A fresh perspective on a traditional craft
A fresh perspective on a traditional craft
Caroline Andrew is a bespoke tailor who specialises in the hand-made craft of traditional British suiting. Graduating from the London College of Fashion, she infuses classic Savile Row tailoring techniques with innovative flair, and works with a team of master tailors and cutters to create her signature house style. Her work is grounded in her belief that beauty and functionality in design serve to enrich and simplify the lives of modern individuals. Caroline was named “The One to Watch” by Vanity Fair, and awarded a “Bright Young Thing” by the Mayfair Times in January 2020.
Caroline has recently set up a new home for her business in our very own Notting Hill. We don't blame her. W11 certainly isn't short on well-dressed people! Domus Stay COO, Rachel Angell, caught up with her in her studio on Kensington Church Street, and started by asking her, “How’s business?”
Caroline (CA): After a three-month lull, where we all wore pyjamas and comfort clothes, it’s been really encouraging to see orders for business suits really pick up again. Back in June I was being asked for T-shirts, and I always said no; I don’t want to start mass producing clothes, or changing what I do to the point that makes no sense to the brand. If you look at the classic, Italian style of tailoring, it’s more relaxed, and I’m infusing a bit of that into my designs.
Rachel Angell (RA): Is that what you’d call your house style?
CA: A lot of Savile Row tailors have house cuts which have stayed the same for generations; they haven’t necessarily evolved. I fuse my design background with traditional methods and craftsmanship. My suits are made on Savile Row, but they don’t have the very structured, formal British cut; they’re more modern. I think it’s really important to evolve with the time, and to listen to what your clients are saying to you. A bespoke suit is all about the fit and the cut of course, but it’s important to design something which is appropriate for today; for the day and age in which we live.
Generally speaking, I cut my suits with a higher arm hole, which gives you more movement. A lot of my clients are constantly on the go, so that helps them with comfort, while at the same time allowing a more defined shape in the waist. I find female clients tend to ask for a double-breasted style. For my male clients, the suit I make most often is single-breasted with two buttons, and slightly slanted pockets which draw the eye in. We do a notch lapel, a double vent at the back, again for more movement, and a surgeon’s cuff, with two real buttonholes and two which are false. So-called because historically, when surgeons would wear their suits in surgery, they would need to be able to roll their sleeves up!
RA: Have you seen any trends emerging this year?
CA: The thing is, when you’re having a suit made, you want it to last. So you tend to see small trends in suiting – a peak lapel for instance, or certain types or shades of fabric. The Prince of Wales check is having a moment, for example. Certain TV shows and films have an influence, too. Lots of clients will bring in a picture – of Daniel Craig, say – and ask me,“can you make me look like this?”. All men want to be James Bond!
RA: Can you describe your typical day?
CA: I have two stores – Mayfair and Kensington, and I’ll be in one of them on a daily basis. My day at the shop starts early – this is my chance to get emails and admin tasks done before the rush of the day. I find that I’m most productive in the morning, so I try to reserve the time between 08:00 and 10:00 to do cutting. After that, there’s always a lot of traffic – what with deliveries coming in and out, as well as industry people, who’ll drop in for an update, or chat about fabrics. Client appointments and fittings start from around 11:00 and run through until 17:00 or later. In the evenings, I’ll lay out the cloth that’s come in, ready for the following morning.
RA: It seems like there are a lot of stages to making a suit – can you walk us through that process?
CA: First of all, I meet with the client to discuss their styling requirements and choose fabrics. I order the cloth from a cloth merchant, as well as all the trims, buttons, canvas, collar Melton and shoulder pads. Then I cut a paper pattern based on the client’s measurements and apply this to the cloth once it arrives at the shop.
Once all the elements have arrived, I’ll wrap everything into bundles for the makers; one for trousers, one for jackets (traditionally they’re called coats in the trade). My trouser-maker and coat-maker will come into the shop to collect these, and they’ll prepare the basting, which is a loosely stitched, first version of the suit. This takes about 2-3 weeks, after which I’ll meet the client for a first fitting. I’ll rip down the basting, re-mark the final stitch line, bundle it back up and then it goes off to be finished.
RA: It sounds very much like a team effort – almost like the artists’ workshops of old!
CA: Yes, there are a lot of people involved at each stage in the process. On Savile Row, everyone has a job. You have a trimmer, a cutter, then there are the makers, finishers and pressers. I cut. Some people do everything, and I’ve been trained in all the aspects, but I don’t think you could run a successful business that way. And in any case, I wouldn’t want to. There are people who train so hard, for ten years or more to play their particular part. I love being able to work with a variety of craftspeople, and it’s nice to do my bit for the tailoring industry, and to support makers, particularly women, who are on their way up.
RA: You’ve talked a lot about relationships in your business, which is certainly something which resonates with me, at Domus Stay. Do you think that this plays a part in how people choose their tailor?
CA: I think so. I do get a lot of clients via word of mouth, and I think that if people talk fondly of you, or like working with you, that brings in other like-minded people.
RA: Do you think you can tell something about a person by the cut of their suit?
CA: That’s a good question! I think in a more general sense, you can definitely tell when someone’s wearing a beautiful, well-tailored suit, versus something off the peg. The thing is that they’re not perfect; they’re all hand-made! Because of course, the body is not perfect. The way one hip is bigger than the other, or the shoulder that’s slightly dropped. So the beauty of a bespoke suit is that it’s unique, and when you wear one, you know that no-one else will have the same thing.
RA: So is it the unique quality which is the main driver for why people choose to have their suits made on Savile Row?
CA: I think it’s a combination of factors, and certainly the heritage plays a part. International clients, in particular, love the history of Savile Row. A lot of British clients remain loyal to their tailor for years, and probably visit the same house as their father and their father’s father.
My clients tend to be younger, and don’t work with their tailor in the same, traditional sense. In many ways, I’ve bought Savile Row to them, through modern channels, including social media. I think the fact that I’m a woman has drawn a new crowd too. You do still get the odd, “oh wow, you’re a woman!” comment, but generally people are very receptive, in fact I find that people want to support you more! I think the female opinion is very important to clients, and they don’t necessarily want the opinion of a 70-year old man to tell them how to look good!
RA: Going back to how your design background drives your style; how do you think the way you approach the process differs from the more traditional houses?
CA: I’m of a younger generation, so I haven’t had to only learn one way of doing things. I’m open minded, I explore a lot with different ideas. In the baste fitting, you get the opportunity to try new things, to see what will work and play with cutting styles. And my clients trust me. They’ll say, “I’m looking for something different, what would you suggest?” I digest all of what they tell me about their work or personal life, and I make something for them which just pushes them to the outskirts of their comfort zone a bit, and makes them feel fresher.
RA: Do you have a favourite commission?
CA: I genuinely love all the suits I make, because they’re all so unique. Wedding suits are obviously very special, and of course it’s always a pleasure to make for friends and family. I have some really senior clients who still come back and tell me about the things that have happened to them when they’ve worn their suit. “I sealed a huge deal in this suit” they’ll say, or “I wore this suit the day I got my promotion”. So it’s lovely to think that I’m making lucky suits for mere mortals!
RA: Kensington Church Street has such a wonderful atmosphere, and it seems that your shop looks right at home.
CA: This store places the brand at the heart of this quietly affluent residential area. There’s a lovely neighbourhood feel here – all the shops are small, often family run local businesses. Everyone pops in to check on each other. Just this morning, Safinah from Blush & Ivory called in for coffee, and it’s always great to stop for a chat with Tuggy from the Huntsworth Wine Company. He knows everybody, and his shops is always inundated, especially at the moment! And then there’s Sally Clarke’s deli which has been here for more than 30 years; she does the most amazing home-deliveries, which she calls “meals on wheels”.
Caroline is graciously offering Domus Stay guests a complimentary personal tailoring consultation in the Mayfair or Kensington store, together with 10% off their first bespoke garment.