In a sea of tradition, Paul Smith is a grounded maverick. When he set about establishing his first flagship store nearly 20 years ago, to house his bespoke tailoring service, he didn’t follow suit and opt for the obvious location: Savile Row. Instead he went for a grand townhouse in Holland Park. And he didn’t settle on a specific style or cut, either – his vision for tailoring incorporated versatility and put the customer in the driving seat. Heck, he went a step further than that and added personality, too; throwing a splash of colour into an otherwise monochrome industry. He was – and remains – a mercurial disrupter.
While 122 Westbourne House goes against the weave of orthodox tailoring houses, not just in location but also in its modernism – architect Sophie Hicks opting for white walls, glass stairs and plenty of natural light – the emphasis on the art of bespoke is as intrinsically woven into the fabric of the brand as any other reputed establishment in London. In fact, the two men Paul chose to run this department of his business, Chris Tarling and John Bryne, are still in situ to this day, and still every bit as passionate about their work.
Today, final fittings are taking place for five selected entrepreneurs: young, ambitious men for whom, much like Paul himself, style is more than simply getting dressed, but an opportunity to show statement, intent and individuality. They were invited to create their very own bespoke suits.
The process had started six weeks earlier… Each entrepreneur first came to Westbourne House to be measured by cutters John and Tom, who noted every draft in pencil in the record book – the pages of which stretch to many volumes from the last two decades. Then, under the guidance of Chris, whose knowledge of bespoke is truly second to none, each chose their suit fabric, lining and cut. It was here that they appreciated what makes Paul Smith tailoring unique.
No request is too big or too bizarre – in fact, unconventional is encouraged. Given Paul’s refusal to bow to the norm and stick to a specific house style, the entrepreneurs were able to adapt the shape of their suits to complement their personal tastes and needs. They have a huge variety of fabrics and exclusive patterns to sieve through, as well as more than 20 inner linings (carrots and swedes if you want them).
Paul Smith recognises that, for those who spend much of their time in a suit, there is very little room for any self-expression, and customers can therefore add a touch of colour here and there. Or they can go the whole hog, skip the details, and just go for a bold teal fabric for the suit itself. At Paul Smith, if you request it, and if Chris has the material and means to do it, he will deliver.
It’s little wonder that Paul Smith has such diverse and loyal customers – Chris tells me that they have made more than 30 bespoke suits for some people. On the racks circling the cutting room hang suits for men and women in the film business, music industry, writers, architects, and lawyers; the designs and colour-ways as eclectic as their owners. Peel back a breast to reveal the lining and you instantly get a narrow window into their character. A few years ago, they even fitted an 11-year-old boy who had passed his exams and, when offered a present by his parents to mark the occasion, asked for a bespoke Paul Smith suit – it was bright, tomato red.
Chris built a visual with each entrepreneur depending on what they wanted the suit for and what they would feel comfortable in. The fabrics then headed to the cutting benches and the skilful hands of the bespoke team where, over the course of several weeks, and via an additional fitting to mark any necessary adjustments, they came together to create some of the finest suits money can buy.
These are the entrepreneurs of tomorrow, wearing the designs of the most respected fashion entrepreneur of today; the man who ripped up the rulebook during a time when others were taking it as gospel.
Ollie Feather - liv.LIVE
“liv.LIVE is an on-demand booking platform that connects musicians with venues and bespoke events. We don’t believe in musical boundaries – if you can fit a musician and an instrument into a space then to us that’s a venue – it’s about creating music in as many places as possible. We really believe in the evolution of artists and see liv.LIVE as a petri dish for cultivating talent.”
Choice of suit: “I went with a pink corduroy fabric and polka dot lining. Paul Smith is known for its vibrancy and I wanted something that reflected that. I walked in and within 10 seconds I’d made my choice. I don’t often wear business suits, and so I wanted something versatile and unusual. It’s a summer colour but, because of the fabric, can be worn in the winter too – and it’ll only get better with age, even if I don’t.”
Chris Moon - Pad
“Pad is an app-based letting club for city dwellers. We are the first end-to-end letting app for long term rentals – think Airbnb, but for locals. I wanted to solve problems that my generation and I had in renting, which stem from lack of choice, transparency, speed and value. Pad is globally scalable and we are currently raising funding to achieve national and European expansion
Choice of suit: “I chose a really unique blue/purple wool blend. I went for a classic, single-breasted cut with a single button to give a slim-lined elegant feel. I wanted to achieve something classic but with a little bit of personal edge. For the lining I chose a nautical pattern, as it reminded me of growing up in Norfolk next to the sea.”
Josh de Lisser - Boom Burger
“I’ve always been obsessed with food. The obsessions have changed over the years but one thing that has always remained constant is my love for burgers. So I started creating my own with a friend. We erected a military tent in my backyard and served friends and family – before I knew it, Boom Burger was born. I hope to have a Boom on every continent one day.”
Choice of suit: “I picked a teal fabric, with a pale pink lining. I love my colour. Maybe growing up in Jamaica and the vibrancy over there has influenced that, or maybe it’s the grey that we face all to frequently in London that made me want to lighten up my clothes… Whatever the reason, the fabrics really stood out.”
Alex Potter - Goodlife Projects
“We design, build and invest in ideas and products we love. Simplicity is key. We believe knowing why you are doing something is the single most important starting point in creating any successful business. We own and operate several restaurants, a graphic design studio and an events company.”
Choice of suit: “I picked a classic Paul Smith fabric. It’s double breasted and I wanted to design a suit with a timeless style – something I could wear in the winter. I don’t wear suits on a daily basis, so it had to be something that I would feel comfortable wearing at the office, on site or having drinks after work.”
Rupert Runewitsch - Vista
“Vista is a luxury platform that allows people to curate the most in-depth profile of themselves using their preferences, which they can then share with hotels, restaurants, high-end retail, airlines, members clubs etc., to ensure they are delivered the best experience possible. It personalises our real-world experiences with brands and businesses.”
Choice of suit: “I split my time between London and California, and so needed a versatile suit that could work for both. I’m a big fan of Scabal cloth, and went for a lightweight khaki rather than a more traditional colour. Much of my time is spent in meetings, so I wanted to keep it smart, but also light – with a paisley lining… you always need paisley.”