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The Portfolio

London’s Finest Craftsmen

Mayfair has been the world capital of handmade gentleman’s supplies for the last 300 years. Meet six artisans who are keeping it that way

London’s historic pub The Punch Bowl is no longer owned by Madonna and Mr Guy Ritchie. Although Mr Ritchie gained the pub in the couple’s 2008 divorce, it was sold five years later and has now been completely refurbished. That work deliberately brought out all the beauty of the wooden beams, the rich paneling, and the history of this Grade II-listed building – a public house that has been at the centre of Mayfair life for almost 300 years.

Today, it provides an apt setting for the craftsmen that are gathered in its attic dining room. Their crafts have changed little over those same centuries. Their suits are still cut with shears from a paper pattern. Their bespoke shoes are still made on wooden lasts, chiselled into the shape of a customer’s foot. And their bespoke perfumes are created by hand mixing and sampling, each ingredient weighed in the imperial measurements of original, centuries-old recipes.

Each of the six has a passion for a traditional – but still, arguably, the best – method of dressing and adorning a man. And they have brought along items that demonstrate that tradition. Asked to bring something of sentimental value, each presents a practical piece rich in history. “We are mere custodians of our crafts,” comments bespoke tailor Mr Davide Taub. “We maintain our techniques and traditions, handing them down just like these items have been handed on to us.”

Mr Mario Valery, 59

TIE MAKER AT DRAKE’S

  • Mr Mario Valery’s glasses are essential for close detail work and his apron is made of tough, rugged cotton in order to “withstand daily wear and tear”

Mr Mario Valery’s family moved to the UK from Mauritius when he was six. Initially he followed his father into tailoring but tired of making mass-produced suits, cutting the same pattern every day. So, looking for something more creative, he transitioned into making bespoke ties, which he has now been doing for 38 years.

What do you enjoy most about your craft?

It has a nice combination of physical and mental aspects. You’re working with your hands, with very tactile, textured materials, but you also have to concentrate the whole time – to make sure the silk is cut on the bias, at 45 degrees, for instance.

What personal item did you bring to the photoshoot?

My apron, which I wear every day. It’s made from tough, rugged cotton – like denim – so it can withstand daily wear and tear when I am cutting. It was a prototype, which I think Drake’s are now going to produce for a local coffee shop. I also brought my glasses, which are my signature piece and I wear them every day for the close detail work.

How much more work is a bespoke tie than an off-the-shelf one?

It’s harder than you’d think. The interlinings and so on have to be cut to different dimensions, as well as the main silk of the tie, and then you have to try to keep things in proportion. So a longer tie, for a taller man, might also be a touch wider so it doesn’t look too skinny.

Are you ever surprised when you do meet customers?

Yes, in fact I met one recently. I’d been making his ties for a while, and he had them very short, with a small neck measurement. I assumed he was a small guy, but when he visited the factory he was really tall. He just liked them short – and I have to say it looked good on him.

Do you ever meet the customers you’re making for?

Not often. Because we’re working in the factory [on the aptly-named Haberdasher St near Old Street], we don’t see people and take the orders. But we do get quite a few thank you notes, often handwritten. That’s a nice side of bespoke – people feel it’s so personal that they often thank you in a personal way as well.

Mr Eithen Sweet, 23

CUTTER AT THOM SWEENEY

Mr Eithen Sweet grew up in Somerset and moved to London at 17 to begin his apprenticeship on Savile Row. He’s been a cutter at Thom Sweeney for three years and is now central to their development of new, young tailors.

What advice would you give to a customer coming to you for the first time?

I’d advise them to come with a good idea of what they like and a direction of what they want. Keep your first suit simple and to your tastes.

Do you have many celebrities come through the door?

A few, yes. I fitted a suit on David Gandy recently, and people such as James Corden, Dermot O’Leary and Jamie Redknapp are longstanding clients. I don’t really see them as anything other than customers though, just sets of figures and measurements.

That sounds like a pretty entertaining group.

It is, everyone gets on well and there’s often a lot of laughter. It can create a great atmosphere in the shop, which is lovely for everyone, from the tailors downstairs all the way up to the shop floor.

What personal item did you bring to the photoshoot?

My cutting shears. I got them from my parents as a gift when I first started out. I use them every day and hope I do for the rest of my tailoring life; I’ve become very attached to them.

What’s the hardest thing about hiring and training new apprentices?

I enjoy it a lot – obviously it’s not long since I was an apprentice myself. The hardest thing is probably finding the right people. They need to have a real passion for the work, and maintain that passion over sometimes long hours or long weeks. A tailor has to do the same techniques again and again, until it’s second nature.

Mr Nicola Pozzani, 34

PERFUMER AT FLORIS

  • The original glass measurement beakers and perfume formulas book are still in use at Floris HQ

Mr Nicola Pozzani was born and raised in Verona and studied as a perfumer in Milan. He then trained with French master perfumers at Symrise before joining Floris, one of the world’s oldest family-run perfumers, who have been blending fragrances in their Jermyn Street premises since 1730.

How does one begin describing what they want in a perfume?

You have to start with why the customer wants one. Is it for everyday, or for special events? I had one customer recently who wanted something made just for their wedding day. Then for day or for night? And to reflect you, your current character, or to be more transformative? Recently someone came in and was very clear that this commission was part of a new personality.

How do you go about describing the scents?

This can be very tricky, because vocabulary in perfume is quite poor. When someone says they don’t like heavy scents, they might include citrus, but citrus to me is quite light, even if it’s strong. So we spend a lot of time smelling instead. It’s very practical, very educational, in fact, for the client.

Do people often want to recreate old fragrances?

Yes, some come in with old bottles of perfumes they bought in the 1970s but are no longer made. Others want something quite abstract that recalls an event or a time in their lives. It can be quite a quest.

What personal item did you bring to the photoshoot?

The original glass measurement beakers and a perfume formulas book from the archives, all still in use at Floris when we craft new scents or reformulate old ones.

What’s the most evocative scent for you personally?

It would have to be something from my fragrance training where I first learnt the power of fragrance as a way to provoke emotion, like art. Soft marzipan-like scents and fresh, green smells take me back to the perfume lab and the room where we studied.

Mr Adam Law, 34

SHOEMAKER AT GJ CLEVERLEY & CO

Soft-spoken and unassuming, Mr Adam Law has become a mainstay of George Cleverley in his 10 years with the company. In that time he has sized up the great and the good: Mr Michael Caine, Prince Charles and Mr David Beckham are all customers. Mr Law creates the individual lasts and cuts the patterns for the shoes that are made from scratch in the tiny workshop directly above Cleverley’s store in Mayfair’s Royal Arcade.

Did you always want to be a shoemaker?

No, after graduation my first job was at Rolls Royce, doing upholstery on the Phantom. I was stretching leather over foam and the different styles of seats. It was interesting initially but got a little repetitive, so I decided to go back to school and do a course at Cordwainer’s studying shoemaking – and do work experience at the same time. In the end I got a full-time job at Cleverley before the course finished.

Are there many similarities between cars and shoes?

A few. You’re working with leather, but there isn’t the tension or force required with upholstery that you have with shoes. And it’s all quite homogenous – you don’t have the challenge of fitting different shapes of foot to a pattern and leather pieces.

What personal item did you bring with you?

It’s the size stick that belonged to Mr George Cleverley, the founder of the firm. It was made in 1928. I use it every day in the shop to measure the length of customers’ feet.

How would you advise someone buying their first pair of bespoke shoes?

Get something simple and elegant. Sometimes too much choice is a bad thing. Ordering a classic shoe that is handmade will always look great because of what it is, rather than how fashionable it is.

Mr Davide Taub, 44

HEAD CUTTER AT GIEVES & HAWKES

Mr Davide Taub grew up in London, the son of an East-End tailor. Having studied architecture before deciding in his late-20s to follow in his father’s footsteps, he brings an unusual perspective to the most famous address in tailoring – No.1 Savile Row – and likens his work to that of a sculptor, “cutting, moulding and manipulating the shapes to get real character into the garment”.

How does your training as an architect inform your approach to bespoke?

I think it affects me more and more actually. It’s a strong discipline [which prioritises] the importance of functionality and purpose. When I’m putting together something for a customer, I often imagine an architecture professor in front of me, saying: “Why did you do that?” It wouldn’t be enough to be cool, or be fun. That just wouldn’t cut it.

Are there any particular architects or philosophies you bear in mind?

If I had to pick one it would probably be Dieter Rams’ 10 principles for good design. Innovation, use, minimalism – it’s all there.

What personal item did you bring with you?

A set of old cutting instruction books called The Modern Tailor, Outfitter & Clothier, which were originally published in 1928 in three volumes. I have the 1951 edition. They are kind of manuals covering every aspect of the trade, mostly about cutting various styles of garments, techniques of making, information on cloth... to odd chapters on how to light window displays, how to delicately chase unpaid invoices and how to manage pushy spouses of customers! They were lent to me by my grandfather’s old partner/ cutter when I first entered the trade – they were tailors from the East End. He died a few days afterwards and his wife allowed me to keep them so they’re very special to me.

Have you had any unusual commissions recently?

We did have one a few months ago. The guy wanted pockets the exact size of £50 notes – several of them, all over the jacket and trousers.

Mr James White, 22

SHIRTMAKER AT EMMA WILLIS

Mr James White is senior cutter for Emma Willis, working at its factory in Gloucester, and coming to Mayfair to fit clients. (Ms Emma Willis tries to employ locals where possible, and Mr White hails from nearby Worcester.) Since 1999, shirtmaker Ms Willis has managed to revive not only the tradition of shirtmaking on Jermyn Street – with her own shop and bespoke fitting onsite – but also manufacturing, with the Gloucester factory opened in 2010. 

What do your friends think of what you do?

They find it hard to connect with; they don’t appreciate the creative aspects of bespoke. To them it just sounds like cutting out shirts all day. They don’t understand the problem solving, like dealing with a bigger man, perhaps with a slim waist but broad and sloping shoulders. And one shoulder might be an inch lower than the other – if you don’t adjust for that, everything collapses on that side. Every day it’s a different riddle to solve.

What makes you proudest in your work?

Knowing that I’ve contributed to people’s lives in a small way. This is particularly the case when I make patterns for Emma’s charity Style For Soldiers. Knowing that I’ve helped those soldiers in some way, boosting their confidence when wearing a shirt that I’ve made, makes me incredibly proud.

What personal item did you bring to the photoshoot?

My tape measure. I always have it hung around my neck and feel naked when it’s not there. I suppose it’s a bit like the watch on your wrist; when you don’t have it on it feels like something is missing. The tape measure is crucial in shirtmaking as you’re always having to take measurements, then draw the measurements and then check the measurements. We work to a 1/16 of an inch so it’s vital that I’m precise in everything.

How did you get into shirtmaking?

A friend from my university course was working at Emma Willis – we both studied fashion design at Falmouth. Looking back at it, my final collection was heavily focused on shirts, and the company I interned for at university was a shirtmaker as well. So in retrospect it all seemed destined.

Mr Crompton is the author of The Finest Menswear in the World: The Craftsmanship of Luxury