A Passion for Precision
Having trained in Germany, Brita Hirsch now offers the highest standards of tailoring to her male and female customers in this country
Article by Rupert Watkins Photography by Andy Barnham
With her German tailoring education and her passion for British wool, Brita Hirsch sits astride two differing yet complimentary tailoring traditions. Her work draws custom from around the country and those who continue to be put off by the high prices of Savile Row. Based in Cheshire, Brita has clients from as far afield as Plymouth, though given 50 per cent of her clientele is London-based, she spends a number of days each month in town.
Born and bought up in Germany, Brita trained as a tailor, undergoing a seven-year training course. With this background, she is well placed to comment on the differences between how young English and German tailors are educated. Much flows from Germany’s great emphasis on rounded vocational training and viewing this route as of equal importance to more academic higher learning. “Training is not as specialised at first, you move across all areas from drafting patterns to finishing“ she comments, “the aim of the system is to produce independent business people as much as the artisan.” Given this country’s apprentice system where young tailors specialise very early in a small area – coat making, trouser making and so forth – there is perhaps much to recommend this more balanced methodology.
After a year in Rome upon leaving school, Brita began her apprenticeship at a small tailors in Hildesheim near the Harz Mountains. At the end of this initial three-year spell and having passed three major exams (she also was studying textile engineering), she then moved to Hamburg, first working in theatrical costumes before joining the tailors Tom Reimer. Working here for eight years through the 1990s proved to be Brita’s biggest influence. Reimer worked with a full canvas but constantly strove to produce them in the lightest weight possible, giving the jacket a soft shoulder.
There are few bespoke tailors now in Germany, most clustering in Munich (such as Max Dietl) and Frankfurt. Whilst Brita says there is a uniquely German tradition, it is quite weak now; there is a heavy Italian stylistic influence on what could be seen as a slightly utilitarian heritage. Continuing her training in Hamburg, one of Reimer’s customers who Brita tailored was Luciano Pavarotti. When the house was making his evening tails, Brita recalls he insisted on a tour of the workshops, “he was fascinated by the tailoring methods and sheer craft – he very much saw what we were doing as equivalent artisanship.”
Few people, Brita believes, know what they are looking for when they start the bespoke tailoring process. There is an inevitable learning curve. She is finding that ever more women, who at one point would have patronised a dressmaker, are now more prepared to come to a tailor. However she sees a certain amount of reticence when they have an initial meeting, “women are still not prepared to fully invest in themselves. There is still too much emphasis on fashion not style.” That said Brita has an ever-increasing number of female customers, currently sitting at around 30 per cent of her work.
Following her time at Tom Reimer, Brita moved with her family to Malta for five years before deciding to move to the UK as both she and her husband had a deep appreciation for the British way of life and the enduring craftsmanship in this country. Having not tailored whilst in Malta, she found that she missed the intimate one-on-one relationship a bespoke commission has and so Brita founded Hirsch Tailoring in September 2014.
Brita’s comprehensive and precise training under Tom Reimer comes through in her passion and determination to maintain the highest of hand crafted standards. As she maintains, “there are no short cuts if you have pride.” There is no doubt tailoring has its periods of solitude – Brita works on all aspects of her garments. She has no wish to outsource work: there is as she puts it the, “responsibility to guarantee perfection.” She clearly enjoys the commissioning process behind her clothes, “the personal journey” and over the minimum three visits finds it becomes a very intimate experience for both her and each customer. She has two to four garments on the go at any one time at various stages and looks to finish two suits a month.
A passion of Brita’s is British wool and she is a firm supporter of The Campaign for Wool. As she points out, much English-made cloth is still made with wool imported from Australia or New Zealand. She sources her tweed from independent weaver Donald McKay MBE (incidentally the weaver who took the phone call from Nike for 10,000 trainers worth of the material that sparked Harris Tweed’s wonderful renaissance). She uses Huddersfield Fine Worsted and Dugdales for suiting and the silk comes straight from Adamley in Macclesfield.
Despite the current regard with which the best English bespoke tailoring is held, Brita remains slightly concerned for its future. Too much in recent years has been, “misinterpreted” as away from the obvious epicentre of Savile Row; too many imprecise and elastic definitions and fly-by-night companies still trying to muddy the lines between made-to-measure and true bespoke, “you have to really look for it today.” She herself rigorously works to Savile Row Association standards and practises.
There remains, Brita feels, a training gap. The living costs in London are prohibitive for those wishing to be apprentices in the capital. She chats about being approached by a school leaver passionate to become a tailor but unable to afford to live in the south of England; given the sheer teaching time needed to train a tailor one-on-one from scratch, she was unable to aid the unfortunate person. The system, Brita feels, remains geared to supplying the great tailoring houses with none of the enabling training to understand the larger business picture. Looking back to her own cross-skilled training in Germany she strongly believes this thorough trade knowledge is both empowering and good for accountability.
She is aware that more women in Germany have gone into the tailoring profession and reckons the UK is slowly making progress as well – certainly the number of female apprentices on the Row is rising steadily. Brita’s zeal and tenacity to uphold the very finest of tailoring traditions is obvious when first meeting her and those seeking top-notch work should unhesitatingly seek her out.
Enquiries: Brita Hirsch Tailoring/ firstname.lastname@example.org/ www.hirschtailoring.com