A tailor’s lot is not an easy one. There is the work of course, meticulous, scrupulous measuring at the beginning; the most critical eye for the microscopic flaw at the end. Good tailors are capable of cutting everything but corners. All in all, it is the sort of thing that preys on the nerves.
And then too, tailors tend to feel that their clients bodies will never achieve the perfection of the suit they will have crafted for them. That the customer’s body betrays the craftsman’s art is a belief somewhat mitigated by the feeling that the tailor will improve the appearance of said customer’s corporeal shortcomings. Which is, of course what clothes are all about anyway.
A tailor must be part cosmetic surgeon, part psychiatrist. And always a diplomat. But let me recount a singular situation to illustrate how the latter faculty can come into play, an event told to me by a director of one of Savile Row’s most illustrious firms. I will respect his anonymity.
“You may know,” he told me one day when I’d stopped by to caress some cashmere, “that the heyday of the Row was actually in the 1930s, which people find surprising because those were the Depression years. But the London approach to dress was universally popular among the wealthy. Hollywood film stars, royalty, international business tycoons and politicians all found their way to the doors of the Golden Mile. Many firms were kept nicely going through these difficult years by Indian maharajahs, for example, who had immense wealth and a liking for Western clothes. At that time we were making as many as 8,000 suits a year. Today we’re at about 3,000.
We had one particular maharajah who had fallen out with the Raj, and was asked to leave India. Funnily enough, he was allowed to take his money with him, and he simply brought everything to London and settled into a suite in a top West End hotel.
He lived it up incredibly, champagne and caviar all the way. And he literally bought hundreds of suits a years from us: all sorts of fantastic things like cycling suits with plus-fours and Norfolk jackets, cricket coats, tennis trousers, reefers and vicuna polo coats. Mad about clothes, he was.
One morning he rang up and asked if one of us might come round to his hotel with some swatches for his inspection, and I took them over. When I arrived at his suite a servant showed me in and directed me right through the open door to his bedroom.
It took me completely by surprise, although I kept my demeanour: there he was in bed, surrounded by his complete harem. There must have been a dozen or more women in the bed with him! I simply didn’t know where to look or what to do. But there was absolutely no sense of awkwardness anywhere else. I’ll never forget the maharajah’s complete sang froid on this occasion.”
'Ah, ladies', he sighed, 'you must forgive me now. You see it is my tailor.’ And they all got off the bed and scurried away, and he motioned me to spread the swatch books on the bed for his perusal.
It was quite a moment I can tell you. Now, when I think back on it though, there was something cosily domestic about it all. Charming, really.”
Part cosmetic surgeon. Part psychiatrist. And always a diplomat.
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