CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- He's a long way from London, a quantum leap from his blue-collar British roots to the high-falutin' clients he serves from his office on Lee Street.
No one finds that journey more remarkable than Richard Emery himself.
In 1979, at 22, he packed his punk rock garb and flew to a place called West Virginia to work as a tool-and-die maker for Volkswagen in South Charleston.
Those die-making skills led, of all things, to embossing and designing handbags in Palm Beach. He traveled extensively in India, Hong Kong and Thailand to engage manufacturers for the leather goods he developed. He traveled throughout America selling the purses and other products.
In 1995, he returned to Charleston where he runs the state office for Tom James, a custom-made clothier catering to discerning shakers and movers.
That telltale cockney accent reflects his upbringing, but West Virginia has his heart. A U.S. citizen since 1986, our 56-year-old London transplant calls Charleston home, a hillbilly by choice.
"I was born in London. Most people say I have a cockney accent, but when I go back to England, they say I sound more American. Most people think I'm from Australia now. I've been over here so long, I have bastardized the British accent.
"I was in Hazard, Ky., one time, and I cut somebody off, and they were not pleased with me. So I put on my best British accent and apologized profusely. I told them I had just arrived here from London, a little white lie. They said, 'Oh, don't worry about it.' I use the accent when I need it.
"About 1960, my parents moved outside of London to a small village, like a subdivision. My dad worked for a ball-bearing factory and then for General Motors. We were a working-class family.
"Back then, you could leave school at 15 but nobody knew what they wanted to do at 15, so I stayed until I was 16 when I went into an apprenticeship as a tool-and-die maker.
"I did a four-year apprenticeship and then worked three years outside my apprenticeship.
"One day, I was home reading a local newspaper, and it had an advertisement for a tool-and-die maker in Charleston, W.Va. I asked somebody where Charleston was and they said, 'Oh, that's where the Confederacy was born.' They thought it was Charleston, S.C.
"I applied for the job with five other guys. Four of us got the job. I was 22. I moved here on April 21, 1979. Volkswagen flew us over and put us up in the Ramada in South Charleston for two weeks and paid all our expenses.
"They took 12 of us to Car City Motors owned by Paul and C.E. White. They sold 12 cars in one day. We would say, 'How much is that?' Paul would go, 'Oh, about $3,500.' We'd say, 'We'll take it.' No negotiating. We didn't have Social Security numbers or anything. Paul White took a huge risk.
"People were nice to us and fascinated. Back in '79, there were not too many British people here. We were a little bit of a novelty.
"Coming from England, I always liked clothes and fashion. I grew up in that punk rock era where you dyed your hair. When I came over, I had about five earrings, and that freaked everybody out. I was an oddball. No one was dressed like we were.
"On Memorial Day, we went to Myrtle Beach. Before we left, we met this guy who said, 'If you go anywhere and there are a bunch of people having a good time, there will be someone from West Virginia in the center of it.'
"So we go to the beach, and there is this guy with a boom box and a cooler sitting on the beach in a deck chair having a giddy-up good time. He asked us where we were from. We said, 'We live in Charleston, W.Va.' He said, 'So do I.'
"My plan was, if I didn't like it here, I would stay two years, earn as much money as I could, tour the states and go home. But I worked for Volkswagen for eight years. When they moved their operation to Mexico, I was left unemployed. I was dating a girl from Florida, so I went there and worked for a fashion-accessory company.
"The guy had a handbag company. He was embossing them. Tool-and-die is kind of like embossing. He made that connection. He hired me in October of '87.
"By November, I was in Bombay and Calcutta. He sent me to India to build a product line for him. I came back with what he said was the best product line he ever had. The company went from doing $3 million a year to $18 million.