Viyella’s heritage was established over two centuries ago, dating back to 1784 when Henry Hollins founded the original ‘Hollins & Company’ in Pleasley, a small village in Derbyshire. The business was very successful, locally, but it wasn’t until some decades later in 1840 when Henry’s 25-year-old grandson, William Hollins, took over the family business that it began to gain some momentum and expand. William Hollins later added his name to the holding company and earned the reputation for producing high quality, luxury products.
In 1890, William’s nephew, Henry Ernest Hollins became head of the company, bought a new mill about 20 miles from the original site, and managed to double output. The location of the new premises was in the pretty little town of Matlock, located on ‘Via Gellia’ road, from which the company found inspiration for the brand name ‘Viyella’.
Viyella started out as a blend of luxury merino wool and long-strand cotton, first woven in 1893, and soon to be labelled the “first branded fabric in the world” when it was registered as a trademark in 1894 in England, and 1907 in the United States. The original fabric was a twill weave, blending 55% merino wool and 45% cotton, which has since been developed and perfected over the years to the 80% cotton and 20% merino wool used today. The trademark initially just covered this original fabric blend sold by the yard, but later extended to cover all fabrics and clothes made under the name.
In the early years, the fabric’s unique selling point was its combination of lightness and fashion, whilst providing warmth and durability. As its popularity grew, Viyella expanded to come in various weights and widths, and in plain colours as well as woven and printed patterns, and was soon exported around the world. The very first ready-to-wear clothes made using the Viyella fabric were shirts and nightgowns, but with rapid development, this expanded to include dresses, slips and various other garments for men and women.
During both the first and second world wars, Viyella shirts were sold and recommended to the armed forces due to their incredible durability. ‘Dayella’ utility fabric was designed and manufactured for the utility scheme and was introduced during the Second World War continuing until 1953. The range was cited by then President of the Board of Trade as, “the best utility cloth in its class, and an outstanding example of all a cloth should be in quality and proved service ability”.
In 1961, Viyella was awarded the Queen’s Royal Warrant and continued to rise in popularity, gaining a high profile in London and Paris, attracting interest from designers such as Yves Saint Laurent and Nina Ricci, to name but a few. Viyella then went on to receive the Queen’s Award for Export Achievement, for which a reception was held at Buckingham Palace.
To mark the brand’s bicentenary in 1984, a spectacular event, televised at prime time on the BBC, was held at Goldsmiths Hall in London, featuring design contributions from the likes of Gianni Versace suits, Ralph Lauren fragrances and Tom Ford sunglasses. Also in the same year, Prince Harry wore a Viyella layette at his christening. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Viyella continued to grow develop its international presence, and in 2009, the brand was bought by the Austin Reed Group. In 2011, Viyella launched the womens wear diffusion line ‘Ella’, taking a more fashion-forward direction, and the brand continues to produce luxurious ready-to-wear collections for men and women.