LONDON — The meeting of Earl of Bedlam’s cofounders Caroline Butler and Mark Wesley, as Butler tells it, was almost inevitable. When she was working in media in the U.S. and feeling a bit disenchanted about the direction her life had taken, she met John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s former live-in psychic. “It was about a year before I met Mark that I met the psychic that lived with them at the Dakota in New York,” she recalled. “She told me that I would meet a man in France; he’d have a son and gray hair. Then, when I was in the South of France in 2009, I met a single dad whose hair, when he took off his hat, was gray.”
She set up Earl of Bedlam with Goldsmith College-trained Wesley in 2010, naming the label after the infamous Bethlehem asylum that once stood nearby as a tribute to the local landmark that was also known as “Bedlam.”
Initially, they specialized in purely bespoke men’s wear, providing “classics that have stood the test of time but giving them a modern, relevant, contemporary and witty twist,” said Butler. “All our clothes have stories, there are eccentric touches but we never impose anything alien on a client; it’s about waking up the most fashionable person you can be. At 20 paces, one of our suits might look like classic killer boardroom attire but, up close, you can see bias-cut panels and quirky details.”
At the end of 2012, and wanting to expand from bespoke into ready-to-wear, Butler was telling Baron Sweerts de Landas Wyborg of their search for investors to grow the business. The Baron, or Dolph, offered his financial support. They pulled the rtw collection together in just a few weeks, earning it the title Hell for Leather for the rapid pace in which it was created, and for the leather and equestrian details it featured.
The collection, which riffs heavily on traditional English men’s classics, is made entirely from British fabrics and manufactured in the U.K. It is stocked at Any Old Iron in New York’s Lower East Side, and at the Bucceuch & Queensberry Arms Hotel, which is owned by the Baron’s family, on the Scottish Borders. Their London shop is visited by appointment: “Buying a piece of bespoke clothing is not like popping out to buy a pint of milk,” said Butler. “It’s a significant commitment. When people do find us, they do love what we’re about. When people reach the top of the stairs [at the studio], we know they’re serious.”
The brand is soon to launch a collection of silk scarves all with “hand-rolled edges by a lady in Hull,” featuring the likenesses of Zelda Fitzgerald, Errol Flynn and Clara Bow, among others. The scarves, said Butler, are proof that “out of any crappy situation, one can find something good.” In September last year, Butler helped to save the life of a stabbing victim who, she said, “collapsed almost on our doorstep.” Months later, when she was called as witness on the trial, she was bemoaning the fact that the brand had been denied the rights to use artwork created by one of Bedlam’s inmates on the scarves to a fellow witness, Scottish-born artist Anna McNeil, who offered to provide the artwork instead.
Prices start from 120 pounds, or $192, for a silk scarf to 2,000 pounds, or $3,200, for a bespoke suit. The brand also offers a selection of tailored women’s wear.
Wesley and Butler are serious about expanding their business and are actively seeking new investment for the brand.