Justin Brogan has worked with wool for decades – but it took a trip to New South Wales to bring him into close contact with the living, bleating bearer of the raw material.
Shearing a Merino was a highlight of a visit sponsored by Wool Innovation Australia in conjunction with Dormeuil, the French producer of suiting fabric that is a big foreign buyer of prime Australian wool.
The spring jaunt was his prize as winner of a UK industry-wide competition, which involved answering a string of questions about the yarn. Modest in recounting his victory, Justin confesses that it included an educated guess: having to estimate the weight of wool required to weave a length of cloth.
Based these days in his childhood home of Torquay, on the south coast of Devon, he describes himself as not at all a country boy. So Justin admits to a little pride in getting to grips with the clippers, in the most challenging task once he arrived.
“I was a little concerned, thinking that it was all going to be blood and guts!” he says. “Happily this was not the case and both sheep and I survived the event unscathed.”
A video streamed to British friends and customers confirmed the outcome: no visible nicks at all, on an animal that seemed perfectly content to lie there in the shed at the surprisingly capable hands of a novice.
Justin’s hosts were the warm and welcoming Picker family of Hillcreston near Bigga, north of Canberra. A long flight, followed by a drive and a quick shower, led immediately to “a stunning barbecue washed down by good wine – a great evening under the Southern Cross”, he adds.
As Australia is the source of much of the wool in good British suits, Dormeuil launched the contest for its UK contacts in order to promote Iconik, a lightweight Merino fabric that hangs especially well on the body.
“Iconik is first and foremost a tribute to all the Australian fine Merino wool growers. Without them Dormeuil would not have existed,” says Dominic Dormeuil, president of the clothier, whose UK division is headquartered around the corner from Savile Row.
Justin headed to Sydney for the rest of his brief but busy visit, spending what he describes as a greatly enjoyable time with Scott Carmody and his team at AWI. They managed to extend a friendly welcome even while in the throes of moving to new offices.
He also compliments the “extremely warm reception” he received when dropping in to see top Sydney tailors Shane Rochefort and JC Cuttler.