Mr. Cameron – a Story

Last Monday evening after work I was lucky enough to enjoy a couple of pints in one of the local pubs near Savile Row. I was in very good company; I was with Alan Pitt of Anderson & Sheppard (Mr Pitt made this coat, among others), and Alan Cooper of Welsh & Jeffries.

Though I’ve known Mr Cooper for a long time, I only found out yesterday that he also worked for A&S in the early ‘Sixties. Typical of Savile Row and its nomadic tailors.

(Mr. Sheppard’s shears lying on top of one my hand-drafted trouser patterns.)

Back then, the head cutter at Anderson & Sheppard was an infamous tyrant named Mr. Cameron.

No one would doubt Mr. Cameron’s abilities as a craftsman- utterly top notch and world class. But let’s just say his hot temper was as memorable as his red hair.

My teacher and former A&S head cutter, Mr Hallbery kept me on my toes, but even he would shudder when he spoke of what Mr. Cameron would do if he ever spotted a finished suit, waiting for collection by some important customer, that he wasn’t happy with.

After a close inspection of the cut of the lapel and drape of the shoulder, Mr. Cameron would explode and demand to see the young cutter responsible.

When the trembling wreck was summoned for his scalding (which I’m sure felt more like an execution), Mr. Cameron would show his utter disgust by taking his shears and cutting the offending coat horizontally in half.

It was of no consequence of who or what the garment was for. If it wasn’t right, then no way would it be seeing the light of day. Pretty terrifying. The only revenge I ever heard the cutters and apprentices ever exacting was to put itching powder in his overcoat pockets. That’ll teach the great Mr. Cameron. Indeed.

Two nights ago at the pub, after a long inhalation of his cigarette and a good chug of his India Pale Ale, Mr Cooper recalled how he he was witness to one of Mr. Cameron’s most famous tirades.

Whilst Mr. Cameron was fitting a illustrious, high-ranking member of English Society, young Mr. Cooper was then Mr. Cameron’s striker (undercutter), standing silently with pins and chalk in the corner of the fitting room, as Mr. Cameron masterfully fitted the gentleman in question.

The unfortunate customer made the mistake of inviting his wife into the proceedings. Officially that’s not a problem in Anderson’s, as long as the wife stands quietly in the corner in silence like the apprentice cutter, clutching her handbag instead of pins.

Sadly, this is where the good lady made a near fatal mistake, by daring to utter a minor detail with regard to the fit of her husband’s coat.

Within a split second Mr. Cameron’s tape was lassoo’d around her neck with more skill than any western wrangler, the chalk thrust into her hand, followed with the statement, “You seem to know what you’re doing, Madam. The job is yours.”

And with a swoosh of the curtain he was gone, like a Savile Row Batman.

My friend, the young Mr. Cooper, was greeted with an uncomfortable stunned silence in the fitting room, as he squeezed ever tighter on his chalk.

After a request of forgiveness from The Good Sir, Mr. Cooper crept out to find Mr. Cameron for an indication of what to do next. On finding his master, he asked on what he should tell his stunned customer?

Mr. Cameron simply replied… “Get rid of the wife.”

Thanks, Alan, for that great story. Yes, it was worth every last drop of beer I had to buy you, in order to get you to tell it.

Savile Row – Worsteds & Super Numbers

There are all kinds of cloth material out there- wool, cashmere, vicuna etc. But for the moment I just want to let you know about the most widely-used cloth in the business, the classic “Wool Worsteds”. This is the main cloth bespoke customers need to know about. These are used for about 90% of our business. The exotics I’ll cover at a later date.

English Wool Worsted is mostly woven in Yorkshire, Northern England and the English West Country. Like all crafts, there are smaller independants dotted around the UK, however the town of Huddersfield in Yorkshire has the big slice of the business.

(Me working away with some classic 10-ounce Wool Worsted)

Wool worsteds are usually made from Merino wool (which usually means Australian and New Zealand Merino sheep) and are supplied by all the London cloth merchants.

Wool Worsteds are very popular for a reason- they make up very well, and with a little care they can last for years. I and most of my customers wear them for this very same reason.

They come in a wide range of qualities- but when you’re buying a suit, make sure you know what definition of “quality” you’re using.

Is it “quality” in terms of texture and design? Or is it about durability and strengh? Again, always ask yourself “What’s the suit for?” Remember this, or you could end up spending a lot more money and feeling sorley disappointed.

Worsted cloth is rated by numbers. Super 100’s, Super 150’s and higher. These numbers refer to the count, or fineness of the yarn used in the cloth. The finer the count (measured in microns), the more wool is used per square inch of the cloth. Hence the higher the number, the finer and softer the cloth.

To qualilify as a good, hard-wearing and attractive wool worsted, it must be rated at least in the upper 80’s and 90’s.

The Super 120’s and higher are beautiful cloths, but there’s a price to pay, and not only financial. Although they do feel wonderful, the simple fact is they don’t wear very well. They’re simply not as durable as their lesser-numbered cousins.

I know this seems a little tragic, but still, if money is no object and you want to feel the finest stuff against your skin, go for the Super 150’s. Or if it’s something special that you won’t wear too often, then go treat yourself.

The other advantage of high-number wool worsteds is, because of the finer yarns used, the weavers are able to get more colours and intricate designs into the fabric. This can make them wholly tempting as you gaze at them and stroke them, when the tailor is showing you a sample.

Rest assured, no Savile Row tailor is going to sell you an inferior cloth, as the result to his reputation would be utterly disastrous. But just remember the cost of cloth can differ vastly, and not all for the same reasons.

In summary, Super Numbers look and feel fantastic, but don’t wear as well, and can add 20-30% to the cost of your suit. Your more affordable, classic worsteds are usually made into the timeless designs- pin stripes, chalk stripes, Prince of Wales checks etc. So you’ll always have room for them in your wardrobe. They make up well and last for years. The downside is the designs are far more standardised.

Picture(39).jpg(Nicolas Guilbaud of Scabal, one of the top Savile Row cloth merchants.)

A word of advice. It’s very easy for some obscure manufacturer to produce a sample bunch with all sorts of fancy numbers and claims on it. And you’ll find out the hard way, a year down the line when the suit starts falling apart, how exaggerated these claims were. No tailor will know all of the manufacturers in the world. But if you look out for these familiar names you can be pretty confident of what you’re getting:

London-based to note are Scabal, Wain Shiell, Lessers, Dormeuil, and Holland & Sherry.

Some excellent out-of-town companies are Dugdale Bros., Lear Browne & Dunsford, and H.E. Box.

Why English Cut?

One great thing about Savile Row is there’s usually plenty of work for all the tailors. Sure, it comes and goes, but the fact is, there aren’t that many proper bespoke tailors out there, and the market, once you’ve reached a certain level, is amazingly steady and robust.

So when somebody buys a suit from say, Kilgour’s or Welsh & Jeffries instead of from me, I’m always perfectly happy for them. Both these tailors are world-class, and the clients are usually very informed about the market, so I know the choice was probably a good one. And like I said, there’s plenty of work out there. My turn will come around soon enough.

But recently a lot of English Cut readers have been sending me e-mails, asking the dreaded question, “Why should I buy a suit from you, instead of the other bespoke tailors you’ve mentioned?”

It’s a perfectly reasonable, straightforward question. To save everybody’s poor typing fingers, including my own, I thought I would just answer them here directly.I would list four main factors. They’re not so much “Reasons To Buy”, more “What Makes Me Unique”. Drum roll, please…

1. Mobility and Economics.

The most singular difference between myself and the other tailors I rate highly, is that I’m not permanently based on Savile Row. Though I do the lion’s share of customer measuring and fitting on Savile Row, I do my cutting at my workshop in Cumbria, near the small village where I grew up. But because of my Anderson & Sheppard, background, I only use sewing tailors who have been trained to sew “The Anderson & Sheppard Way”, which means the majority of the tailors I use are currently used by A&S as well. So there’s no loss of quality for my customers in my business model, just an improvement in the quality of life for one humble tailor.

This benefits my customers in two major ways. Firstly, basing my workshop outside of London saves me the huge overheads. This allows me to sell my suits at about 20-25% less than the big houses on Savile Row. This is something I’m sure nobody would complain about, especially our American cousins, who are not encouraged by the current exchange rate.

Secondly, staying mobile has made my business far more flexible than my competition, mentally as well as physically. I don’t wait for customers to visit London, to visit Savile Row before I ‘condescend’ to take an order. No, I happily travel to them. If they live in Paris, I can go to Paris. Or New York. Or Chicago. Or San Francisco. Wherever the market dictates.

And of course, if the client is wanting more than just the suit, and desires the full-on, real-time Savile Row experience with all the local history and colour, I happily meet them there at Number 20, where I have my London offices. [UPDATE: As of January 2006, my London Offices are at No 12 Savile Row.]

To me, Savile Row is a proper business, not a tourist attraction.

I know the grand houses of Savile Row are wonderful institutions, and they have a big part to play, but Savile Row’s tailoring heritage was formed on that street simply because, frankly, the the Well-to-do of London “Society” lived in the immediate vicinity.

Two hundred years ago, if you wanted the Well-to-do’s custom, you had to set up shop where they actually lived. Making sure your customers didn’t have too far to ride in their horse & carriage. Savile Row is in Mayfair, the West End residential neighbourhood that occupies the top slot on the British version of “Monopoly” (i.e. where “Boardwalk” lies on the original American version). Savile Row evolved there for perfectly mundane, ordinary, economic reasons. That is where all the business was.

But now my market is global. Some of my customers come to London now and then, but seriously, they live and travel all over the world, and it’s my job to keep track of them. However grand and magical Savile Row can appear on an early morning walk, all that’s really needed to do the job is skill, a tape measure, a cutting table, a sharp pair of shears and the ability to keep one’s word. I’m as happy meeting my clients in a Manhattan hotel suite as I am meeting them in London.

Ergo, I’m open for business, anywhere on the planet. Who wants a suit?

2. Credentials.

Without tooting my horn too much, here are a few anecdotes to help illustrate my worth.

After I had decided to leave Anderson & Sheppard, I got a bit of a rush of people, who suddenly wanted to work with me. Stephen Hitchcock, who was an apprentice, became my striker {undercutter) for a few months before my departure. Gieves & Hawkes headhunted me, offered me a great package. This I turned down, as they said I could cut any style of coat I wanted, should I have taken the position. This I found flattering, but utterly bizarre.

More interesting was when Anderson’s first found out I was leaving, they made me train their present Managing Director, John Hitchcock [the father of Stephen]. This I found rather strange at the time, as Mr Hitchcock was nearly twenty years my senior.

[An old photo from circa 1990: My teacher, the great Dennis Hallbery.]

But the best bit of all is that Mr Hallbery, who was one of Anderson & Sheppard’s most respected cutters of all time, gave me Mr Sheppard’s shears, which were handed down to him a generation before by his teacher, Mr. Cameron, who was given them before that by Mr. Sheppard, the man with his name on the door. Yes, you could credibly argue that Mr Hallbery was one of the greatest tailors of the twentieth century. I have no problem going on record with that belief, especially as his work is on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

So if you like the Anderson’s cut, I guess you could say I’m the one currently wielding Excalibur. At the time, it felt like Obi Wan Kenobi was handing me over his lightsabre. It certainly made me smile.

Any tailor I’ve so far mentioned- Messieurs Hitchcock, Anderson’s et al- are all great, world-class tailors, not to mention the rest of the Row. To have their collective respect is the by far the greatest achievement of my life.

Also via the Row, I have recently been asked to give a pattern-cutting “masterclass” (their term, not mine) for one of the Universities here in London. It’s nice to get the occasional bit of outside recognition, as long as nobody gets too carried away.

Sure, with my globetrotting, mobile ways I may seem to be a bit of a heretic, but the fact is, I know this business. And best of all, I know the best bits of it. First hand.

In truth, I’m as hardcore Savile Row as you’ll get.

3. Temperament.

I love Savile Row, and love being there. But I know myself, and know the rest of London doesn’t suit me nearly as well.

I don’t want four hours of commuting on tubes and trains, every day. Nor am I particularly interested in getting my name in the right glossy magazines. I can’t be bothered with the trendy parties. You never get a decent drink, anyway.

Call me old fashioned, but I have an independant streak. Yes, I prefer to rough it up here based in beautiful Cumbria and keep visiting my customers where they need me, not where it’s ‘cool’ to be seen.

4. My Age.

There are a very few top tailors left on Savile Row, realistically, maybe a dozen left on the very top shelf. I am the youngest one I know of, and I think I know most of them. I am not yet forty. Most of them are in their sixties. I know one person who is considered one of “the younger ones”. He is in his late fifties. More than a few of them are set to retire within the next couple of years.

A decent wardrobe, built as a collaboration between the client and his tailor, takes a long time to build up. Like English Cut, the plan is for me to still be around in 20 years.

Thanks for reading. Should you wish to discuss any of this further, here are my contact details.