I had an invitation to pop up to the new Jack Wills store in Bluewater for a store tour and to find out about the collections, so on a rainy Friday morning I headed out into the depths of Kent.
I hadn’t been to Bluewater for years, and I have to say, it’s not my dream shopping destination. Much as I enjoy clothes, I sort of hate the act of finding them. I’ve moved on from the Primark sieges of my callow youth, sitting on a bed piled high with cheap tat, feeling jittery and that I’d just wasted my money. These days, I employ military precision to minimise my time in, you know, actual shops, preferring a computer screen to shield me.
But I digress, and while Bluewater is never going to be to my taste, I appreciated two things: the abundance of my favourite eateries (Leon, Pinkberry, Cote and Lola’s Cupcakes) and the Jack Wills store itself. The store follows the Jack Wills aesthetic – cosy and quirky, with Persian rugs, striped lampshades and overstuffed armchairs tucked into corners, and shelves crammed full of dusty travel books and shining trophies. JW pulls off the ‘lifestyle brand’ concept extremely well, creating a series of rather charming, comfortable spaces with lovely staff (more on that later) and extremely wearable collections. The Bluewater store is a perfect addition – I was greeted by two delightful chaps, and staff around the store were all chatty and helpful. Each one I spoke to was beaming from ear to ear, talking about how excited they were to be working there, and how they ‘already felt like a family’.
Say the name ‘Jack Wills’ and you’ll often be faced with tuts and furrowed brows. The brand has long been associated with a very specific English stereotype, largely due to the proliferation of branded hoodies and sweatpants they (quite literally) made their name with. This is unfair and no longer apt for the company – look around any store and you’ll be greeted with the sight of cable knit lambswool jumpers, tweedy jackets, excellent quality shirts, and a soothing colour palette of damson, mustard and navy. Without a doubt, the brand has grown up significantly in the past few years, absorbing a lot of the aesthetic from sadly defunct sister brand Aubin and Wills. As various staff told me, a lot of the clothing doesn’t carry a huge amount of branding anymore, and is much more subtle.
Which brings me neatly to the Autumn/Winter collection. Again, JW never used to create very…inspiring collections. What wasn’t a branded hoodie or trackpant tended to fall into the ‘tasteful and inoffensive’ category. Bland, if you were being a little more cutting. Now, though, pieces are well-conceived, beautifully made, and hugely wearable. As ever, the collections aren’t trend based, meaning you’ll be able to wear them for years. It’s a tactile collection, everything feels fantastic and looks expensive. Which of course brings us onto the question of price points. Another criticism of JW has been the cry of ‘but it’s SO over-priced!’ and sure, items may be a little more expensive than a standard high street store, but that’s purely reflective of the quality of the garment. We’re talking £70ish for a 100% lambswool sweater, £50 for a 100% cotton dress, £140 for a proper waxed jacket with ludicrously warm lining. While not all of JW is produced within the UK at the moment, they collaborate with classic Brit brands such as Christy’s and Fox Brothers where possible. They aim to move production within the UK and currently sponsor their own flock of sheep.
I was very kindly given a gift card on Friday, and actually ended up spending it Saturday on a Winter coat after wandering into the JW in Tunbridge Wells. I don’t know whether it’s a result of great staff training or them only hiring a certain type of person, but every single member of staff I’ve spoken to has been absolutely delightful. They’re helpful but not pushy, ready to leave you to it if you want, or willing to engage in chat if you are. For a shop-hater, it made a very compelling argument for why internet shopping just doesn’t quite cut it. All in all, I’ve been bowled over by the brand. The clothes look great: fantastic quality, classic pieces. But most of all, the staff make it a truly wonderful brand. They’re the lifeblood of Jack Wills, and they’re what will keep me loyal to the store, shunning my computer in favour of buying lovely clothes from truly lovely people.
If you’ve been one of those vocal anti-JW types, I’d say forget what you thought you knew and give them a chance. You’ll probably be surprised.