For most of our customers, I suspect most people, standard luxury is probably better than much of the stuff at the “high end”, and definitely better than no luxury at all!
I say this because as you go up in price flavours can become more of an acquired taste. Specific and developed in one particular area, or so unique and special as to be simply not to everyone’s taste. A well-chosen bottle of wine at a modest price point will out-satisfy on a pound per smile basis a rare vintage with strong character. Likewise, a tightly curled Gotland might be soft and pretty, but at over £200 a go it is easy to see why the Army adopted a “no-one will see it anyway” attitude for their WWII bomber jackets. The jackets, were, I note, perfect for the job and still in use today.
Other military grade items have at times become so sought after that looking after them has required, ahem, additional security. You’d like to think a military superpower would be properly on top of their security brief.
Sheepskins in Military Kit
During WWII pilots could suffer burns over exposed skin during cockpit fires (which could often be extinguished). Gloves were made that failed to convince the pilots. Sure, they said they liked the gloves, but in operation they preferred so strongly the tactile feedback, that they rejected the gloves and flew with naked hands and wrists. The military launched a war time effort to make the best glove possible. Unborn calf foetuses, where the cow had died during birth, were used to make the leather – quite exceptionally soft, and in very short supply. The cuts that were developed by the seamstresses in the factories at Stoke Sub Hamden and elsewhere were so good that each factory producing them made either left- or right-hand gloves, not pairs.
This was due to theft of the gloves, which was so prevalent owing to their softness and the comfort of fit. The gloves had to provide the pilot with protection from fire, but crucially the pilots also needed a very high level of tactile sensitivity. The need to really feel with their fingers lead some pilots not to wear gloves at all, hence the military sized effort towards a better glove. These gloves were military-grade luxury, and everyone wanted a bit of it. Well, what they could get was a bit of it, what they actually wanted was two bits, and preferably matching.
Add to this mix the sheer logical Britishness of using these fleeces, rather than burning or burying them, which is the current practice. Less than half of one percent of the sheep we eat will be used for sheepskin – the bulk of sheepskins from more than fifteen million sheep are destroyed, each year. This is because of a huge decline in the demand for fur products. After a very successful anti-fur campaign in the 80’s, consumer demand for sheepskin dropped to almost zero. The campaigners equated all fur as the same, sheepskins became tainted just as the leopard skin coat (although how anyone ever bought a nine-leopard-skin coat thinking it was in any way OK is beyond me). The campaign saved many mink’s lives, no doubt about it, but the sheep still died, and we still ate them. It’s just that now we destroy the sheepskins and make fabrics from oil to replace them.
Living Off The Land Army
For the Army and luxury goods manufacturers emotional attachments are an unnecessary encumbrance. Rolls Royce still line their footwells and doors with lambskin, coloured in accordance with the exterior of the car. It’s a good choice of material, very insulating (now approved for use in Passivhaus building construction). The sheepskin will buffer humidity due to the hydrophobic nature of the surface of each hair, ideal in a cold metal box that one breaths in for hours. The fleece also has an acoustic mass, and this means that Rolls Royce can use much less acoustic foam and other rubbers and plastics that would otherwise encase the passengers. Sheepskin feels good – and everyone who sits in a Roller can hear and feel why. The absence of endocrine disrupting phyto-oestrogen mimics, ‘the new car smell’, might well be something to do with it.
Nothing mundane about Ray Ban Aviator sunglasses, despite the fact the design hasn’t changed since their inception in 1935. Even though they were developed to stop pilots vomiting from UV radiation I think they look quite nice. In fact, having been developed to perform the task at hand without compromise, they are rather good. Perfect for leisure time on holiday (remember those?). The utilitarian design pushes the green glass lenses to the four corners of the user’s visual field – with anything other than fine gold rims and thin green glass and these would resemble an old NHS shaped free frame. I can personally vouch for this shape as having huge ’four eyes’ potential and I would instinctively avoid it. Counter to my intuition the design is an absolute classic. If only they made them in plus fours to accommodate those of us rendered P4 (Permanently Medically Unfit, because we’re nearly half blind).
No one needs to reinvent the wheel here, form follows function, and fashion follows not far behind.
There’s a reason that specialist large scale producers turn to sheepskin to fulfil these niche roles, and only a small part of the reason is sheepskin’s ubiquity. We eat sheep ravenously in this country – millions of them – so the supply is ready and the cost of an untanned skin just fifty pence. The reason sheepskin is used is because it is the best material for the job. No ifs, not buts. If goat skin was better, they would use the skin of a goat. They don’t.
This Time Next Year...
But the appearance of sheepskin is anything but a good omen, certainly if one takes on-screen cues. Del Boy Trotter proves a noteworthy wannabe success. He’s a grifter, a grafter and a chancer. He jumps on any get-rich-quick scheme and inevitably it falls flat and the Grandad, Rodney and Del Boy have egg on their faces. It was a show that produced a television moment found in a survey by Virgin Media to be the most funny TV moment of all time. The brief sequence features Del Boy at the bar in a conversation with Trigger – behind the pair we watch as the barman leaves the hatch up just before Del Boy leans on the bar and falls right through. It’s a funny moment characterising Del Boy perfectly. Everything is nearly perfect in his world, just one final piece of the puzzle and they’ll have “made it”. We see that the world is changing around Del Boy and he simply hasn’t noticed. Del Boy, played by David Jason, is throughout the scene wearing his trademark sheepskin jacket.
Whilst being a shepherd was always a humble way of life, even before the 80’s, and sheepskins themselves a common, ordinary item, I argue that they were essential to survival. Ordinary due to their necessary ubiquity.
Sheepskins, in my view, have been intrinsic to survival during large parts of our history. Whilst the Persians first farmed sheep and tanned sheepskin some eight thousand years ago, sheep were utterly basic kit on the Shetland Islands some four thousand years ago. He who tanned well, slept warm. Sheepskins were, I believe, utterly essential on this weathered island right back through the Bronze Age and much, much sooner.
Here’s a confession of a sheepskin trader. The more expensive sheepskins are no better than the cheaper ones (although this is not without limit, some traders will sell thin skins, patched skins and skins that won’t survive a machine wash). I had a question from a customer worried, having seen the premium skins available in our shop, that the ‘ordinary’ Cottage Cream sheepskins might not be luxurious enough. My customer didn’t want to spend too much money (who does?), but equally wanted a high-quality gift. And a gift for someone who would be able to tell the difference. I reassured my customer just as I will you, with a confession.
– Our more expensive skins are no better than the cheaper skins. They are rarer, often harder to source…
But no ‘better’. In fact, they might even be ‘worse’. Take the rare breed Herdwicks we sell – they are more wirey than any other breed I have come across. Now, this might give them a certain toughness and durability, but I won’t be sleeping on one any time soon.
To you and your loved ones a Cottage Cream feel the same, they act the same, and be every bit as luxurious as their more expensive counterparts. You could be laying in a hole you dug yourself with nothing but a tarp to keep the rain off, or you could have a bed made for you and lay with sheepskins and silk pillows. Everyone feels special when they plunge their face into a fluffy fleece.
So, don’t worry that they all look pretty similar – so do the sheep! You don’t need to reinvent the wheel; it doesn’t need whistles and bells. A Dartmoor Sheepskin comes with military-grade luxury as standard. We have these military-grade luxury items ready for deployment, whenever you are.
Ready for duty