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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Hatmaker Buys U.K. Legend

The announcement was enough to put a tremble in the stiff-lipped community of British haberdashers: Wilson & Stafford, a 128-year-old paragon of hat-making quality and tradition, was being sold to the Russians.

"A long tradition of feltmaking... has come to an end," mourned the British magazine Hat.

"It was a big surprise for us," echoed Paul Welland, the famed haberdashery's former sales director.

Founded in 1871, Wilson & Stafford was once one of Britain's most respected hat makers, producing in its heyday more than a thousand felt hats a day. Despite boasting both the Royal Navy and British Army as regular clients, the company's profit base from retail designs began to shrink in the face of competition from Eastern Europe. By this year, Wilson & Stafford had fallen on hard times.

"It was a situation that the company couldn't continue financially," Welland said. "Business totally stopped."

Now the legendary label has a new lease on life, thanks to a Russian haberdasher with a proud history of its own - Shcholkovsky Fetr, which includes in its resume a line of felt hats designed for the Soviet Politburo. The company completed its purchase, for an undisclosed sum, of the Wilson & Stafford trademark and equipment in April.

Shcholkovsky Fetr, which now produces headwear ranging from OMON police troop berets to custom designs from fashion guru Slava Zaitsev, is hoping that its recent acquisition of the world-class name will help it beef up production and eventually muscle in on the international hat scene.

"I hope that in the near future we will be able to enter the market with the slogan 'English quality - Russian prices,'" said Arutun Voskanyan, the director of Shcholkovsky Fetr, which will continue to sell a domestic line of hats under its original name as well as producing styles for export and high-end retail sale under the Wilson & Stafford label.

Voskanyan, in an interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda, said his company had actually purchased the British haberdashery on a fluke.

"We had just wanted to buy a couple press forms to use to make men's caps, but it turned out that the owner wanted to sell the whole factory," he said. The Wilson & Stafford equipment has already been delivered to the Shcholkovsky Fetr's facilities in Shcholkovo, a city outside of Moscow.

The company, which later this month will begin producing Wilson & Stafford's last true line of British designs, in the future will rely solely on its own style team produce future W&S looks. Begging the question: Is a Russian hat with a British name something that people will buy?

Absolutely, according to Lyubov Khaustova, head of Shcholkovsky Fetr's sales department and on hand to show off a number of Wilson & Stafford styles at this week's Rostekstilprom fair at VVTs, the All-Russia Exhibition Center. "People are standing in line to buy our hats," she said.