First Ever Ceremonial Garment Created for High Sheriff of Greater London

The very first official ceremonial garment for High Sheriffs of Greater London has been designed and created in collaboration with London College of Fashion (LCF), UAL, Making for Change and Fine Cell Work. It will be worn for the first time by the new Lady High Sheriff of Greater London, Heather Phillips, when she is installed today, 28 April. The symbolic cloak is intended to be be passed on to all future women to hold the position of High Sheriff of Greater London for the next 100 years.

The High Sheriff of Greater London (HSGL) has, until now, had no official costume. The post of HSGL was created in 1965 upon the establishment of Greater London itself and as such does not wear the traditional blue velvet court dress of other High Sheriffs, some of whose posts date back over 1,000 years. In 2021, a team of Lady High Sheriffs of Greater London decided to create a ‘heritage garment of the future’ that would be designed and created directly by Londoners and worn by future Lady High Sheriffs of Greater London to help increase the visibility of the role and its support of the UK Justice System.

The bespoke cloak has been designed collaboratively, and features illustrations by three London College of Fashion BA (Hons) Fashion Imaging and Illustration students, Nerea Gómez Martin (first prize), Kay Fontaine (joint second prize) and Annabel McLaughlin (joint second prize). The students took part in a competition open to LCF students by responding to a creative brief issued by the HSGL’s office in June 2021 which asked for ideas that reflected the capital’s diverse culture and people as well as the core behaviours that the HSGL team feel represent Londoners at their best; fairness, honesty, respect, responsibility and kindness. The designs were then judged and selected by an expert panel of artists and designers including, Willow Kemp (Kit Kemp Designs), Megan St Clair Morgan and Bethany Williams, in Autumn 2021. 

The winning designs from LCF’s students were then intricately embroidered onto the garment by prisoners in collaboration with Fine Cell Work, a charity and social enterprise that teaches prisoners and ex-prisoners to make high-quality needlework that boosts their self-worth, instils self-discipline and fosters hope so that stitchers can leave prison with the skills and self-belief to lead independent and crime free lives. The individual embroideries were then assembled and constructed into a final garment by participants of Making for Change, a fashion training and manufacturing unit, established by London College of Fashion, UAL and the Ministry of Justice, within HMP Downview Women’s prison. London College of Fashion BA (Hons) Textiles Embroidery student, Scarlet Gray, assisted in this process by creating packs to help deliver workshops on the applique of the embroideries onto the garment along with Fine Cell Work embroidery leads.

The finished garment is a multi-coloured cape with intricate designs adorning both sides. Key symbols include the High Sheriff’s badge, the HSGL’s lived values of good citizenship, depicted in both sign language and braille, and artistic interpretations of London’s many landmarks, geography and people resulting in a physical celebration of Greater London’s diversity, inclusivity and culture. It has been designed with sustainability in mind to be passed on for at least the next 100 years. 

The project and collaboration has been generously supported by the Worshipful Company of Broderers, the Worshipful Company of Drapers, the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers, the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors and the Worshipful Company of Weavers. These contributions are reflected in the garment itself, which includes all five of the Livery Company crests printed into the lining and designed by Cailtin Reed, studying BA (Hons) Textiles Print at London College of Fashion.  

Heather Phillips, the new Lady High Sheriff of Greater London, said: “I am in awe of the skills of the student designers, embroiderers and craftsman who, in one year, have brought our idea to life. It also shows what London does really well, which is bringing together ideas, skills, tradition, innovation and people from across our great city to celebrate and reflect our diversity, culture and traditions. Bringing people together is very much a part of our role as High Sheriff of Greater London and I hope that the garment acts as a sustainable ‘visibility cloak’ that contributes to celebrating women in leadership roles like the High Sheriff. My first job is to visit everyone who helped make the garment a reality to say thank you and show them what they have helped to create.”

Claire Swift, Director of Social Responsibility, Making for Change, London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London, said: “The proposal to develop and create a reference, talking point and symbol representative of the role of the High Sheriff of Greater London was an amazing opportunity that created such positive value to all involved in its creation. The collaboration between London College of Fashion students, participants of LCF's Making for Change project and Fine Cell Work provided a rare chance to showcase a unique and unusual partnership, bringing together a range of creative skills and talents from the diverse participants. The garment embodies a visual language that represents the values of inclusivity, justice and fairness in the context of London’s diverse culture and will have a special legacy as a ‘heritage garment of the future’ for High Sheriffs of Greater London to wear as they visit different communities as part of their duties for the next one hundred years.”

Victoria Gillies, Executive Director of Fine Cell Work, says: “This has been a wonderful opportunity for stitchers at Fine Cell Work to showcase their embroidery skills and be part of this prestigious, legacy project, to create a cloak for the High Sheriff of Greater London. The intricate stitched images reflect the key values of the four successive female High Sheriffs including good citizenship, respect and responsibility and are depicted in both sign language and braille. 

“At Fine Cell Work we provide paid and purposeful work to prisoners through training them in high-quality, skilled, creative needlework which is undertaken in the long hours spent in their cells. This fosters hope, discipline, and self-esteem. A collaborative project like this provides our stitchers with a sense of connection and value to the outside world, which is important to our stitchers in rebuilding fulfilling, crime-free lives.”