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Eric Musgrave
Eric Musgrave

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Eric Musgrave

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BY Jennifer Lee O'Brien

Eric Musgrave was born in Leeds, and attended Leeds Central High School for boys. He is a well-respected member of the fashion press, responsible for launching FHM magazine, as well as merging Drapers Record and Menswear to become Drapers. Eric has written for titles like International Textiles, Fashion Weekly, Vogue, Esquire and the Financial Times. At 61, he has been Drapers’ Editorial Director twice in the past 16 years.

Eric is also the father of three children: a girl, a boy and a girl, named Florence, Teddy and Genevieve. He has a knack for names; once he has heard one he doesn’t forget it, and he uses them as often as he can. He is concerned with detail and wants to be known for it.

Tell Eric something once and he’ll hang it up in the wardrobe in his mind, where it waits for the perfect occasion to be shown off. It’s the same place he stores professional anecdotes, historical facts and favourite memories, placed orderly, ready to pair with suitable conversations.

Ask Eric a question and watch him run cerebral fingers along the textiles of his mind. He fastidiously irons his response, being careful of the pleats, pressing along buttonholes; holding thought socks up to newly shined opinion shoes. He transforms his answer into a well-dressed story: expertly formed with a surprising dash of colour. His style is professional, unique and purposeful.

Portrait by Shang-Ting Peng
Portrait by Shang-Ting Peng

“I’ve always liked being well-dressed,” he says. He describes a bright red blazer purchased for him when he was five. “I liked it very much indeed.”

Other favourite outfits: a cropped lumberjack-check bomber jacket, an American varsity jacket with plastic fake leather sleeves, an US Army green sateen raincoat with a detachable wool lining, a checked tweed three-piece suit.

Did you have any trouble growing up in Leeds, dressing so differently? we ask.

“Leeds was a tough city,” replies Eric. “There was a bit of a nervousness about it. Of course I’ve always had an interest in being slightly different. Growing up, my sisters always dressed me.

“My sister Sue went to Leeds Tech College to do dressmaking and design in the late 1960s. Her boyfriend at the time wouldn’t be seen in most of the clothes she was making, so she would make them for me. I was very pleased with two shirts in Liberty floral-print Tana Lawn cotton – one mostly green, the other mostly pink. They even had ready-made matching ties on a piece of elastic. She also made me a burgundy satin double-breasted blazer with white buttons – very Marc Bolan!”

For much of his life, Eric put distance between himself and the city where he was born and raised, but never so much distance that his roots were erased. When he went to university it was to Hull; far enough from Leeds that his mum couldn’t visit, but near enough that his girlfriend could.

“I don’t have much of a Leeds accent anymore,” says Eric. “Although I do find myself speaking more northern when I talk to people from Yorkshire.”

In 1976 Eric got on a UK-USA work exchange programme and plunged into the job nobody else was taking, with a travelling fairground in the mid-west States. It was the highest paid, but it was in Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota, as far from Eric’s native Osmondthorpe as could be. “Two other people signed up but dropped out quite quickly,” says Eric. “They thought there would be motels involved, a bit more luxury than it actually was.”

Eric tells us a tale from out there, of what he calls the greatest moment of his life. “I mean, apart from my kids being born,” he says. We can’t reveal where it happened, in case it’s still on the state books somehow (you know how it is), but after a fender bender between the big-rig truck Eric wasn’t supposed to be driving, and another big-rig that received Eric’s wing-mirror in its side, in a moment of inspiration that still amazes him, Eric used a rubber and a biro to add new stamps to his international driving licence and clear things up with the highway patrol.

“I don’t know how I thought of it,” says Eric. “Of course, in 1976, these patrolmen had never seen an international driving licence before. They spent some time looking at it, turning it over; ‘Yes sir, that seems to be in order.’”

Where that fairground travelled, the UK was not well known — “They’d ask, ‘Ain’t Europe part of that?’” — let alone Leeds. Mid-1970s Leeds feels similarly distant now.

“I was thinking about it this morning,” Eric tells us. “I’m old enough to remember when they drove cattle down York Road to the market, behind where Kirkgate Market is now. That’s unimaginable now, but live cattle being herded into the centre of Leeds — I can remember things like that.”

And he can talk about things like that, too, and everything else that he knows besides; remembering things, naming them, explaining them. We were only in the pub with Eric for a while but that’s where he told us about the fairground, and where we’d like to be when he tells us the rest of the story.

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Originally published in The City Talking: Fashion

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The City Talking: Fashion in Leeds, Vol. 1 The City Talking: Fashion in Leeds, Vol. 1 The City Talking: Fashion in Leeds, Vol. 1