In the middle of London’s Hatton Garden, Christopher Field is making waves with his bespoke shirts and with his own brand has introduced tailoring to his repertoire
Article by Rupert Watkins Photography by Andy Barnham
Tucked away in amongst the myriad of diamond emporiums in Hatton Garden sits Guy Field. Founded by Christopher Field only in September last year, this small, bespoke shirt maker has rapidly gained a loyal following. From the moment he began his own firm, Christopher has also offered made-to-measure suiting, and the balance of the business currently sits 70:30 in favour of shirts – understandably so, given his background.
Following Art College Christopher, in his own words, “fell into” a role with Jermyn Street shirt makers Thomas Pink and stayed with them for three years before moving to Emmett for another four. Having long had the desire to run his own company, towards the end of his time at Emmett, he felt ready to take the plunge. Focusing on the more niche arena of bespoke shirts, Christopher has found his Hatton Garden base to be well placed for both his clients in the Square Mile and the West End.
Focusing on building genuine rapport and a long-term relationships with his customers, he has developed a client base ranging in age from early 30s to late 50s. Deliberately adding made-to-measure suits with a very reasonable entry point of £600 has meant Christopher has gained a small and ardent following of new City graduates as well. He looks to fuse a modern approach to traditional values and standards; whilst he uses an Italian factory and craftsmen to construct his shirts, he merges this Southern European sartorial quality with the more structured and formal look the English market responds to.
Christopher buys direct from the Italian cotton mills, including Thomas Mason, Albini and Canclini. He sources Sea Island cotton from David and John Anderson, though he comments that, despite that fabric’s reputation as being at the summit of shirt material, the leap in quality of Egyptian cotton over the past 20 years has slightly undermined the need for a customer to look to the high expense of Sea Island shirtings. Christopher has over 2,500 patterns and fabrics on his books, but finds that Oxford and poplin cotton weaves are by far the most popular.
Given the Transatlantic pre-dominance of the white corporate shirt, it is no surprise this is the most popular form of shirt Christopher is approached for – especially as an initial order. However, once the relationship is established, many of his customers will ask for more casually cut shirts. Brush cotton is popular for winter shirts and he frequently recommends linen/cotton mixes for summer. Christopher also showed me a couple of colourful and snappy samples of traditional textiles his African customers send him asking for shirts to be made up in them.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Christopher sees a clear correlation between the adventurousness of his younger clients and their professions. The creative types tend to allow far more leeway and sartorial experimentation than banking, in which rigid conventions still apply more often than not. Given the formal environment the bulk of his shirts are worn in, the more structured cut back and Windsor collars are very popular. American customers still go for their classic button-down collars, and some of Christopher’s older US clients still remain loyal to the tab collar. He uses mother of pearl buttons for all his shirts and offers the quirky but very personal detail of having initials or important dates, for example marriage days, engraved on them.
Guy Field is a one man brand – Christopher himself – in the UK. The factory which produces his wares is a second generation firm in Pescara, central Italy. Situated about two hours east of Rome on the Adriatic coast, the factory has a small workforce of 15 producing only about 15-25 shirts per week. Christopher commented that the beauty of working with such an intimate firm is the very personal relationship and dialogue he can have. Problems with individual measurements or a particular shirt in production are frequently resolved via Whatsapp. He visits Italy roughly every couple of months, also making a point of seeing the cotton mills and distributors.
What with the profusion of magazines and blogs, like many other bespoke providers Christopher remarks that he sees a very knowledgeable and aware customer when they first come to him. Frequently they know exactly what they want but he still finds there is a recurrent need to guide and advise, sometimes to prevent the customer from making a mistake by being too rigid in what they see themselves wanting and often to simply reassure. As, unlike most other bespoke shirt providers, he allows customer to order one shirt, Christopher frequently counsels new, over-enthusiastic buyers to ensure the first item is what they want and that the pattern is absolutely correct before going ahead with further purchases.
Since Guy Field came into being in September last year, Christopher has also offered made-to-measure suits. He is quite definitive that this is not bespoke – he aspires to offer a Made in England bespoke option though this is some way off. His suits are made abroad and he offers a wide selection of English (mainly Dugdales) and Italian suitings.
The house cut has a medium shoulder, higher armhole with a waisted coat and tapered trousers. Christopher sees quite a divergence in taste between his various international clientele, the English preferring muted, worsted fabrics (12 ounce being the most popular weight) along with the traditional side adjusters on the trousers. A second pair of trousers tends to be a sensible and popular option.
His international customers frequently prefer Italian materials, with American and Australian buyers still preferring belt loops for their trousers. It is interesting to see how, despite international brands and the tides of fashion, these entrenched national sartorial conventions continue to affect people’s ideas and buying patterns. The vast majority of his tailoring work revolves around complete work suits, though Christopher offers casual tailoring for separate jackets and trousers. Whilst a growing arena, it is something he hopes follows naturally as a relationship with a customer matures.
Having only been an independent business for a little over nine months, Christopher knows he had an advantage in being able to bring followers to his own brand. His sartorial and retail story is through shirts rather than suits, so it has been easier to define himself than it would have been had he set up as a tailor alone. That said, he stresses, “You still have to deliver, you cannot take any previous reputation for granted.” Like many entrepreneurs taking their first step, Christopher was very honest in admitting that the biggest issue was psychological – taking the leap from a salaried and structured organisation into the relative unknown.
The biggest fashion change Christopher has seen in his time in the shirt business has been the continued trend to slim-cut shirts and the rise of the “super slim”. Indeed, such is the wider desire for very tightly tailored shirts in the business community that he does stock a small selection of cotton/lycra mix fabrics to fulfil this need.
Being bespoke, though, he can merge a slimmer cut back with a more generously cut front panel to prevent the problem of a slim cut shirt suddenly straining at the buttons when the wearer sits down or leans forward – a problem many in mass market manufacturing have not solved. His core business, though, does not revolve around the fashion buyer – his clients desire something lasting, that they are comfortable in.
Looking to the future, Christopher is planning to offer women’s silk blouses (the factory in Pescara has experience in producing womenswear). Many of his current customers have asked whether he caters for women, and a number of wives/girlfriends of his clients have approached him through word of mouth.
He also plans to introduce an online made-to-order portal in the Autumn with a two-and-a-half-week lead time. Beyond that, Christopher is looking to maintain the integrity of his new brand (There is a desire for “unique garments, honestly made,” he says). The provenance of garments is of ever greater importance – as he has commented, social media can burn an unscrupulous brand very quickly.
As for the endless possibilities of bespoke wear, Christopher tells the story of an older – perhaps rather careful – customer who asked for a longer tailed shirt with hidden cash pockets below the beltline. Anything’s possible…