How Yorkshire Made England Look Smart
Some seriously seasoned sartorial style is being showcased in a captivating new exhibition, which has just opened in Leeds
Preview by Sam Clark Photography Sara Porter
Tucked away in a very smart, lofty gallery among the rafters atop the rather grand, Leeds City Museum is a fascinating new exhibition tracing the development of tailoring from the 18th century to today. The exhibition explores the development of tailoring from the Yorkshire woollen mills to Savile Row. It illustrates how the principles of tailoring have developed through ready to wear, made to measure and bespoke and how it has been adapted for formal wear, sportswear, changing fashions and into ladies wear. Where did that pleat go and that dart come from…?
Carefully selected exhibits include pieces from the museums own extensive archive ranging from an exquisitely embroidered Privy Council uniform jacket to contemporary garments by Vivian Westwood, Alexander McQueen and Roger Saul for Mulberry. A jacket made for Ringo Starr by Leeds trained tailor, Dougie Millings is on very special loan from the V&A, London. A new, bespoke suit has been specially commissioned for the exhibition by the highly acclaimed tailor Kathryn Sargent.
When asked, Leeds-born Savile Row tailor, Kathryn jumped at the chance, honored to be included in the museums historic collection. The suit, with a wonderfully sculptured, sharp, single breasted, two button jacket is made with a specially designed, hand woven wool cloth supplied by Dugdale Bros & Co.
Dugdale Bros have been making and supplying luxury woolen fabrics in neighboring, Huddersfield since 1896. The company is one of the few surviving independent cloth merchants in Great Britain and their ridged principles of design and manufacture of the highest quality cloths makes their fabrics sort after by the bespoke tailors on Savile Row and in more countries now than at any period of their history.
Leeds and the surrounding areas have strong links to the wool industry and woollen fabrics since the mediaeval times. The city rapidly grew in size and wealth until the 19th century when the demand for wool products slowed. The 20th century brought a change in fortunes for the area and a change in fashion for the whole country. After a successful start in Chesterfield, Montague Burton chose to move the home of his burgeoning tailoring and menswear empire to Leeds. Montague Burton and other big names in Leeds tailoring, like Joseph Hepworth, were to take the city into a golden age of tailoring. Burtons and Hepworths set up factories making ready to wear suits, tailoring all parts of the suit themselves.
This was suit mass production unlike any seen before and the examples in the Tailored exhibition show the cut, even the stitch on a button hole was done with a meticulous care and pride.
Savile Row’s Hardy Amies’ suit for Hepworth’s centenary is exhibited along with a Burtons Dress Suit from the 1920s.
Messrs Burton and Hepworth’s next innovation was to take their garments direct to their customers through their own shops. Both of which (Hepworth is now Next) are still staples of the high street, and many wardrobes!
Despite the success, mass appeal and convenience of ready to wear, there is, happily, still a call for bespoke artistry. Desmond Merrion, one of the few tailors in Leeds offering a full bespoke service has a three month waiting list. Desmond comes from a proud tailoring Leeds family. Although technically an engineer, not a tailor, his father breathed life into many an ailing sowing machine as chief engineer for Montague Burton.
Tailored: A Very British Fashion runs from 17 July to 3 January 2016 at the Leeds City Museum, Millennium Square, Leeds LS2 8BH. The exhibition is open every day except Mondays (open Bank Holidays) 10am to 5pm Monday to Friday and to 7pm on Thursdays, weekends 11am to 5pm. Free entry to all visitors. www.leeds.gov.uk/Tailored
Photograph of Kathryn Sargent courtesy Leeds Museums & Galleries