An Interview with Tailor Robert Bailey

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September 22, 2020 by Ville Raivio

VR: Your age and occupation?

RB: My age is 51. I was born in Aldershot in May 1969. My father was head cutter at Gieves and Hawkes in Sandhurst, Camberley, in Surrey, and he is now retired. My mother was a finisher (a kipper), that’s how they met. I am a master cutter. This means I can cut/make any garments bespoke and have over 35 years experience in the cutting room and fitting room. I have always been involved with bespoke tailoring, I am the 4th generation cutter from my family.

VR: Your educational background?
RB: My education was very standard. I went to the local junior and high school. Academically, I wasn’t great, I passed the O-level in Fine Arts. Maths, English, and Science were not my strong points as I had little interest in anything outside of football and drawing when I was young. Originally, I was going to study to be a chef. But as my enjoyment of cooking reduced, my desire to follow in my parents’ footsteps increased.

 

VR: Have you any children or spouse (and how do they relate to your tailoring enthusiasm)?

RB: I Have always been involved with bespoke tailoring, I am the 4th generation of cutters from my family. I am father to two boys, aged 17 and 12, and my hope is that maybe one day the tailoring bloodline can continue through one of them, at least. But I wouldn’t dream of pushing the matter with either of them. To be a bespoke tailor you have to completely love and understand what it is you’re doing all day, every day. Being a bespoke tailor is not just a job, it’s a way of life. My wife didn’t know much about bespoke tailoring when we met, but over time she has come to understand and appreciate exactly the love and enthusiasm I have for what I do. My sons have a certain pride in having a dad who gets to meet and dress some of the most stylish people around.

VR: ..and your parents and siblings’ reactions back when you decided to become a tailor?
RB: When I first told my father, Edward (Ted Bailey,) that I wanted to do what he does, he was a bit cautious and maybe sceptical about it as I think he thought I’d get bored of doing this after a while. But after the initial introduction to the world of bespoke tailoring it was something I took to like a duck to water. At this time I was a very shy and maybe a quiet lad, so my father wasn’t sure about how I’d cope in the fitting room. But once confidence in my work grew, so did my strength in character and I was soon taking command of what I was doing. But forever looking and learning how to improve my tailoring skills each day. But it was my father who insisted that if I wanted to get to the top of the trade I must study tailoring at college and I must find an apprenticeship in London’s West End.

 

VR: What other hobbies or passions do you have besides apparel?

RB: Being a bespoke tailor has always consumed most of my time, both the working day and many hours outside work, especially when traveling is taking place, which is very often these days. So, to say that I have any hobbies would be stretching it a bit, but my love is to try different varieties of food and drink. Traveling across Asia and Europe, like I do, gives me access to many of the most amazing and different cuisines from around the world. My particular favourite would be my visits to Tokyo. The food there is a different class, what they do to the food in Japan is mind blowing.

VR: How did you first become interested in style, and when did you turn your eyes towards more classic pieces? Why these instead of fast fashion?
RB: When you’re young and you first get in to the world of bespoke tailoring, it’s like, I’m going to change the world and drag this trade to the modern world! But after a period of time you realise, actually these are beautiful pieces of work in themselves and don’t need changing. That’s why they’ve stood the test of time and make the inelegant become elegant. A well tailored garment can transform the most challenging of figures into something quite extraordinarily perfect and well groomed. I used to think that was just a sales pitch, but it’s actually an amazing effect that a beautifully crafted garment can have on a person’s confidence, mindset and the impression to others.

When I started in 1985, the “look“ was big shoulders and heavy drape. It confused me why Savile Row didn’t cut that style too so they could make more sales and make more money, but one day it clicked! They knew that look would come and go and another look would follow soon afterwards, but they always knew that the classic bespoke suit, if cut well, would forever be the style that people will always want. That was a great education that has always stuck with me even when clients are asking for a modern look to their suit, they get what will last them for today and tomorrow, not just today.

VR: How have you gathered your knowledge of tailoring — from books, in-house apprenticeship or somewhere else?

RB: It was from the 15th of July 1985 to September 1990 when I was working at Gieves&Hawkes (Camberley) where my father was head cutter. I started as a Trainee coat, waistcoat, and trouser maker and I was striking (cutting cloth) in the cutting room. I was making and cutting civilian and military uniforms for Sandhurst Military College and the Gieves and Hawkes shop. My father told me that if I wanted to go far in tailoring I should learn to be a cutter, so from September 1986 to May 1989 I studied at the London College of Fashion as well as continuing my tailoring apprenticeship. I studied hard and passed my Menswear Bespoke Tailoring and Cutting course. I also passed City and Guilds Tailoring course.

By then the call of Savile Row in London’s Mayfair was too strong, and I was delighted to get a cutting apprenticeship from September 1990 to February 1996 at Davies and Son as a Trainee cutter, trimmer and helping in the shop with sales. I worked under Peter Forsey and Bill Matthews, learning cutting and fitting and striking. But in 1996, after 5 years of training, I was ready for my first cutting position and my previous company, Gieves & Hawkes in Savile Row, had a space available so I began cutting for and fitting customers at No.1 Savile Row, and also for a short time at Harrods.

In September 1997, I got a great opportunity coming my way, to learn from Michael Skinner, owner of Dege & Skinner, to gain some priceless experience and learn my trade from one of the best! As well as looking after customers in the Savile Row shop and my very first trunk show the to USA. In August 2007, my quest for more and more tailoring knowledge and experience took me to Davies and Son where I tasted my first experience of Asia, where I took over from Mr Peter Harvey from running the Tokyo trunk shows. That was where my love affair with this part of the world began! It was during this time that we tried our first and Savile Row’s first Seoul trunk show in 2013!
But back then nobody knew where or what Savile Row was about, unlike nowadays where there is so much more interest following the Kingsman movies and the Mecca that Seoul has now become for style and fashion.

At Davies & Son, I was Head Cutter, production director and permanently busy looking after customers in the Savile Row shop, travelling twice/ three times yearly to Tokyo (Harajuku and Shibuya) and holding special promotions with the Beams Company (Harajuku branch), as well as continuing three times yearly to Oslo for trunk shows . But my desire to make Asia the sole focus of my attention took me to Huntsman of Savile Row. The owner of the business was an executive producer of the movie franchise and saw a gap in the market to build up. So he gave me the mission of creating and serving the Asia clients with 4 visits a year.

It started with regular visits to Seoul, Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Beijing, and Shanghai. This was so successful that I soon added Bangkok, Taipei, and Shenzhen where I developed a reputation for being able to produce a perfect garment for each client to their own doorstep despite the distance from London’s West End! It was my job to organise, plan, and grow the business across Asia and make it the success that it became, it’s now the biggest and most far reaching Bespoke trunk show that Savile Row has ever achieved, and I’m very proud of what I’ve left behind.

VR: You have worked for a number of well-known Savile Row companies. Would you say the differences between each have more to do with nuances than distinctive cuts?

RB: Having worked at Gieves and Hawkes, Dege and Skinner, Davies and Son and Huntsman, the style of cut has always been very similar. The G&H and Dege house styles are very similar due to the military background of both houses. Both used to service the military uniforms at Sandhurst military college regularly, and at Pirbright plus the queen’s military barracks, so the style comes with a very military influence and it’s where I learned to master the art of the very high armhole. It’s especially necessary for the officers to salute in comfort and not drag the coat up when doing so. At Davies & Son and at Huntsman, the style is similar to each other, a more business like garment with a well structured shoulder and chest. Davies are a more adaptable silhouette to suit each figure whereas Huntsman are very rigid regarding changing the silhouette, you get little say in the look of the suit; the comfort is up to you, but always comes with roped sleeves and a strong shoulder line. Davies cater for a soft or hard shoulder line.

VR: When did you decide to set up your own business and what goals did you set for yourself?

RB: When Huntsman told me they were scaling down the Asian business in light of the COVID-19 situation, I decided that now is the right time to do what I do best. But working for myself as I knew what I’m capable of doing and it gave me the confidence I needed. So I’ve decided that now is the perfect time to launch my own bespoke tailoring business where I will be regularly visiting Seoul, Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo and Bangkok, and hopefully expanding further when the time is right. I plan to open a small classic tailoring shop in the heart of Edinburgh as there’s a shortage of proper bespoke tailoring shops in Scotland. London is a very crowded market now for tailoring and not all the bespoke establishments can actually cut a proper garment themselves so outsourcing is rampant. I’ll be in charge of absolutely everything at Robert Bailey Bespoke.

 

VR: What’s your cut and House Style like?
RB: My house style has been very heavily influenced by my 35 years in Savile Row. My aim is to create an immaculate-fitting suit or jacket that is like a glove yet has the comfort and feel as if it’s not even there. Yet it’s made by the world’s finest tailors and cut by my own hands to make even the most difficult of figures look and feel amazing! My garments will have the structure and same make as has been traditionally the way of Savile Row for over 200 years, but the shape and silhouette to make you look like you’ve been working out in the gym for a year and look like it was made only for you, nobody else. I am a fully accomplished ladies’ cutter as well. My tailoring team are all Savile Row- and Soho-based so you get the same garments from me as you’ll get from one of the houses there, but without the extra overhead cost.

VR: Who or what inspires you?

RB: My inspiration comes from Alexander McQueen and Tommy Nutter. They both grabbed Savile Row by the balls! Yet they didn’t betray the heritage of The Row. Alexander McQueen, especially, is a hero of mine as I too learned tailoring from the grass roots through to the finished garments. There isn’t much that I don’t know about bespoke tailoring and the needs and wants of a truly beautiful fitting garment. My knowledge and experience is second to none and I have had the privilege to meet and make suits for some of the most wealthy and most famous clients in the world! However, as the best tailors will agree, “what goes on in the fitting room stays in the fitting room!“ So you’ll not get gossip or juicy stories from me as discretion is of the upmost importance in my trade and every client will receive the privacy they need and expect from this tailor. I think Tommy Nutter took many anecdotes to his grave, he was the ultimate in being discreet. Haha.

 

VR: What’s your definition of style?

RB: Style, to me, is someone who dresses in a way that totally co-ordinates with their mind, body, and soul. It’s not influenced by fashion but by personal taste, sometimes being brave with regards to which cloth they choose for that next new garment but not caring about what others might think about it.

VR: Finally, how would you say Savile Row tailoring differs from tailoring taking place in the counties around the UK?

RB: Having spent the last 35 years working in Savile Row, the one major difference in the fit and in the tailoring I found is the armhole. Savile Row and The West End of London specialise in a high armhole, some achieving this more effectively than others, yet those out of town seem not to concentrate on this aspect so much. To me, that’s a vital part of the fit and I’ll always strive to create the highest armhole I can on a garment as I know that this is the beauty of having something made especially for you, it’s the key to a beautiful fit. But you need a good coatmaker who will make the coat to the cutter’s instructions and not take the easy way out, as a small, high armhole takes more TLC than the “one size fits all“ style of coat.

https://robertbaileybespoke.com


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"If John Bull turns around to look at you, you are not well dressed; but either too stiff, too tight, or too fashionable".
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