Friends and Tailoring Fun
Having earnt her tailoring spurs on the Row, Antonia Ede, now has her own place on Brewer Street with close friend and bespoke shirt maker, Deema Abi-Chahine
Article by Rupert Watkins Photography by Andy Barnham
Tucked away on a Brewer Street third floor, the welcome couldn’t be any warmer from Antonia Ede and Deema Abi-Chahine. Bouncy and enthusiastic, these two vivacious artisans make pondering your first bespoke investment more like a gossip between old friends than anything else. Founded at the end of 2016, the first eight months for Montague Ede have gratifyingly seen a rising flow of interest and trade for both girls. “I was rather lucky at the start” smiles Antonia, “I left my previous employer on the Thursday and had my own first customer at 12:30 the following Monday!” It should be made clear early on, Deema runs her own unique and separate shirt making business, she does not work for Montague Ede, she just shares the Soho space with her friend from college.
Having originally considered fine art at university, Antonia studied costume at the London College of Fashion before being taken on at Hardy Amies. She trained under Stuart Lamprell as a cutter before moving to Huntsman where she worked under Pat Murphy; Antonia remains grateful for the chance she had to learn from such respected artisans, “they were so generous with their time, support and knowledge.” Like Antonia, Deema also studied at the London College of Fashion specialising in menswear. After graduating, she was able to find a role working for bespoke shirt maker Sean O’Flynn in Meyer & Mortimer’s premises on Sackville Street. Not a formal apprenticeship, “it allowed me to learn the tips and tricks from the best. Sean’s guidance throughout has been invaluable.”
Certainly though despite Savile Row’s recent resurgence in popularity and the increasing crush of young apprentices, starting out remains hard. Antonia remarks that when she started the Row still had more of a one in, one out approach. Even with more formalised apprenticeships, living costs remain a pressing concern for the neophyte bespoke tailor. Antonia had to take alterations work on the side as well as working as a nanny when starting out.
The two girls had stayed in close touch since college and when Antonia started to consider taking the leap on her own early in 2016, she turned to Deema to share the small, relaxed and intimate workshop Antonia had found.
Chatting with both girls, their enthusiasm and passion for their art is clear, they have immersed themselves in their world and live and breathe bespoke menswear. “I love what I do” enthuses Deema, “if I found I ever stopped loving it, I think I’d have to step away.” “You are always learning” chimes in Antonia, “every day you learn something new or find an improved way of working.” Given their close friendship, they clearly find working with each other very natural. “There is no pressure of competing” as Deema points out, “given our differing businesses we constantly help each other out but there is no crossover.” Clearly each can recommend the complementing services of the other. Antonia measures, cuts, trims and fits in their Soho atelier but uses a small and trusted team of coat, trouser and waistcoat makers on Savile Row. Deema is now one of the very few remaining shirtmakers who offers the entire process – from measuring and pattern cutting through to finishing – herself.
Their studio is cosy and very clearly an active workshop. Because of where it is, “clients see it as a secret” comments Antonia. Certainly in the small space – much of it taking up with cutting benches and with 1930s Austin Read-esque menswear prints on the walls – the girls clearly are able to focus on what they need to do when required. In a moment of weakness, Antonia admits to their love of Britney Spears pop so clearly a funky soundtrack occasionally accompanies their work… More seriously for both of them, it allows them to nurture a happy relationship with their clients. Despite the profusion of blogs and men’s style advice now available – as Antonia points out – many potential customers are still unsure of what they really want and look to a brand name too much rather than the actual person who will be looking after them. As she says, “the most important thing I want to know when making this sort of investment is that it’s a non-pushy environment. We both passionately believe bespoke is an incredibly worthwhile investment but fully understand it’s a big one.” As such, both girls will happily chat away to potential clients and want them to make their own decisions in their own time.
This is re-enforced by the fact they will steer the over-enthusiastic away from too much too soon. Deema as a shirt maker is happy to make as few as two shirts for an initial order, if it is a very difficult pattern one, “the critical thing is to get the pattern right and that first garment absolutely spot on.” Antonia is in agreement, “when new clients have ordered multiple suits – especially more complex patterns like Prince of Wales or tweed checks – the emphasis is to get that first and simplest suit, almost inevitably a navy or grey suit, right.” Then more complex orders flow more easily as the shape, silhouette and pattern is established.
Antonia’s house cut is unsurprising Huntsman-esque with a nod to old-school Hardy Amies. Waisted and one buttoned, though as she remarks client’s tastes clearly evolve as they become more comfortable with their knowledge and the cutter they are dealing with. Likewise the learning and evolution never stops for either of the girls, in Antonia’s words, “you adapt and tweak how you go about things. We both re-look at old patterns (especially early ones) and realise things you might have done wrong – but also things you suddenly realise you instinctively now do differently.”
Provenance is all important, both girls and passionate about the fact their garments are hand made in the UK and Antonia pulls out some horn buttons she has sourced from a small Gloucestershire based button maker. Both Deema and her have seen from their time on the Row and since their move to Brewer Street the Chinese market becoming ever more discriminating, desiring stealth wealth to mere brands which plays hugely to London and the UK’s luxury strengths.
The girls are fulsome in their praise for the support they were given when they first set up, “it’s just a very kind helpful industry – we were blown away by the support we got from the trade.” Even to the point of colleagues helping carry things over to Soho. Both Antonia and Deema have an eye to the future, they are mulling over European trunk shows but for now Montague Ede is firmly now on the London tailoring scene. Those looking for a friendly welcome – and maybe a drop of Britney – should swing by Brewer Street and say hello.