From his small, quirky and Dickensian premises in central Manchester, Michael Pendlebury, at James Personal Tailor, keeps sartorial standards alive in the Midlands
Article by Rupert Watkins Photography by Andy Barnham
Entering into James Personal Tailor is akin to walking into an Aladdin’s cave of both cloth and footballing memorabilia. The walls are bedecked with the footballers Michael Pendlebury has catered for over the years. Settling down amidst the old fashioned till, phone and a multitude of cloth books, Michael chats with Riddle about tailoring, avoiding the 1996 IRA bombing and how Manchester has its own distinct sartorial vibe.
Founded by Michael’s father, James, in 1973, at this time there were still over 50 tailors working in Manchester as mass produced ready to wear had yet to make its presence felt. As many tailors were close to retiring, James foresaw a future gap in the market. Having initially set up in Bolton, James Personal Tailors moved to Manchester town centre in 1975. Michael himself has grown up around tailoring; from an early age he was in the shop and whilst still at school worked for his father in the afternoons and Saturday mornings. At 16, he left school to become a tailor full time. Michael has always worked for the firm – trained by his father, he was never apprenticed elsewhere.
The firm was badly hit by the 1996 Corporation Street IRA bombing. The standard telephone warnings had been received, but barely 90 minutes before the eventual blast. Due to a substantial backlog of work, James was initially loath to leave the shop but was eventually persuaded minutes before the bomb, parked close by, detonated. The shop was gutted and Michael, five miles away at home, felt the bomb go off. He admits on the day he had only avoided cycling in and thus being caught in the blast or aftermath by accidentally oversleeping.
Moving into their current first floor shop, Michael took over the firm when his recently father died and now does suits for a variety of customers. As he sagely points out, “don’t judge someone straight off.” He does suits for barristers, teachers and solicitors – as well as a number of Manchester United players. Given his price point sits at between £1,200 and £1,500, his suits are something many can save for and aspire to. New customers tend to be between 25 and 40 though his client base clearly includes many older customers inherited from his father.
His house cut is waisted with narrow shoulders using a floating half canvas with tapered trousers. Michael has found many customers are buying suits for weddings or special events and so are frequently after something more distinctive, different and individual than perhaps the work oriented navy and grey favoured by many London tailors’ custom. Scabal is his main cloth supplier (though he also stocks Dugdales and Huddersfield Fine Worsted) and Michael comments the bolder checks and houndstooths are exceedingly popular. Possibly because these suits are not invariably for work wear, lighter nine ounce cloth is far away the most popular and there is a definite trend towards brighter linings – especially paisleys. He does do a fair amount of work in tweed, not for the shooting fraternity but due to the material’s distinctiveness and breadth of colour and pattern. Certainly many of the suits spied being worked upon in the shop would certainly cause a few London heads to turn.
It is impossible to chat without football creeping into the conversation. In this most football infused of cities, Michael’s work with both the major teams has given him wonderful publicity. He has worked with Manchester United for 12 years. Though the team was dressed by Hugo Boss and now currently by Paul Smith, they were keen to have a local tailor for alteration work. Off the back of this, Michael has made suits for Ronaldo and Paul Scholes amongst others. The sense of footballing generations passing through James Personal Tailor’s hands is undoubted helped by the fact Michael’s father made suits for George Best. On the other side of the derby coin, he continues to dress some of the directors at Manchester City who came to the firm through his father’s connections.
Away from the fashion obsessed hot house of London, Michael still finds a knowledgeable and careful customer. As he says, “people are a lot more educated even than five years ago.” The profusion of blogs and magazines allows people to investigate and compare services and styles. This is reinforced by the fact Michael says many younger customers will bring in a picture from Instagram or Pinterest as a basis for a suit or to show a particular colour or feature they particularly like. Because of this social media interest, Michael has launched a YouTube channel where he discusses the merits of various cloths and cuts and well as showing himself at the cutting board.
James Personal Tailor remains a small, intimate firm. There are only two full time staff and Michael employs two further part time workers – one specialising in jackets, the other trousers. One of the women he works with also specialises in alterations – a large and important part of the firm’s work. Due to these constraints, Michael, though a trained cutter, works on all aspects of the suits – something he enjoys doing, “it’s enjoyable to be part of the process from the start to the finish.” This is a small operation – the firm produces around 150 suits per year.
Michael concentrates on men’s tailoring, he and his father briefly flirted with women’s tailoring though ended this option four years ago. Given his keen pricing, he has attracted customers from as far afield as Edinburgh and Ireland and has one regular expat customer who lives in Georgia in Eastern Europe. With 15 years in the trade, Michael is certain the one seismic change in tailoring has been the internet and the availability of both style advice and the ability to search for tailors. He is an admirer of Oswald Boateng and remains very influenced by how Boateng bought fresh flamboyance and colour into menswear.
With his emphasis on alterations, Michael is very keen to, “plant the seed” as he puts it in customers’ heads. As the last fully bespoke tailor in Manchester (he does not offer made to measure), he appreciates, “not everyone can afford a bespoke suit every time.” Many do return though after having small alterations done and take the sartorial plunge on a full suit. Looking to the future, later this year he will be showing at Manchester Fashion Week. Michael is making a couple of specific wedding suits for the show. With a charming premises – though he smiles when he says he was once flooded out at one in the morning when working on a wedding suit for the next day (future customers, the repairs have been made…) – and a distinct style and panache of his (and Manchester’s) own, James Personal Tailor is well worth Midlands suit lovers checking out.
Enquiries: James Personal Tailor, 52 Cross Street, Manchester M2 7AR / 01618 327678 / www.jamespersonaltailor.co.uk/