May 26, 2013 by Ville Raivio
‘I’m a “young” 62. My occupation, simply put, is tailor. I left school at 15-years-old and attended Shoreditch College for the Clothing Industry (later The London College of fashion) for 3 years. I have 8 children, 4 boys and 4 girls. The first 2 are from a previous marriage, and the other 6 from my wife of 25 years. My wife is extremely interested in clothing, color and texture. We have many discussions on the topic. I have a 21 year-old-son who now works with me and is learning my particular skill sets. When I first decided to go into the tailoring business, all were supportive. My brother did think that sewing was a “sissy” job. Although he did, reluctantly, concede he was wrong as I progressed.
I really stumbled into tailoring as a stop-gap while I decided what I should do after leaving school. My education and “class” dictated I should do only menial work. I come from a very poor working class family and we were taught (and expected) to be the fodder for industry. For whatever reason I rebelled at this and enrolled at the tailoring college while I gave it some thought. It did not take long before I realized that I loved this job. I found I had an ability to see shapes and sizes on a piece of plain brown cutting paper and could create a pattern with ease. I did not intentionally go in a classical direction, it’s just that I was trained to work in the Savile Row area where classics ruled. That said, because of my training, I now find myself creating many fashion-forward clothes for individuals and interesting costumes for the movie industry. I do a lot of work in the movie industry now.
My store was born out of necessity. My goals at the time were to simply survive. I had mentors along the way, but as I started my own business only 3 months after my 21st birthday, I really learned on my own dime. By this I mean, if I did not learn quickly and properly, I simply did not eat. And this is no exaggeration. I had not one person who could fund me if I failed. As I am a natural fighter, this gave me incentive to learn very quickly from my mistakes. Of which, there were quite a few. At 21, as I soon realized, you only “think” you know everything!My goals now are centered on the suits I make and I give 100% concentration to this. As an example, I can tell you that I have no idea how many suits I make each year, whether one year was better than the next, how much I earn, how much my rent costs, my mortgage, or anything like this. My job is to create suits and I will not clutter my mind by other things. My philosophy is, if I do my job properly, then my business will be successful. As I have had my business for 42 years, then I guess I am doing something right!
I wear my own clothes somewhat fitted. If I’m left to my own devices when cutting a suit, I will put shape in (if client’s body allows), a little shoulder padding and sleeve roping. That said, I believe that a tailor should have his standards, but his job is to create the suit that the client wants. It is not my suit, it is theirs. I ALWAYS give an opinion. In fact it is impossible for me to keep my mouth shut if I see someone requesting something I believe is wrong. But if the fabric or style choice is important to my client, after he has heard my objections, I will do my best to interpret his wishes. I have been in the United States for over 22 years now and see almost no work from the Savile Row tailors. The ones I favored, when I worked there, with changes of staff, etc. might not be my choice now.
[Your reader] should only choose me if he wants to work with me. Also, he needs to know that he will hear my opinion, whether he wants it or not, but that I will do whatever he wants. My job is to interpret what an individual has in his mind. Most times this is simply a business suit. Other times, he has an image in his mind and struggles to describe this to me. I will work to assist him. I also encourage clients who are kicking around looking for a tailor to go an interview other tailors. This often surprises them as I do not work to persuade them to see me. This inspires a confidence that very rarely lets me down.
Often I learn how I do not want to be seen by others! Some of these people can be quite obnoxious. This is simply not my style. My staff, for example, are my friends. I never tell them to do anything, I only ask. Some say this is the same thing as, after all, I am the boss. Well, this is true, but I give them dignity by only asking. Some of the luminary clients, as you call them, do not. My hobbies are singing (I belong to a choir in NYC) and boating (we have a boat we keep on Long Island Sound). My passions are my family, my church and my job. All three are integral to my happiness.
Understanding body figuration is, to me, far more important than measurements when it comes to creating the final product. Knowing how to see the posture of a man, and then being able to translate that on to a piece of brown paper when cutting an individual’s suit pattern is, without doubt, the key to a well-fitted suit. Fashion goes out of style. Style never goes out of fashion. If you want a stylish suit, no problem. If I am making it for you, I will tell you that you will need to buy another suit in a year or so as the style will change. That’s great for me, but it is my job to tell a person this. Which I do. A classic style, and I do not mean an old-fashioned classic style, will last and can be worn as long as the client looks after it. Many tailors will simply take the order. I am looking to build a relationship, not to simply take one order.
One point I make to anyone who will listen is to stay away from any tailor who says he makes perfect suits and never makes mistakes. Perfection is in heaven, not down here! Human error is rampant in our industry. We all make mistakes. It’s how we deal with any mistakes we make that makes the difference. Of course, the secret is not to make too many of the darn things. That’s where love of your job, integrity and personal attention come in.’
Pictures: © the masterful Rose Callahan