Sometimes we can be so transfixed by new trends – be they stripes or flares – that the quieter fashion revolutions pass us by. Take last Monday’s Golden Shears competition. It’s the Oscars of the tailoring world, which is traditionally a very male milieu, but this year not only was the top prize scooped by a woman, there were 18 female trainees among the 24 finalists.
At a catwalk show for some 350 people at the Merchant Taylors’ Hall in Threadneedle Street, London, Chinese-born Yingmei Quan secured the Golden Shears trophy and £2,000. A prize at this biennial festival, which supports young people learning the craft of hand tailoring men’s and women’s wear, really boosts the CV.
In 1998 Kathryn Sargent, then an apprentice cutter at Gieves & Hawkes, won the prize for the best women’s wear outfit. In January last year, still with Gieves, she became the first woman to be appointed head cutter at a Savile Row firm and Prince William is one of her customers.
Yingmei was one of 24 of an initial 54 entrants who showed their designs at Monday’s show. She works at Welsh & Jeffries, military tailor to the Prince of Wales, based at 20 Savile Row. There were military references in her tailored women’s frockcoat in a fawn and grey fleur-de-lys patterned worsted cloth, teamed with slimline grey flannel trousers piped with the coat fabric. The coat was decorated with military-style frogging and trimmed with delicate braid usually seen only on vintage uniforms.
“It’s very hard to find these days but at Welsh & Jeffries we have the right connections,” she said. The subtle structure of the chest area was achieved through interior canvas and the horsehair that is part of the bespoke tradition.
Being young, Chinese (she came to London 10 years ago to study at the Central St Martins fashion school) and female, Yingmei represents what many see as the inclusive and global future for bespoke tailoring, which still suffers from a reputation as an old boys’ club. So too does the winner of the Rising Star Silver Shears award and £1,000, Lucinda Holbrook-Hasse, 26, who created a women’s asymmetrical cropped jacket in blue silk and white-and-blue embroidered brocade cigarette-line trousers.
The competition attracts a number of non-British entrants. Savile Row is recognised as the world centre of luxury tailoring and UK fashion and art colleges draw global talent. This year’s Silver Shears, or runner’s-up award, went to a 31-year-old Japanese man, Ichiro Suzuki, who intends to donate his £1,500 prize money to a disaster fund in his homeland.
Suzuki combines an MA in menswear design at the Royal College of Art with working as an under-cutter at Henry Poole at 15 Savile Row. His finely tailored check frock coat, waistcoat and trousers were accessorised by gloves and shoes he had hand-made in the same fabric. Suzuki created a vertical stripe within the check cloth of the coat by unpicking the warp threads (which run the length of the cloth), thereby leaving the weft threads (running left to right) hanging as mobile fringes. It was an impressive display which definitely showed that the future of tailoring is not conformist but creative.