Two days ago our class was taken on a whirlwind tour of four London tailoring companies: Henry Poole & Co., Huntsman, Anderson and Sheppard, and Gieves & Hawkes.
The home of bespoke tailoring.
At each stop, with a bag hoisted onto one shoulder, I would start by scribbling furiously in my reporter’s notebook about the year the firm was founded, the backgrounds of the founders, the types of clothes (like riding breeches or officers’ uniforms) that had constituted the original business, famous customers like various Princes of Wales, Winston Churchill, movie stars or heads of state, and so forth.
But I always ended up pocketing my pencil and grabbing my camera. It was such a rare opportunity not only to see the ground floor areas where cutters welcome interview, measure, and advise customers but also the downstairs workrooms where tailors construct trousers, coats, waistcoats and overcoats that I wanted to record the sights as much as I could.
The workspaces, as you’ll see, are low-ceilinged with narrow aisles. Everybody was intent on his or her work, and although we were encouraged to ask questions we also knew our hosts had orders to fill and deadlines to meet, so we tried not to intrude. There was a lot to be learned just from watching, too.
Here are a few photos of each place on our tour.
Henry Poole & Co.
Seen from the street
Looking out the front window
Many tailoring companies have had a long history making military uniforms.
One of the workrooms. Talk about concentration.
Building shape with pressing and steam.
Basting a coat front.
After this tour I wanted more pressing equipment!
Work, work, work!
Handstitching lining into a sleeve
I admired these capacious pockets.
Customers can wait and relax here.
General Manager Peter Smith showed us an old book of swatches. Huntsman offers customers some fabrics woven exclusively for the firm in a limited run never to be repeated.
Some swatches close up.
An old appointment book from the early 1960s.
Closeup: Hubert de Givenchy, one of the customers recorded in this book.
Downstairs, where the tailors work.
In the fitting room, pattern pieces for some famous customers including David Bowie, Peter Ustinov, and Katharine Hepburn.
Peter Smith showing us pattern pieces in storage and garments awaiting alteration, completion or repairs.
Examples of Huntsman’s men’s and women’s tailoring.
A classmate and Peter Smith, with a painting of Huntsman in the background.
Anderson & Sheppard
Exterior. The inside has a clubby, library feel to me.
The workroom, which we didn’t get to visit.
Cutter Leon Powell demonstrates cutting trousers. First he chalked the lines onto the cloth.
Customers’ pattern pieces
An old appointment book. Notice the beautiful waistcoat Leon Powell is wearing!
A coat under construction.
Leon’s own project, an overcoat, which he works on in spare minutes when business is slow–which is rare. He’s been working on this overcoat for two years. (Sounds familiar!)
Gieves & Hawkes
Gieves & Hawkes’s exterior. 1 Savile Row: what an address!
Some of Gieves and Hawkes’s famous customers include Prince William…
…and the Duke of Wellington.
Uniforms of the Queen’s bodyguards. Those are swan feathers on the helmets.
If you’ve read The Coat Route, you’ll have learned about the rare and costly vicuna. It is very soft, but not durable. (You can’t have everything.)
These barathea evening trousers are spiffed up with a discreet stripe.
A ceremonial jacket destined for the Kingdom of Tonga. The late King George Tupou V was a great anglophile.
More work to complete.
Even more tailoring
Tailors normally use a tailor’s thimble, which is open-ended, but her fingers are so small that she uses a very small dressmaker’s thimble, which stays put. A reminder to find tools that work for you.
She used this thimble so much that the small tailors’ needles eventually wore through the dimples. This thimble is like a sieve! (She uses another small thimble now.)
Thanks to all our hosts for welcoming us into these very special workplaces!