Schmattas and The Men Who Knew Their Cloth

The Jews of Europe were often to be found in the schmattas (or cloth) business.   Schmatta literally means “rag”.   The men who plied the trade were part of a great supply chain that extended from the wool farms of England/Scotland and cotton plantations of the Americas and North Africa to the tailors of Savile Row.  

One of the last vestiges of that world is Crescent Trading Company where Yvette and I went to explore fabrics for The Suitable World.   It is the only cloth wholesaler left in Central London.  Tucked into an unhip cul-de-sac within uber-hip Shoreditch, Crescent is an unadorned treasure, calling back a lost world. 


You enter a warehouse wall-to-wall with mohair, flannels, camel hairs and woollens of every weight and pattern.  Long cutting tables sit in each row, allowing you to get closer to the cloth, test its tensile strength (you pull a single thread to hear if it snaps - good - or just gives way without a sound - not good), and compare potential choices.   We pulled a variety of fabrics - from an amazing camel hair to thick tweeds.   Ultimately we found the Prince of Wales plaid that we decided would be “the suit”

Here Phillip, who has co-owned Crescent for over 50 years, gives us an education and helps us make our way through the maze.

Yvette helps trawl potential fabrics at Crescent Trading Company, London