Sunday, 30 March 2014

The Lady Tailor Of Clerkenwell

When it comes to the word bespoke, the meaning often becomes lost in translation. “Bespoke is Made for you – that’s what it means.” Clarifies Susannah Hall in a matter of fact kind of way. Hall, better known as The Lady Tailor of Clerkenwell is one of very few female tailors that truly knows her craft and how to maximize her strengths. Hall takes time out from her busy schedule to discuss how to get the perfect suit, which icon she would most want to dress, and why she is proud to fly her red flag (sign) on Clerkenwell High Street.

I don’t often come across people like Susannah Hall. Warm, welcoming and witty, Hall depicts a woman of great wisdom, experience and a hard-driven passion for making people feel good about themselves through their clothing choices. Naturally Hall fell into tailoring like most people fall into fashion (sarcasm not intended). Having worked as an interior designer, she knew nothing about tailoring until she found herself ‘travelling around the West end and the City measuring up men in their offices.’ (Don’t be so cheeky). Prior to this however, a childhood spent growing up in the Hampstead Garden suburbs gave her no other choice to but hone in on the creative influence she was constantly surrounded by. The daughter of an architect and interior designer, Hall took her love for constructing things – as she liked to call it, and went on to study Textiles at the Central School of Art and Design.

Fast forward a few years and here she is today; settled in her very own boutique style store that evokes the similarities of the infamous Row yet is seemingly unpretentious. The concept and meaning behind bespoke requires clarification more often than not: ‘People imagine the word bespoke means hand cut, hand done. That’s different. Bespoke is when it is made for you. A bit like a kitchen it’s made for the measure, the colour, the style the design, it’s made for you. That’s the same with a suit.’ The result is a piece whether it is a suit or a singular item that no one else will have by means of design or measurements, and requires particular components in order to achieve the final result – sounds basic enough but is not so simple when every centimeter counts. ‘Construction is important but it’s the fit that counts in the end I think.’ With a long list of designers that have emulated tailoring within their own concept, Hall takes her inspiration comes from a range of renowned tailors and designers from Alexander McQueen (pre Sarah Burton) through to Tommy Nutter and Vivienne Westwood and uses this to create a suit that reflects its wearer.

Albeit, don’t forget the main ingredient of using a very good cloth – something that is extremely important to Hall as everything she produces is made British. With recent media attention that most clothing is no longer made inside the UK, Hall deals a firm hand when it comes to her British made aesthetic. With many suppliers in the UK having been abandoned (no thanks to the likes of brands such a Burberry taking their production elsewhere; others following suit) Hall’s USP lays in the strong ties she has within the UK. With that made clear, it must be pointed out that no good suit however is without a good shirt: ‘My shirts are made in Manchester and Northern Ireland so that’s all UK based. I would rather close my company than go elsewhere.’ The situation at hand is of course very matter of fact, as is Hall when it comes to her business – the focus is all on the suit.

With Savile Row notoriously known for being the godfather of tailoring, it has already been concluded that there will be no other place in the world that would even come close to its caliber. Just like in politics (forgive me for putting on the feminist thinking cap), the limited number of women in tailoring is significant, making Hall even more unique in her craft. There are a considerable amount of women who are tailors yet they do not own their own space encouraging her fellow ladies not to be put off. ‘You’ve got to be a certain type of woman. You’ve got to be ballsy and have some banter about you; you’re not going to get anywhere if you’re quiet.’ Note there is no room for wallflowers in this business. Most importantly, Hall emphasizes: ‘I am not trying to make out that I am a Savile Row tailor, so I don’t tread on their toes.’ The importance of going about your own business is something strongly engrained with Hall’s aesthetic. ‘They will always have the clients that go there and they will always have the respect they deserve. If Savile Row wasn’t there, I wouldn’t be here.’ And you can really start to appreciate her humility more and more.

With quality not being an issue, there comes the dilemma that most consumers face with sizing. Monster mass production has been placed firmly under the high street’s belt so the concept of being one particular size seems to be vanishing alongside quality and consistency. When a women find’s a great item, she tends to think of it as an investment and we are all guilty of buying the one said item in every single colour purely because we love it. The idea of never finding an item quite like it ever again is a daunting thought but it is where tailors such as Susannah Hall come in. ‘We can base ideas on something you already have, such as a pair of Maxmara or Nicole Farhi trousers that you adore but the cut has changed and the size has changed and then you can come in here and order another black pair of trousers and cut and fit how you want; with that style that you like.’ Simples.

It is not just about making someone a suit, but in fact designing items that will have the forever quality to them, it is what makes people come back. How often has good customer service and advice left you feeling in a better mood and not wishing all retail workers to hell? And for those women who do want to embrace tailoring but are too afraid? ‘Come and get one made.’ For women the choice is not limited and there is nothing wrong with seeking styling advice.

Such styling advice can be key especially when it comes to styling yourself. You may not always be aware of the perceptions your clothes can give about you, or be aware of proportions for that matter. For Hall it is not uncommon that most clients are wearing the wrong size. ‘You can have somebody walking in wearing a suit and when you get to measure them they’ll take their jacket off and realize that actually they are a lot smaller. Or their body is completely different to how their clothes are presenting them.’ The simple discovery of your correct size can be the answer to life long questions about your style mishaps.

Another uncertain feeling that the word bespoke leaves you with, is the question of time. You immediately think that having something designed from scratch could quite possibly take light years. The process of having a bespoke suit made at Susannah Hall is roughly about eight weeks, about the times it takes to have ordered a whole new wardrobe online, that arrives and doesn’t fit when you try it and then needs wrapping back up and posting while you await your refund. Eight weeks is in fact an impressive figure given that this includes the material selection, fitting and having a basic design produced before adding the finishing touches. Tempted yet?

What is most encouraging about Hall is her willingness to create friendships with her clients. Despite learning that ‘Men are incredible peacocks’, her affectionate approach has given her the long list of loyal clients she has today. Regarding her success, the objective has always been clear: Hall doesn’t want to be Savile Row; her vision is a simple as the meaning behind bespoke. ‘I don’t want five shops, that will completely defeat the objective. I don’t want to just be a name on the glass that customers can’t talk to. It will lose everything I want it to do.’ And having met her, I want Susannah to continue to be the lady tailor of Clerkenwell.

Whether you are seeking advice on your measurements or just want to become suit savvy you can find Susannah Hall Tailors below: