Located at the end of New Oxford Street this store had always been somewhat of a conundrum to me. I have traveled past it hundreds of times on the bus heading to work, normally in a state of dreary eyed comatose. I would get captivated by its historic facade that looks straight out of a film set.
While the surrounding buildings become encased in glass and steel, James Smith & Sons remains largely untouched with enamel signage proclaiming its established year of 1830. And upon reading my new purchase ‘Perfect Gentleman’ by James Sherwood I got to learn more about the shops history.
On closer inspection it is clear to see what this brand has been built its reputation on, making umbrellas and making them well. This isn’t your run of the mill plastic umbrella bought on Oxford St for £5 when it starts pouring outside. On that note, ever noticed how they are suddenly in view when the heavens open? Well where I used to work we used to run the umbrella stand over near the main doors when the rain started so they were visible and increase sales.
The umbrella just to let you know, was introduced to London by Jonas Harvey a philanthropist who despite being ridiculed and laughed at stuck by the contraption we now deem a key gentlemen accessory.
James Smith Locations
Originally based on Foubert’s Place, James Smith is recorded as opening on New Oxford St in 1857 and expanded its range to include walking sticks, whips and canes. Five years earlier the umbrella industry had been revolutionised by Samuel Fox and his U-shaped canopy design, patented the ‘Fox Frame’. The brands USP was that they were and still are a specialist retailer who were few and far between thanks to the introduction of department stores in the 1900’s, and some like myself may argue this is still true today. With modern day high street stores taking the customer service as well as the expert knowledge out of men’s shopping.
The shop remains in direct descendants of the original founders with interiors like the exterior largely untouched since it first opened. Workshops are still on the premises, honing the craft they have been dedicated to over many years. This is not a tourist attraction to be gawped at like a Harry Potter tour. You are encouraged to visit the store and receive the customer service needed so you buy the umbrella that fits your height and suits your style.
Visit the James Smith & Sons website at www.james-smith.co.uk
Main image from greatwen.com
Umbrella image from tweedlandthegentlemansclub.blogspot.com
Sam Brady is a menswear expert, having worked in or around the field for the past 14 years. He has built up a keen eye for detail when it comes to the production of clothing, and is happy showcasing the craftsmanship of Savile Row and Jermyn St. But he understands the need for an interchangeable modern man’s wardrobe that mixes high street and luxury clothing.