Square Mile Style
City institution Couch & Hoskin continues to thrive elegantly and quietly, with an exemplary “show-don’t-tell” attitude to their craft
Article by Rupert Watkins Photo by Deniz Karagulle
The statement “City tailors just churn out pinstripe” could not be further from the truth at thriving City firm Couch & Hoskin. Just walking into their clubby premises on Eastcheap and glancing round its upper level shows both the variety offered by and rude health of this 107-year-old City institution. As Managing Director Jonathan Becker explains, the firm can do shooting and over coats, women’s wear, QC’s waistcoats and has even done a few judges’ topcoats in its time.
The tailoring house has only moved twice in its history. Starting in Cullum Street in a markedly “Dickensian” premises, Couch & Hoskin moved into Eastcheap and then in the 1980s into its current location. At all places, the cutting board has been on show in the shop – something many customers have enjoyed seeing and a layout that Jonathan wryly notes many West End tailors have also adopted in recent years. Today, the firm concentrates on a classic bespoke look; cut-wise, Couch & Hoskin is known for having a slightly longer coat: however, the main tenet is to accommodate the customer’s wishes at all times.
It’s an intimate firm. Jonathan himself is a third generation tailor, his grandfather having bought into the company and his father building it up following the Second World War. Cutting and fitting are done on the premises with a very small workshop tucked away on St Mary’s at Hill. The small pool of sufficiently skilled trouser makers, button hole specialists and so on means the firm shares many of these with far more publicised West End firms, which really blurs the line between the best of the Square Mile and Mayfair.
As Jonathan says, “We are still known as the place to go to on the floor at Lloyds.” With the Square Mile’s long standing tradition of having its suits made, Couch & Hoskin thrived in the 1980s: “We had two trouser makers making sixty pairs a week to keep up with demand,” he recalls. The era of Valentino and Ralph Lauren did not impinge in this corner of sartorial excellence. The dress-down 1990s were more of a challenge though – one stalwart customer is fondly remembered as continuing to wear a suit to work. When asked to relax and dress like he would at the weekend, he promptly turned up in tweed plus fours and a shooting coat. To help overcome these issues, made-to-measure was introduced in 2004 which has proven extremely popular.
With the sartorial unpleasantness of dress-down days thankfully behind us all, the focus on fine tailoring has meant a steady flow of new custom. The vast majority tend to be in their mid-thirties, with the split between made-to-measure and bespoke siting roughly at 60:40. Frequently, they will bring in pictures from GQ or elsewhere to show what they are after, though Jonathan does not believe he sees much real fashion change over the years.
Currently, their youngest customers want “that very skinny bum freezer Skyfall style”, though they sit in a small minority. Most suits will be run up in an all-season 12 ounce cloth, though the house’s 8 ounce high twist panama remains very popular for summer suiting. Jonathan puts much of the success of their made-to-measure operation down to the fact that Couch & Hoskin was a full bespoke house for many decades prior to offering this level of tailoring, and thus bought bespoke levels of attention and fitting to this newer arena.
The firm branched out into women’s tailoring in 2013 and this has proven to be a small (5 per cent) but reasonably steady part of their business. Working off made-to-measure templates, Couch & Hoskin has a kernel of dedicated female customers, many drawn to the firm by both the cut and quality as well as the fact it is frequently “impossible to find a plain navy skirt suit”, as one satisfied client puts it.
Rightly, Couch & Hoskin stress their expertise at the art of alterations. Carefully altering any part of a suit – even more so when a customer brings in an item from another tailors – is an overlooked area of good tailoring, but one Jonathan feels they are one of the very best in. John Jacob, the firm’s main tailor for alterations, served his apprenticeship at Kilgour, French and Stanbury in the early 1960s prior to perfecting his trade at Anthony Sinclair in Conduit Street. Working with him is the firm’s newest recruit, Zoe Yates, who began working for the firm a year ago.
Couch & Hoskin are not the cheapest one can find in the Square Mile – “reassuringly expensive”, as Jonathan disarmingly puts it. However, the firm’s commitment to quality and craftsmanship means they are still competitively priced when compared to the more publicised denizens of the Row. Looking forward, he feels it will become increasingly difficult for the best in the City to keep the prices to a level that are accessible to many Square Mile workers, with rent raises being a constant threat (two years ago, the firm was hit by a 52 per cent rent increase).
Couch & Hoskin, though, continues to do well quietly. The current Lord Mayor is a customer, and the firm sponsored one of the floats on the last Lord Mayor’s Parade. Operating through word of mouth, Jonathan knows it is frequently “intimidating the first time you go in a tailors”, though the cheerfully risqué banter across the firm’s open cutting bench diffuses such nerves. He remains quietly proud of its relationships – many of Jonathan’s grandfather’s customers introduced their sons to the firm and now Jonathan numbers many third-generation grandsons among his most dedicated clients.
Above all, the firm remains wedded to the simple view that “you can show them but can’t tell them” when dealing with its customers. Jonathan tells a story he heard from one such satisfied person. A number of people at a dinner party all remarked on the quality of each other’s suits. None of them knew they were each wearing Couch & Hoskin. They hadn’t told each other what they were wearing but had all quietly been recommended to this “this rather decent tailors” in Eastcheap. I think that sums this remarkable little house up.