What Tailoring Students Do in London

Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace? Nope

Big Ben? Uh…I don’t think I was even close!

The Crown Jewels? Didn’t see them

Checking out buttonholes? Absolutely!

I spent a few days in London the week before Christmas with what felt like a million other people. It was crazy. The sidewalks were a moving river of people. And if the sidewalks were too congested, one just walks down the middle of Oxford or Regent Street. Taking a selfie in the middle of the street is also part of the experience. Sorry, but NYC doesn’t hold a candle to London when it comes to holiday crowds.

I found a very reasonable Airbnb just off Oxford Street that put me within easy walking distance of Savile Row, which was the #1 reason I was there. I wanted to see what it was all about. I got that, and SO much more! What follows is a loose record of my rambling through the hallowed halls of menswear. Come along!

I’m an early riser and I arrived on Savile Row before many of the establishments were open, so I stopped in for coffee at The Service. Americano with warm milk on the side, thank you. There are even tailored garments in the coffee shop! Can this be real?

I had already window shopped at Gieves & Hawkes. So after coffee I walked back up the street.

For the life of me I can’t imagine what one “Clicks and Collects” at No.1 Savile Row! There was a lovely brown tweed suit in one of the windows. Just the kind of thing I would love to be making some day. The interior is grand to say the least, with a balconied mezzanine running around the lofty interior. The clothes, however, struck me as less spectacular. Of course it’s all ready to wear in the store (the bespoke business takes place behind closed doors); but regardless, it struck me as very bland. I did a quick loop and was out the door without taking a single picture.

Kitty corner to Gieves & Hawkes sits Ede & Ravenscroft. It’s bowed window stares right down the center of Savile Row. It’s also hard not to notice that they have a few Royal Warrants, in addition to lovely holiday decorations circling the front door !

The gentleman working on the ground floor was a delight (more on that observation later), and the clothes were a welcomed sight after the somberness of G&H. The front hallway was full of tweedy wonders and moleskin trousers in brilliant colors. I wanted them all! The pick stitching on the Loro Piana “Dream Tweed” was dreamy in its own right. Formal wear was given a jolt with patterned waistcoats in every color of the rainbow. I’m sure someone is the life of the party, wearing that red tartan suit somewhere in London. Clearly, this is the shop for men who want color. Being the guy who’s been working on a purple tweed jacket since September, this store was screaming my name!

Next stop, No. 31, Holland & Sherry. As sewists, we’re passionate (some of us bordering on obsessive) about fabric; so imagine a fabric store that’s even more passionate. That would be Holland & Sherry in a nutshell. I was beginning to see a trend / pattern in the shops of Savile Row. These people are passionate about what they do, and more importantly they want to share that passion with you. Behind all the dark mahogany, roaring fireplaces, leather furniture and taxidermy; there are men and women that are welcoming you into their world. I had been expecting a snobbish, dare I say condescending air; and I was proved wrong at every turn.

This is part of the archive at Holland & Sherry. Amazing. Nicholas Guilbaud is the Regional Director, and after I explained my visit, he pulled down several bunch books of tweeds for me to peruse. He also handed me a clipboard and pen. “Write down the item number of anything that interests you, and I’ll pull a sample.”

I didn’t want to appear greedy, so I picked these two. The charcoal / black donegal tweed is exactly what I was looking for when I made the Braemar jacket for my son’s wedding back in 2017 . Maybe I should start wearing my kilt more often. That way I could justify buying it! The brown swatch with the lavender and tan windowpane would make an exquisite suit. We can all dream, right?

Scabal is across the street from Holland & Sherry so I dropped in. Again, they were so welcoming and enthusiastic. Even though they’re primarily a source for fabric, they have an appealing selection of RTW in the store.

I loved the brown tweed gilet worn as an extra layer over a jacket. It was beautifully made. It was also £800. I assured the handsome young sales guy that I could totally knock it off, and we had a good laugh. He sent me packing with a bag full of swatches and a slightly damaged bunch book of gorgeous wool jacketing. He said just write something nice about us online, so here I am.

I snapped a picture of Huntsman through their front doors. They were working with a client at the time, so I beat a hasty retreat. One has to realize that the “one to one” personalized experience is at the core of Savile Row. There’s a right and wrong time to be a gawker! This also happened at Norton & Sons, which is owned by Patrick Grant of The Great British Sewing Bee fame. The decor there is the opposite of Huntsman, a contemporary “art gallery” vibe. The client there appeared to be in his 30’s maybe? Proof that bespoke isn’t just for affluent old men.

Cad & The Dandy, where to start? They popped up in my Instagram feed awhile back and I immediately decided to follow them. They have a subtle way of turning tradition on its head that draws me in like a moth to a flame. Traditional fabrics applied to new shapes, unusual fabrics applied to traditional shapes. Great details. It’s a fascinating mashup that’s all intensely wearable and wantable! The green “cardigan”, winter white cords, goatskin suede safari jacket, wool baseball caps, workwear shapes, drawstrings everywhere. Damn!

At Davies & Son I had a great chat with Johnny Allen who was on his lunch break. They were the tailors to the Duke of Windsor, and they have one of his double breasted jackets and a pair of his shoes on display. I, of course, didn’t take a picture of them so this will have to do. (Stolen from their Facebook page). The fabric is a dark navy glen plaid and the shoes are tiny. All pretty incredible. There’s no RTW here (other than fancy cuff links), so Johnny insisted that I visit Anderson & Sheppard which is around the corner on Old Burlington Street. I was off.

If you follow me on Instagram you already know what happened here. I was actually invited to go back and meet some of the cutters. I still can’t quite wrap my head around it. It really shows how much these professionals want to share their rarified craftsmanship. They’re so passionate about what they do.

I think there were four cutters, (three men and one woman), all much younger than I would have imagined. It was encouraging to see that there are young people interested in keeping this craft alive. Because they travel to major cities all over the world, there’s a large volume of work in the pipeline. The average lead time they explained is around 3 to 4 months, depending on the garment. Something like a raglan overcoat or a customized pair of riding breeches might be even longer due to the number of fittings. I got the feeling that nothing is off the table at Anderson & Sheppard. What the customer wants, the customer gets. They even have their own proprietary tweeds that are produced in Scotland by Woven in the Bone. The samples were displayed in the hallway connecting the front room to the cutting room. “Bespoke squared”. A bespoke garment made with bespoke cloth!

Now this is a pattern collection!

This cutter is working from the white 3×5 card with just a string of numbers. Secret code.

But one secret they did give up is their favorite brand of chalk. Talk about ending my Savile Row adventure on a high note! (If you only knew how much we grouse about our horrible chalk at the Academy)

As magical as my days in London were, I’m glad to be back “home” in sweet little Macclesfield. The workroom at The Tailoring Academy will be open this week, and I’m ready to get back to work. There are still six weeks left in the semester. For the “internationals” it will be independent study, a jacket of our choice. This will clearly be a test to see how much I’ve retained. Here’s hoping it’s “like riding a bicycle”!

As always I’m so grateful for all the support and encouragement I receive from you, my followers. I wish you all a joyous and healthy New Year, filled with creative adventures of your own.

 

23 thoughts on “What Tailoring Students Do in London

  1. What a lovely experience for you. I like to sew but am not passionate about it. I do know, however, what it is like to be in a space where your passion is nourished. You must have been on a bit of a high in London.

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  2. Happy New Year. Thank you for sharing your journeys. I’m not on Instagram, so look forward to your emails and pictures.

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  3. When I was at college in London, many many moons ago, my fellow students were very amused at what I did on “Liberal Studies” Afternoon….yes, mooched around Savile Row, also looking at fabrics here and there. The Victoria & Albert Museum is also brilliant for a wet afternoon, looking at tapestries, embroideries (lots of ‘stump work’) and so on. Your writing is excellent – have you ever considered writing a book (in between making ‘proper’ buttonholes)?
    Happy New Year from sunny Scotland.

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    1. Agree re V&A. Also the fashion and textile museum in Bermondsey would be a good visit (Kaffe Fassett at the moment I think)

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  4. Such fun living through your adventures. Really enjoy all your observations. I hope that the rest of your stay is as enjoyable.

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  5. Love this. As a Londoner I’m chuffed that Savile Row welcomed you with open arms (I would have also assumed stuffy and condescending). And my in laws are in Macc, so I’m enjoying a window into a different side of that place. If you have time, get out into the countryside; it’s on the edge of the peak district and the walks and countryside are spectacular. Even if it’s just a jaunt up to White Nancy.

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  6. What a wonderful report and pictures of Saville Row! I would love to go there sometime…….well., London too!
    Thank you so much for sharing the enthusiasm you felt there!
    Looking forward to more progress on your jacket…..congratulations on signing up for this wonderful inspiring experience!
    Happy New Year!

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  7. Wow! Thank you; the lockdowns have meant that my fave TV travel programmes had to stay within the UK, so I’ve seen several items on how tweed is made. Now I’ve seen what it’s made into.

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  8. Thank you for such an enjoyable article, and my admiration for your professional-looking photographs too. Your enthusiasm is so infectious!

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  9. What a wonderful way to spend some time! All that fabric – and the shopping – and the fact that you were met with such friendliness. It says a lot for a profession when you are welcomed. I must admit, I am pea green . . . .

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  10. This was so much fun for me to read, I can only imagine how thrilled you were to be in the midst of Savile Row…and I want to make that green gilet

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  11. You’ve made a boat.

    You’ve made and worn a kilt (those legs!).

    Now, they’ve not only lifted the curtain for you on Savile Row, they’ve embraced you(!).

    Your running into royals or celebrities is all that is left on my Bingo card.

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  12. An enjoyable read 😊 and a ‘must see’ on my next London trip – I am in Devin, UK. For something completely different try Goldhawk Road in Shepherds Bush, London. Start at the top end with Misan – and weave (🫣) your way through around 15-20 of the most diverse fabric shops – careful searching will reward with hidden gems. 🥰👍 Sharon

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  13. Not sure how I stumbled on your blog but I’m glad I did. What an adventure you’re having and I’m in awe of your sewing talent. Funny too; my husband and I were just talking about one of our trips to London and we really want to get back there again. I’ve started sewing again and your posts make me want to see more, so please keep us updated 😊

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