It’s rare that you get to see something you own being made. Most of the stuff on the high street the manufacturers wouldn’t want you to see being produced – rather like sausages, I suppose. And, like sausages again, you wouldn’t want to see them being made because it would quickly put you off your favourite brands. Factories are not pretty places. Even if they’re clean, their gigantic efficiency crushes aesthetics.
Crafts are different, of course. Handmade suits are a pleasure to watch being made. The same goes for handmade shoes, though often they are a lot more industrial – more pressure and strength is required. I’ve been fortunate enough to see shirts, ties, silk, shoes and suits being made for me in various places, and they have all enriched the pleasure of owning and wearing them.
But even these experiences are transitory. Far more satisfying is to work within the machine, to be embedded with a tailor. Over the past six months, this is what I have been lucky enough to do at Savile Row tailors Anderson & Sheppard as part of the creation of a new website – The Notebook.
The site, a form of blog, tracks the training and progression of several apprentices – cutters and tailors – as they learn to make suits the A&S way. Every couple of weeks I discuss with the team what they’ve been working on since my last visit, and write those experiences up into weekly blog posts.
The site will also occasionally feature words from the wise – advice and insights from the more senior members of the A&S team. This is particularly appropriate when discussing an item from the A&S archive, or an interesting recent commission. Hopefully these posts will provide some inspiration for customers, while the apprentice posts will serve to educate those customers about how the suit is put together.
Although the site only went live a few weeks ago, we’ve been posting since the end of August – so there’s already a decent archive there to look through. Topics covered so far include: basting the parts of the chest together; canvassing the chest; what that canvas is made from depending on the weight; and the art of sewing itself. On the cutting side, it ranges from the artistry required to draw an armhole freehand to the slog of noting every possible way a customer’s pattern can be laid out on the cloth. (It is important to always get the most efficient lay in order to use the minimum amount of cloth, but sizes, patterns and texture all necessitate different arrangements.)
It’s been an incredibly rewarding experience. I always felt privileged to live in London, at the heart of international tailoring, and to have reason to talk to and write about the various tailors that make up that world. But working behind the scenes gives a greater insight than almost any other journalist would have, and makes speculation about what tailoring methods are used faintly absurd.
I can only hope that readers get similar satisfaction out of it. The Notebook can be found here.