With the Christmas spirit just beginning to spread in early December 2014, I visited London to see its culture and fashion and to meet some lovely Londoners. It was such an exciting moment to meet my colleagues who work on gentlemen’s suits as bespoke tailors. Even though I am a bespoke dress designer for women’s couture dresses such as evening gowns and wedding dresses, I enjoyed sharing their professional knowledge.
Mr. David Wilkinson is the proprietor of 11 St. George Street which is a parallel street to Savile Row. The building has its origins in bespoke tailoring in the 1890’s. David’s grandfather, Mr. L.G. Wilkinson, acquiring a long lease for “No. 11” on 5th November 1924. At this stage, the firm’s name became “L.G. Wilkinson”. Its origins were in Boston, Lincolnshire (in the north of England) where the original shop (founded by David’s great-great grandfather, Mr. David Robert Wilkinson) is now, by coincidence, a couture shop.
Mr David Wilkinson
The extensive history of L.G. Wilkinson is illustrated by the collection of antique clothes and fabrics. The showroom maintains the tradition of stocking cloth and there are in excess of 500 suit lengths from which to choose dating back to 1952. The customer base is loyal and frequently runs from generation to the next. This affection from the customers is clearly obvious in the firm’s very unusual website!
11 St. George Street was run by David’s father, Mr. Dennis Robert Wilkinson, from 1952 until his death in 2006. Since 2006, David has worked to ensure that traditional bespoke tailoring in London has a long-term and secure future at No. 11 without resorting to artificial branding or marketing. Simply put, everything is designed, cut and made “in-house”, in a building which has scarcely altered in over a century! Apart from some new electrical wiring and carpet fitted in the 1990’s, the ground floor showroom is exactly as it was back in 1924 and offers a “time warp” experience to days when life was quite different.
During my tour of No. 11, David began by explaining the origin of the word “bespoke”. This term literally means that a specific cloth length from the showroom had “been spoken for”, once the client had selected the fabric for the suit. And on the old cloth-folding table, David shows the antique record book, which catalogues every single cloth length ordered by a customer since 1924.
By reference to the firm’s stock book, David showed the firm’s oldest cloth length, S4264, which is a dark blue overcoating. It is still in excellent condition and ready to be crafted into a bespoke garment.
The garment in the photograph, which almost touches the ceiling of the showroom was for a British ambassador in the 19th century. All of the embroidery and sewing was done by hand!
Mr. Peter Day is the managing director and a cutter. He specializes in achieving the best look by understanding the definition of the client’s style and his individual silhouette. His colleagues consider that he is the most meticulously dressed person at No. 11 (but, in typical tailoring humor, they suggest this is only possible because he doesn’t work very hard!).
The gentlemen also showed off a marvelous period-piece hunting coat from the 1920’s, which they had managed to maintain in top shape. I am honored to have put it on myself!
Legendary master tailor Mr Bigg.
This is a Christmas cake, which I gave to all the independent bespoke tailors at St. George Street. They enjoyed eating this while working (a tailor does not earn any money if he is not working!). L.G. Wilkinson has celebrated 90 years at St. George Street and 60 years of travelling by motor car from London to continental Europe. They have clients around the world (including the cities of Ekaterinburg, Oman, Berlin, New York, Sydney and Muscat.
Another inspiring fact about St. George Street is that it supports the training of young tailors both in London and abroad. One project, in which they are involved, has trained women with difficult backgrounds in India to sew. After an initial training period, the successful women are offered a job with education and accommodation. If they do not have the necessary talent for bespoke tailoring, they have at least learnt a skill with which they can earn them a basic income. I am very fascinated with this project and would love to join such a good cause in the near future.
Another prominent Savile Row bespoke tailor at No. 11 is Mr. Thomas Mahon, who founded “English Cut” in 1995. He used to be the personal cutter for HRH The Prince of Wales when he worked at Anderson & Sheppard Ltd. By coincidence, their workshop is now also at No. 11! Mr. Mahon’s website, www.englishcut.com, is the original bespoke tailors’ and craft blog which started in 2005.
Mr Mahon regularly visits his US clients in New York, San Francisco and Boston. One of his clients is Mr Jony Ive, the Senior Vice President of Design at Apple according to the article by Vogue: A Rare Look at Design Genius Jony Ive: The Man Behind the Apple Watch.
It was a pure joy to speak with the colleague in a common language – bespoke tailoring. We talked about how we are always fascinated to listen to the fantastic imagination of our clients. At the same time, we have some technical points to tell from the perspective of professional bespoke designers such as the occasion of the dress code, silhouette and style. Trusting a truly professional designer is the key to achieving a fabulous look.
So here is our group picture at The Windmill, Tom’s favorite pub around the corner from No. 11. Most of No. 11 visits this pub along with other members of the trade and they claim that it is the perfect place to discuss tailoring challenges.
From left to right: Aleksandr Sasha Kuznetsov, Yui Kuznetsov, Thomas Mahon, Jamie Ling, Selma Jenssen, Lana Gerimovich
In the middle is Mr. Mahon. To the right to him is Ms. Jamie Ling, a trouser maker on his team since 2007. To my left is Ms. Selma Jenssen, a seamstress from Germany who is the daughter of a long-term customer of David’s and has become another excellent trouser maker in a short period of time. Such a driven young generation!
I am very pleased to have met such talented bespoke tailors in London. The history and tradition of bespoke tailoring in this beautiful and fashionable city inspired me greatly. I cannot wait to create one of a kind women’s couture dresses with this inspiration that I received in London. I am looking forward to visiting them again!