Sunday, September 13, 2009
The History of Herbert Johnson; a British Beret Manufacturer
It is almost a gotspe, berets made in in England, but they are. There are a few manufacturers and the most prominent is Herbert Johnson.
To my knowledge, they only produce berets for the military, especially for the higher ranked officers (silk lining included) - even the beret couldn't avoid the British class system.
In 1872, a young Lad named Herbert Louis Johnson was apprenticed, by his parents, for seven years to hat-makers Lincoln Bennett, to learn the trade. He obviously did well and in 1889 on the somewhat unlikely advice of the Prince of Wales (later to become King Edward VII), he went into business with one Edward John Glazier at 45 New Bond Street, London W1.
The story recounts that one day when the Prince of Wales was riding in the park, his top hat blew off, damaging it. The young Herbert Johnson who happened to be 'to hand', picked up the Royal topper and offered his professional services. The hat was duly repaired. The Prince was pleased and subsequently suggested to the young hero that he set himself up in business. All this came to pass and Herbert Johnson soon became well known for all forms of headwear for the well-dressed gentleman including Royal patronage.
Fame and success came quickly and Kaiser Wilhelm, the Czar of Russia, King George of Greece not to mention the Duke of Clarence - of doubtful fame - amongst other great names, all found their way to Bond Street.
Herbert Johnson continued to work in the business personally until his retirement in 1928. He had made the name synonymous with quality "..a man with a Herbert Johnson hat is a man apart". He has an air of sophistication and assurance such as arises from the knowledge that he is in possession of superb quality craftsmanship". Whether a bowler (black for town, brown for the country or grey for driving), a classic tweed cap for shooting or fishing, a classic Homberg, a hat for racing across the Atlantic or a cap for scoring runs on the village green - it had to be from Herbert Johnson.
Today Herbert Johnson hats can be found in some of the most prestigious retailers world-wide. The company also enjoys a long, successful and continuing relationship with the worlds of both theatre and film.
The military is an equally important patron. Nearly every regiment patronises Herbert Johnson for dress caps, khaki caps and berets. Bombay bowlers and Polo caps were specially made for Lord Kitchener's troops in the Sudan.
Herbert Johnson military hats are best known for their 'floating bevel'. This concept dates from World War 1, when Herbert Johnson supplied the 'soft topped' cap, then known as the 'Jack Johnson' in response to requests by Generals Haig and French and other senior officers for both a practical and comfortable cap for field operations. After the 2nd World War, many British Regiments who had liked the 'soft topped' cap for field operations, requested that Herbert Johnson produce their dress caps also in the 'floating bevel' style. Regiments who currently wear the Herbert Johnson hat include all those listed on the Military Hats page.