Dressing Downton

Having worked at many of The Row’s most iconic houses, David Ward also helped bring some sartorial flair to Downton Abbey

Interview by Adrian Peel Photography by Andy Barnham

If you knew then what you know now… would you still do it..?
I’d probably make the same mistakes again even with hindsight…

What have you been doing recently? Where do you currently work?
I’ve been busy cultivating a bit more of a presence online by writing a variety of pieces from an insider’s perspective on Savile Row. As one of the smaller independent bespoke tailors based there, I feel it’s imperative that I use social media to tell the world who I am, what my opinions are relating to the world of Savile Row and convey what I think might be interesting to anyone who has an interest in bespoke tailoring. I currently work from the fitting rooms at 9-10 Savile Row where I see clients on an appointment only basis.

When did you first become interested in tailoring and what was it that attracted you to the profession?
I had an interest in fashion at a young age and in my teens my poor old mum was generally knee-deep in tailored jackets I’d picked up in charity shops – and she was always altering a variety of things to my instructions. The structure and aesthetic of tailoring was always very appealing to me for some reason. During my degree in fashion design, I started to work as an intern at Norton & Sons when the Granger family owned the company. I guess I had a lucky break as I was soon helping out doing a bit of sewing, watching the cutters construct patterns and eventually designing ready-to-wear collections for their licensing agreements in Japan – a dream job for a mere undergraduate! I was so inspired by the exactness of bespoke tailoring as I’m a bit of a perfectionist.

As well as Norton & Sons, you’ve also worked for Timothy Everest, Henry Poole and Huntsman?
Yes, when I finished my degree I started working for Timothy Everest as a trouser cutter. It was a great time as I suppose tailoring had put itself back on the map through people like Tim. Not to say Savile Row had ever gone away, but I do think that with the explosion of men’s magazines in the 1990s the “new age tailoring” buzz that broke on to the fashion scene during that era communicated bespoke tailoring to a new audience and made it accessible.

What I also found from working in all these incredible places was an understanding that what made them great was the pedigree of the incredible artisans who had worked there over the years. It was so inspiring hearing about the “iconic” tailors who had worked at these establishments. For any company that is considered great, you need great staff to execute that reputation and that is true of the companies you mention. I guess Henry Poole will always be my spiritual home on Savile Row – it’s where I truly learned my craft. A great house that is still run by a great family.

How has the business – and Savile Row – changed over the last 20 years?
When I first started working on the Row, many people were telling me to get out of the trade as it was a dying industry and wouldn’t last. However, it goes on but with a skeletal appearance. Many tailors have closed down or moved away to find alternative, less expensive workshops to carry out their work. Some have banded together and share space in a few places in Mayfair, but I suppose in an ideal world these companies would be back on Savile Row embracing the space which is historically theirs. But with the influx of ready-to-wear companies who have deeper pockets with which to meet the exorbitant rents, I guess it would appear my wishes are a far cry from reality as money is king.

I gather there are now some tailors who refer to themselves as “Savile Row tailors” when they are nothing of the sort? How can we know who is the “real deal?”
The word “bespoke” has become such a cool word in the eyes of the masses and every man and his dog has hijacked the adjective to sell anything from bespoke slippers to bespoke flowerpots. But when individuals start plying their trade as “Savile Row tailors” and additionally using the word “bespoke” to sell factory made suits with no connection to what is made on Savile Row, that’s when it becomes a little hard to swallow. These individuals have no right to use such a title as they haven’t done the hard yards.

I always encourage people looking to decipher who the real tailors are to be liberal in asking if the name above the door has completed a recognised apprenticeship or has worked for an established firm and in what capacity. You’d be surprised at the amount of names who sell themselves as Savile Row tailors whose knowledge and ability is paper thin.

I keep hearing how men these days are returning to tailors in droves. It must be a pretty good time to be involved in the profession at the moment?
I don’t think well-dressed men ever went away from Savile Row and the Row has always been an alluring proposition to a steady flow of well-established and new clients. As I mentioned earlier, the explosion of men’s magazines – and additionally social media – has really helped to push the message that bespoke tailoring is a wonderful individual pursuit and works to refine the idiosyncratic bumps and bulges of the body to create a true item of beauty. So maybe in this day and age there are more informed men out there who might not have had the confidence or enthusiasm for a trip to a Savile Row tailor. I’m sure they are now aware that Savile Row is accessible and engaging, unlike the quite Dickensian image that was once considered the norm.

What advice or tips would you give to men out there seeking to improve their overall appearance – those who can’t afford tailored garments?
Never be frightened to give anything a go. Many men seem to overuse the term “classic,” which I feel is another word for “I don’t know how to dress.” Also, never take advice from someone who says brown shoes don’t go with navy suits…

Tell me about your experiences working on Downton Abbey. How did your involvement in the series come about and how has the programme affected the way men dress?
I oversaw the cutting and making of Hugh Bonneville’s dress tails in series two of Downton Abbey, which became a bit of a sartorial showstopper. He did wear it well. At Huntsman we were approached by the costume designer for series two and so I worked closely with her using our own dress references of the era to create the piece worn by Lord Grantham. It was quite insightful as I could clearly see how meticulous the detailing was for the programme. The only thing different for Mr Bonneville’s dress tails was that the trousers were made with no pockets in them as he kept getting into trouble with the director on series one for constantly putting his hands in his pockets during filming. So for season two the pockets had to go. Mr Bonneville did return post-completion of filming and I made him his own suit – with pockets in the trousers.

I think as a programme it was incredibly stylish. The whole elegance of the era was brought back to life so well. It gave the viewer a glimpse into a time when style seemed to be the default position for many men and was therefore aspirational. Ideally it would be great for modern men to have a tailcoat and morning coat in their wardrobe to dress for the occasion, but alas it costs an awful lot of money to look that good.

Please describe your own personal sense of style
Hmm, I don’t think I could clearly define the way I dress… I obviously have a strong bias toward tailoring and maybe the finer aspects of male narcissism, but it’s a small part of how I present myself away from Savile Row. In addition to this, I come from a fashion background and graduated from Ravensbourne with a degree in fashion design, so appreciation for design per se never leaves you. I also have a very diverse bunch of friends who are mainly creative types; fashion designers, photographers, graphic designers and stylists, etc., so I’m never that far away from an array of inspiration when it comes to clothing and design. I guess I’m a bit of an aesthetic magpie. I try to take the best bits from my environment and put them all together – and avoid anything “classic.”

Do you consider yourself lucky? What are your proudest achievements?
I don’t believe in luck, unless it’s you who won the lottery this evening… I’m a bit more practical than that and firmly believe we create our own reality. I think life in general is all about making choices. Some are good choices and some are not so good. I think my own achievements have come from my own steam and I guess when I look back on my career it is a bit of a fairytale. I still remember the first time I walked into Norton & Sons and met the then-head cutter, Brian Jeffries, who interviewed me for an internship with no pay and plenty of tea making. So to return to Norton’s many years later to run the house as the head cutter was an amazing feeling. I’d put in the hard work and it was rewarded. riddle_stop 2

Enquiries: www.davidwardbespoke.com/

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