Q&A with London's Earl of Bedlam

Wednesday, 26th September 2018

Perhaps London’s most quirky outfitters, run by Mark and Caroline, Earl of Bedlam are one of The Button Queen’s most frequent customers.

With a star-studded array of clients, Mark and Caroline offer a fun and bespoke service to design and make your perfect outfit.

How would you describe your fashion and style?

We like to think we help people realise the best version of themselves - in terms of dress anyway! Often, we take classic templates, particularly where the suits are concerned, and try to make them original and fresh with subtle details that reward the observant - a biker zip in the sleeve perhaps, ‘cello seams cradling the shoulder blades, rare buttons…. nothing that screams fancy dress or costume, very often things that you wouldn’t notice until right up close. There’s only so many ways a gentleman can express individuality in a board room suit. Buttons and the lining (which we can custom print) are a big part of that.

What gives you inspiration?

We’re inspired by history, particularly our local history - our name is a nod to our erstwhile neighbourhood icon the Bedlam Asylum (The Royal Bethlehem Hospital); by music and film (Caroline used to work in the music business and Mark’s great hero is Antony Price to whom she introduced him and has now collaborated with us on a couple of commissions. He designed and styled for Roxy Music primarily, but also Duran Duran, the Rolling Stones and heaps of style icons); by people on the street, anything and everything.

Who is your dream client to work with?

We quite fancy dressing Eddie Redmayne - we saw him walking down the street near our screen print suppliers. He’s a local boy and scrubs up nice, whether in a suit or a dress! We love dressing Simon Le Bon - he is hands on, knowledgeable and enthusiastic about putting clothes together. But we love all our clients, Mr Johnny Kennington, that no one has heard of, is as special to us as a household pin up.

What are the biggest lesson you’ve learned since you started Earl of Bedlam?

Never think “We’ve got loads of time to do that!” If you finish early, no harm done, but you can’t be late with someone’s wedding outfit. We never have been I hasten to add. It doesn’t help when people ask, “Can you make me such and such… by next week”. You have to say no, because it’s not worth the stress and it is a bit insulting - we have to be strict about valuing what we do even if some people don’t get it! So, learning to say “no" but always trying our best. "Never say ‘can’t’, but sometimes say ‘no'”, how’s that for a mantra?!

Another would be, be bold, as Fortune really does favour the Brave. If you have a dream, an idea, then there is only one way to find out if it’s viable. Stop talking and start doing.

What is it like being your own boss?

We have to be self-employed as no one else would have us. Better that we drive two people mad (just each other) rather than more.

How often do you find yourself in The Button Queen finding the perfect button to accompany your garment?

We’re in the Button Queen every couple of weeks I reckon. Most recently we were looking for a set to finish Simon Le Bon’s latest jacket (who really wants football buttons but it’s maybe a blessing that Martin only has the little ones for children’s dressing gowns!). We both loved a vintage card with groovy grooved horn buttons, and took the lot as once they’re gone they’re gone. Martin kindly let us have the original sales man’s sample card from 1962 to go with them.

How important is it to use quality products for your designs?

We only use best quality everything, fabric, zips, buttons. We’re not interested in compromise! The majority of our cloth comes from Huddersfield Fine Worsteds in Yorkshire whose Hardy Minnis range carries the Royal Warrant - we got to go to Buckingham Palace with them. So, that’s why we go to the Button Queen, obviously!

What advice would you give to aspiring outfitters?

Don’t get hung up on the ridiculous artificial construct of seasonal shows that are designed to fleece people of their money - designers as well as clients, for it costs a fortune to participate in that nonsensical hamster wheel. Even the big labels are seeing the silliness and economic (as well as ecological) madness of it now, and maybe it will start to lose its grip on the industry. We like to think we make clothes that will stick by you, take care of you (if you take care of them) for decades, clothes that you will ask to be godparents to your children. You don’t throw out your friends every six months and get new ones. neither should you ditch your wardrobe.

What are you working on next and what are your plans for the future?

We’ve just made a little run of ready to wear which we rarely do, but in order for our name to grow we really do need to do more of that. If someone comes to the studio on a cold day and we have a coat on the rail that fits them that they can leave wearing, everybody wins! The big goal is to get a shop once more. We were drunk on the liberation of leaving the last one behind for our grand sounding “By Appointment Only Atelier” but now we have grown sentimental for the excitement of wondering who will walk through the door. We’d like to find a building that can incorporate a shop, workroom, and club house for our clients, as we are all about throwing our arms (or a lasso) around the people that wouldn’t want to join a club that would have them. We are their spiritual and sartorial home, it would be great to have a physical space to congregate.

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