A stylish conversation with Charlie Baker-Collingwood – Henry Herbert Tailors, London
Stepping into the humid, foggy cold spring season, I definitely need something to excite me, at least breaking the ice of the frozen style like defrosting a turkey for a big family feast. Passing by the menswear stores in town, and try to look up something that can freshen up my wardrobe as well as my sense of style, nothing really came into my eyes, but out of the blue, a young, fresh breath of air of mens sartorial, or more specific, British sartorial, simply came along without too much of a hassle, an energetic young tailor that meets his clients and deliver their impeccable tailoring clothing by his scooter, with his youthful passion and spirit of bridging the traditional British tailoring legacy to modern gentlemen chic, I think Mr. Charlie Baker-Collingwood, the young artisan behind his British tailoring house, Henry Herbert Tailors, finally defrosts my style craving and takes us to a new path to experience the British bespoke tailoring in a more innovative and light-hearted way.
With the name of the house, Henry Herbert, was once a master of the royal wardrobe for the British monarch in the past, Charlie resurrected the name to continue the glory of this artisanal heritage and know-how of the refined British tailoring at an affordable prices. Obsessed with the craftsmanship and having a talent of tailoring at his sleeves, Charlie starts his tailoring journey by observing the professional veteran then eventually getting involved with the hands-on work himself, subsequently, learning jacket making at Morley College in London, and trouser & waistcoat making at Central St Martin’s, plus, the sewing skills at City of Westminster College, the effort of this youthful gentleman finally paid off and eventually gained him a professional qualification, and of course, founding the tailoring house that he has been dreamt of.
Being a young tailoring house requires much more effort and work, especially in this competitive world and economic climate, as for Charlie, his motto is always about providing the finest bespoke clothing, staying true to the highest standard which inherited from the core essence and spirit of traditional Savile Row tailoring, with the finest fabric, along with the most qualitative craftsmanship from the skilled tailors in house, and deliver the most beautiful piece of tailoring piece of clothing for the discerning gentleman.
Something very special about Charlie as his dedication and staying true to his work and passion, that truly intrigues me, have a look with his workshop located on Lamb’s Conduit Passage, a simple, approachable and welcoming atmosphere with no excessive decor nor gimmick inside, just the simple white atmosphere that interprets the incisiveness, the precision of his work and promise that he strives to deliver. Just like the interior aesthetic of his workshop, the personal style of Charlie’s is literally quintessentially British with the youthful energy exudes from within, nothing over the top but timelessly classic and sophisticated, humble, understated but doesn’t lack of his personal style nor modernity, what I find it the most attractive of this young artisan is the youthful energy and passion, which added the extra touch to his entire presentation and his work, and today, I am very delighted to share the inner voice of this gentleman with you all, and letting his talent, passion unfolds.
My Modern Darcy: Hi Charlie, firstly thank you vey much to be part of this conversation, as I know you have interviewed people before, have you ever be interview? How does it feel?
Charlie Baker-Collingwood: In fact everyday, I’m probably interviewed by our customers, by my peers, even by my colleagues. Everyday, we have to present our work to our customers, and they expect perfection, and so in fact we consider everyday, an interview day.
MMD: Before having you to share your achievement and the house of Henry Herbert Tailors, can you tell us about your journey? How’s your childhood looks like?
CBC: In fact, how I have ended up today is very different from how I started, and I think that is quite typical of lots of people in the United Kingdom, and actually, reflects on the strength and diversity of the economy here in London. I studied Politics and Philosophy, which is in fact quite different from the modern world of tailoring, although, with some of the customers we have today, a large degree of diplomacy is needed. We can find ourselves in some demanding and diplomatic situations with some customers.
MMD: Have you ever think of, or destine, to become a tailor? What motivates you to enter this field?
CBC: That’s a very good question. Even today, I’m not sure what I would be really good in life or what I really want to do, all I do know is I enjoy providing excellent customer service and a very well made product. This seems to be a combination which works well with our customers and which puts us at a competitive edge amongst competitors. Not only is it important to have a very good quality product, today’s environment also demands that it’s very important to have an excellent service towards your customers as well, and with our scooter service, the only one of its kind in the world, hopefully, that sets us apart from our competitors.
MMD: So now tell us more about Henry Herbert Tailors, I know that you have a very thoughtful reason to name your tailoring house, how does it translate to your work? What is the signature about Henry Herbert Tailors? And which creation is your favorite?
CBC: As well as our renowned service, the Henry Herbert house style is what we are known for. We enforce our service, but not our style, as we believe the customer should have a choice. Our distinguishing house style features are:
English cut: every suit cut and made in England, creating a tall and slim silhouette;
Strong, naturally rolled lapel, achieved through hand stitching;
Natural roped shoulder, proportionate to each customer;
Slim tailored trousers – not skinny, nor too large, with a ‘cavalry cut’ (a slight slope from the front of the trousers to the heel of the trousers) and;
Robust, but lightweight coat, achieved using a canvass and the best quality cloths.
And our favourite styling combination: a broken suit, where the jacket fabric is different from that of the trousers. But as we say to every customer, “there are no rules, just preferences” and we are here to help customers through all of those decisions.
MMD: In terms of the artisan in your tailoring house, how’s your work looks like? Did you involve the creation of each tailoring piece? And how’s the work split looks like with your in house tailors?
CBC: I created Henry Herbert Tailors to change the way bespoke tailoring is delivered. Why, I thought, should the customer have to go to the tailor during unhelpful hours (normally Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm), when the tailor could and should be prepared to go to the customer - any day, any time and any place. And so Henry Herbert Tailors and our Savile Row by Scooter service was born - using a custom built fleet of Vespa scooters, using full trained tailors, to meet customers around the clock. And the result? Savile Row and every other tailoring firm that could jump on the band wagon tried their hardest to squeeze out every bad word from the Oxford dictionary to wish us a doom! True to the highest standards of traditional Savile Row tailoring, we use the finest fabrics, the finest tailors and, hopefully, the finest service. We are a small firm and we work hard for our customers.
MMD: I can see that you are a multi-talented person, sensitive in tailoring from construction to fabrics, being attentive to your customer, willingness to drive your scooter, and, writing your own style blog, how did you manage all these tasks done without burning yourself out? Do you have any secret on prioritizing your work?
CBC: Running a tailoring business is very hard work, it is not for the faint hearted and it can create many sleepless nights. The customer IS priority, and many customers realize that and expect us to work very hard. We are of course, very happy to work hard for our customers, and we’ll go to any length to ensure they receive the perfection and standard they expect. Running a tailoring service is very much like running a car engine, there are so many different moving parts to it, and it’s our job to make sure all those parts work well together to produce the best possible affect and finished product for the customer. If one of those parts stops working, however important or however small, then it can have a knock-on effect for the whole of the rest of the suit or shirt that we might be making for the customer, and so, it’s our job to ensure that the car engine of our tailoring world is always working to its maximum possible effect.
MMD: now back to yourself, can you describe your personal style? What is your favorite way of dressing? And what are the must-have(s) in your wardrobe?
CBC: In fact, on many occasions, I take my style, direction and advice and ideas from my own customers. Sometimes, they are better placed than me, to decide what works and what doesn’t work. Just because we might make the suits and shirts for them, doesn’t always mean that we have the best ideas for them, and so, often, we will start with a blank piece of paper, and take advice and direction from them. This often gives me ideas of what I think might work or not work in my own wardrobe. Of course, in my own wardrobe, the main priority is my suits, and I do have a healthy number of suits, and of course, at weekends, when I’m not wearing suits, I’d like to relax to dress as smartly but as comfortably as possible.
MMD: Entering SS2017, what are your recommendations for the season? From silhouette, fabrics, colors and so on?
CBC: Spring & Summer 2017 is now very close, and in fact, many of these decisions would have been made up to one to two years ago by the big fashion houses. As a small independent tailoring firm, we take our direction from our customers, and we seem to see a traditional rhythm every year. Customers seem to choose Linens or Lightweight Wools for the Summer, sometimes with shorts, or it’s with a crisp shirt, to help them look smart and stay cool through the hot Summers wherever they might be in the world. So although the seasons might be changing, their styles and their determinations to stay smart is not changing. So, Spring/Summer 2017, like the years before, I’d say our customers are looking for classic, smart, sharp style.
MMD: In your opinion, apart from dress well and groom well, what are the qualities of a modern day gentleman should possess? And why?
CBC: Well of course I am writing this from London, and London is so rich in diversity and variety, and so, for me, the modern Gentleman has to be exactly that, diverse and varied. We offer such a rich difference between each other, and it’s important, that we celebrate those differences. As I say to my customers, there are no right or wrongs, so always, just dress as comfortably as you want, dress with however it makes you feel good, and that offers, I think, truly, the modern Gentleman.
MMD: If someone comes to you and say he (or she) wants to become a good tailor, what are the advice that you have for him (or her)? CBC: The most important thing is to believe in yourself. Bespoke tailoring did suffer a decline for a long time, but it has seen a very strong resurgence in the last few years. This has developed in new young people and new apprentices wanting to join more firms. There are more people than there are places, but this shouldn’t put people off. Just be prepared to stand by your own conviction and your own confidence that you are good enough and even sometimes better than others to succeed in this environment. A belief in yourself, what you like and what you don’t like, and what you’re good at will carry you on this long journey as far as you want to go, and really, there is no limit short to how far you can go. All I can say is good luck and stay determined!
Special thanks to Mr. Charlie Baker-Collingwood, image courtesy of Henry Herbert Tailors, London