Among affordable clothing brands, there is one that enjoys almost unreserved respect among skinheads: Ben Nevis Clothing of London, known especially for its ‘Combat’ Harrington and donkey jackets. With its shop located within a few minutes walk from Camden Town station, Ben Nevis has been producing quality clobber for generations.
Take the monkey jackets, for instance: unlike the lightweight schmutter you’d get at a similar price elsewhere, the Combat monkey is heavy, well finished and has substantial lining. Despite the low pricing, Ben Nevis still somehow manages to manufacture in Britain.
Ask any skinhead from the 80s what label their first Harrington was, and Combat will be the most likely answer. Unbeknownst to many, though, the family-run company already produced Harrington and donkey jackets during the original 1960s era.
About time, then, we asked Peter Myristis of Ben Nevis/Combat a few questions.
When was your company founded, and has your shop always been in the same location in Camden?
We started as a manufacturing company, initially named Wearite/Kampkit, in 1961. The building in 237 Royal College Street where the shop is located was our first factory with a small shop attached.
Your Combat label enjoys a very solid reputation. How do you manage to keep your prices so low?
Prices are kept as keen as possible with the highest quality materials and trimmings used at all times, giving our customers the best possible value for UK produced garments.
When did you start producing Harrington jackets – and who was first, Combat or Baracuta?
We started producing the Combat label in the early sixties. Baracuta were first, and they were worn by the stars of the day. However, Combat was worn by the cult trend setters of the day because unlike their counter part they were affordable.
Is it likely that the legendary ‘Chelsea Shed Boys’ are wearing your jackets in this picture of 1969?
There is a very fair chance that they are.
When you first started producing your donkey jackets, did you have any particular target group in mind?
Donkey jackets, including ours, were originally a working man’s coat worn by all the trades. The garment was purely for the working environment, with the fashion trends picking this up later. As a young lad, you would wear your jacket to work as it was warm and durable, then just pick it up to go out in.
Some say that unlined donkey jackets were for the general workforce and tartan lined donkey jackets for managers. Is this true?
That is correct. Making the jacket unlined was a way of saving costs on a general issue to your work force. The PVC shoulders were for added protection. Some were made with leather shoulders for the dust men or the coal man making his deliveries.
Tartan lined tended to be for managers. We used to produce a red quilted lined version as well. I have been looking for a old leaflet advertising this style which I came across years ago. I’ve been unable to find it, but when I do I will send you a copy.
When did you first start noticing skinheads come into your shop?
Skins were first coming to the shop in the mid sixties – of course, I was very young at the time. They were followed by punks and all the rest from the seventies onward.
How similar are the cut and material today to the donkey jackets and Harringtons you have made in the past?
Over the years, many changes have been made. As you can imagine, patterns have to be adjusted to suit the era. I would say that the garments we make today are of a better quality and standard than in the early days, as there was less choice then with styles and fabrics – not forgetting that today, everything is instant.
Is there anything else you feel is worth adding about the history of Ben Nevis and Combat?
The history, values and traditions are set out in our store, myself, my staff and our jackets.
We are proud in all that we do. We hope that many generations in the future appreciate and understand the history of these two iconic jackets and what they represent the way that past generations have.