and generous offering for the community. So proud of Jack, and of the coat’s buyers. Like Claire Drylie I also had a little weep…

  7. Credit for the community gift is really due to Jack himself.

    The anonymous donor and I agreed that, whoever of us won the bidding battle, we would give it back to Jack. That was her idea and a damn fine one.

    But Jack and Bluestone had other ideas.

    Once the dust of the saleyards excitement over the auction of this amazing piece settled, Jack refused our re gifting. Then, as co-conspirator and custodian of our little consortium’s soul, you Carol suggested the solution. ‘Hey Jack’, sez you, ‘why don’t you put it in the FJ’s museum when it is up and running?’

    There are still some legalities to organise around actual ownership, but that -as they say in the classics – was that and, Robert is your aunty’s brother, Warrnambool has a new iconic expression of itself.

  8. Fletcher Jones Stories from Our Community Project is proving to be a wonderful way as Lorraine Kane so beautifully put it – of “connecting the past to the present for the future.” And I love that we have so many beautiful artworks now that have been inspired by the site, the workers and Fletcher Jones and his humanity. Megan Nicholson’s ‘Golden Years’ is a beautiful example of our talented local artists drawing inspiration from the factory workers’ stories.

    This is what she said: “I’d had this scrap jacket for a while and had wanted to paint it gold for the ( F Project fundraising auction and embroider a garden scene. I then attended one of Julie Eagles Stories of FJ workshops where I sat at a table with some gorgeous old gentlemen. Lawson Ryan told me how he had begun at FJ’s at 18, a boy from a large family with little education, and Sir Fletcher took him under his wing and provided him with the support and education that he moved up the ranks to a managerial position looking after Dry Cleaning in various places around Australia. He had lots of great anecdotes & photos but mostly an immense pride for his time spent at FJ’s. I then found a photo which I imagine to be from the 50’s/60’s which showed the dry cleaning service. For Lawson and FJ’s I think it was the golden years of their lives.”

  9. And that my friends is community spirit. It’s a pity we don’t see more of it but it should be recognised. Well done to all who contributed, but mostly to Jack the artist for his incredible artistic talent. Keep up the good work.

  10. So sorry to miss this event. A great story, but importantly all the wonderful aspects of our community comming together, honoring our past, creativity, sense of community and supporting talented young people. Fantastic job Jack, and to those who recognise the importance and value of the symbol that the coat presents.

  11. “Priceless Fletcher Jones Coat”…I couldn’t agree more, I broke out in goosebumps reading your wonderful Article. I was fortunate enough to take several photos of The Coat as I knew I was looking at something very special, Gareth looking like a Pro Model did it proud. I was relaying the events to my Sister who was unable to attend, saying “magic happened”, the same sentiment you used in your article.

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