Photography by Mr Boo George
Styling by Mr Dan May, Style Director, MR PORTER
Words by Mr Chris Elvidge, Senior Copywriter, MR PORTER
Headley Court, the medical rehabilitation centre for the British Armed Forces, is where soldiers who have suffered severe injuries in the line of duty take the first difficult steps towards a new life. For many of these young men - some of who have lost one, two, or even three limbs - it is a life that has been altered beyond all recognition.
Supporting them along the path to recovery is a full-time team of medical officers, personal trainers, therapists and prosthetics specialists whose goal, if not to return these injured soldiers to active duty as soon as possible, is to prepare them for a transition out of the military and back into civilian life. One woman helping to ease this transition is Ms Emma Willis, who since 2008 has provided bespoke shirts for the patients of Headley Court through her charitable incentive, Style For Soldiers. A shirtmaker by trade - Ms Willis has a shop on London's Jermyn Street and a workshop in Gloucester, and her eponymous brand is available on MR PORTER - she was motivated to offer her services after hearing about the rehabilitation centre on a radio show. "I was moved to tears by their courage. I decided to try and visit so that I could measure these young men for a shirt as a gift to thank them for their sacrifice." Bespoke in the truest sense of the word, the finished products are often adapted to account for the soldiers' injuries, with details such as Velcro cuffs hidden by sewn-in enamel cufflinks.
What began as just shirts quickly evolved after Ms Willis realised how many of these men relied on walking sticks after their discharge from Headley Court. With a nod to the grand old military tradition of keeping up appearances, she designed a shiny black ebony cane with a buffalo horn handle and a silver band engraved with the owner's initials and regimental badge. "We've made hundreds of these now," she says. "They look more like a fashion accessory than a medical aid, and they show the world how these men sustained their injuries." And if gratitude is a measure of success, then Style For Soldiers has surely made a difference. Ms Willis' website keeps a catalogue of thank you letters received from soldiers, which is growing all the time. "The letters we receive are humbling: one even apologised for his bad writing due to having almost lost his eyesight. Of course, these young men are the ones to be thanked."
On 12 December, MR PORTER and Emma Willis co-hosted the Style For Soldiers Christmas party in London. In the run-up to this annual event, we spoke to six ex-servicemen who have benefitted from the charitable incentive's work.