The pre-eminence of London’s Savile Row as the centre of tailoring expertise is well documented. Yet outside the capital there are tailors the length and breadth of Britain who cut, sew and fit to the same bespoke methods. Their numbers, however, are dwindling.
Hugh Garnett of Bradford-based cloth merchant Bateman Ogden, which despatches cloth to a wide network of craftsmen, estimates there are only 100 traditional bespoke tailors working outside London. “I’m not counting those who are doing made-to-measure with a lot of machine sewing,” he says, “but proper hand-tailors. The ones that are left are the great survivors, but their number is bound to decline as many are getting on in years and have no one to hand the business on to.”
Many regional tailors are one-man bands and, with 50 hours of work required to make a quality bespoke suit, they have difficulty producing much more than one a week. Since they do not require too many customers, they do not promote their talents very widely.
At Souster and Hicks in Woburn, Buckinghamshire, owner Geoff Souster and his wife Laura are both qualified tailors who have ensured the future of their business by training their sons Scott, 33, and Wes, 27, in the family tradition. “When I started as an apprentice in Luton in 1966 there were about 30 tailors in that town,” says Geoff Souster. “Now there is one. We’ve worked hard over the years to build up our business – we live above the shop – but I know that as a bespoke tailor outside London we will become a rarity.”
Yet there are significant perks to buying a bespoke suit outside the capital. With lower overheads than the large Savile Row tailoring houses, Souster can offer a two-piece bespoke suit for £2,000 ($3,081) including VAT (starting prices in the West End are often £3,000 plus VAT). “I dress a Russian banker who prefers to come to me because of my prices and because it’s a more relaxed atmosphere out here – and he lives in Belgravia,” he says.
Another southern tailor with a fully staffed workshop is Geoffrey Golding, of GD Golding in St Albans, Hertfordshire, who holds a royal warrant. Having started as an apprentice in 1963, Golding, 66, has seen the trade decline. He is, however, positive about its future: “Up to three years ago, you hadn’t a hope in hell of getting people to come into tailoring but it’s different now. People have woken up to the fact that to go to university and get a degree in football or similar doesn’t get them a job but a craft such as tailoring offers a job for life. They have to be prepared to train properly – I’d say it takes about seven years before you know everything.”
A new training scheme on Savile Row aims to increase the number of tailors working in the capital and beyond. Mark Henderson, deputy chairman of Gieves & Hawkes and chairman of Savile Row Bespoke, the Row’s promotional body, says, “Across the Row there are around 30 apprentices or trainees and that means we are at full capacity.” It costs a firm approximately £20,000 a year to have a trainee on its books, with a beginner earning approximately £13,000.
Savile Row Bespoke has also worked with Newham College in east London to develop a short pre-apprenticeship course in tailoring. Alongside the UK Fashion and Textile Association, it is looking at developing more training schemes for young people. Investment ensures that budding tailors, such as Andrea Michelle Nixon, who won last year’s Golden Shears competition, in which young tailors display their talents, receive enough financial support.
Savile Row tailors themselves are also aware of the need to keep the regional industry buoyant. Patrick Grant of Norton and Sons recently assisted Diana Dewing, the 79-year-old owner of F A Stone in Norwich, to find a new cutter. Grant says, “It would be a great shame that just as bespoke tailoring is beginning to become attractive to many people, local tailors are disappearing due to skill shortages.”
Edinburgh tailor Peter Johnston, who trained at Kilgour and makes bespoke suits for some of Scotland’s wealthiest men, says the dearth of craftsmen locally means he has to send some work as far away as London for hand-sewing. He has, however, begun talks with Scottish Enterprise to realise his dream of having a tailoring and cutting academy in Scotland. “The craftsmanship of tailoring is worth preserving and I’m sure there would be a good demand for places if such an academy existed.”
Eric Musgrave is the director-general of the UK Fashion & Textile Association
Bateman Ogden, tel: +44 (0)1274 729 103
The world’s best bespoke tailors
Cameron Buchanan, managing director of Harrisons of Edinburgh, a global supplier of the raw material for bespoke tailoring, says countries such as Switzerland and the US have few first class tailors, allowing a lucrative market for visiting firms from Paris or Savile Row to develop. There are, however, plenty of countries that do boast skilled homegrown bespoke tailors. Here Buchanan lists the best.
Italy: “You can find good tailors all over Italy; the European School of Master Tailoring in Rome is continuing the bespoke training tradition. Milan has approximately six high-class tailors, including Caraceni (www.caracenisartoria.com), De Luca (www.delucasartoria.it) and Rubinacci (www.marianorubinacci.it). There are at least another six top-class tailors including Tommy & Giulio Caraceni (a different firm to that in Milan), Brancatelli (www.sartoriabrancatelli.it), Brioni (www.brioni.com) and Gallo (www.sartoriagallo.com). And, of course, there is Naples with its top-class tailors Attolini (www.cesareattolini.com) and Panico (www.sartoriapanico.it). Many other towns and cities in Italy still have first-class tailors including Berdusco, high in the hills above Venice in Asolo.”
France: “Paris has a tailoring school, the Association Formation Tailleur in Avenue Victor Hugo, where they teach all aspects of the art for men and women. There are at least 10 first-class tailors in Paris, including Cifonelli (www.cifonelli.com), Guilson (www.guilson.com), and Camps de Luca (www.camps-de-luca.com). There is very little in the rest of France, unlike in Germany and Italy.”
Germany: “The centre of tailoring has shifted from Munich to Düsseldorf, where the likes of Radermacher and Westhoff (www.heinrich-westhoff.de) are among the top names. Düsseldorf is a good centre for bespoke tailoring because it has a high concentration of Japanese businessmen.”
Sweden: “There is still an excellent tailor called Bauer (www.awbauer.com), founded in 1863 and still very successful, whose in-house tailors were all trained on Savile Row.”
Austria: “There are tailors such as Blecha, Knize (www.knize.at) and Niedersuess in Vienna.”