An artisanal conversation with Steven Hitchcock – Master Tailor of Steven Hitchcock, London
Dear readers, there is only few more days before saying goodbye to 2017, and welcoming the new year, what will your plan be for the forthcoming year? No matter it’s getting a new home (or refurnishing it), a better career or a healthier diet to keep yourself in top shape, the motto of ‘welcoming the new and letting go the old’ has become relevant especially during this time around. I guess the quickest way that can transform oneself, is getting refreshed with a polished and dapper look, a nice splash of fragrance, with a neat hair-do, accessorized with delicate and well-made accessories, a pair of well polished leather shoes, and needlessly to say, an impeccably tailored suit and clothing.
For a tailored suit, in particular, I think one can gain a lot of insight and advice from a master tailor, especially for those who has a profound knowledge and know-how, travelling around the world to interact with different clients and understand their lifestyle, culture and taste, along with their heritage, and, innovation from the present, more or less one can enjoy something more than just a sartorial service but an intriguing experience from someone who has been in such an extraordinary journey, sharing what they see and possibly having some ‘style brainstorming’ moment with you. Mr. Steven Hitchcock is one of the good example of this, under the artisan influence from his father who was a tailor that worked in an esteemed tailoring firm, Anderson and Sheppard, then having an apprenticeship during his youth, to master his skills and hands-on knowledge about creating an exquisite and beautiful tailoring clothing. Starting his own practice in his mid 20s, the tailoring work by the young Steven has been recognized within the tailoring field in the UK, with one of the most iconic work is the overcoat which wore by HRH Prince of Wales.
The dedication and passion over sartorial menswear, the impeccable work and the attention to details which made Steven’s practice to blossom, doing trunk shows in the US and Paris, and subsequently, moving his atelier boutique in Mayfair next to Sotheby’s in 2013. The success story of Steven has been intriguing to me in many ways, from his effort and homage to traditional British tailoring, his ideal about an excellent tailoring clothing, as well as his insight about personal style of a modern gentlemen, which I am very honor to have Steven this time, to share with us about all these (and more of course) as our ‘stylish wrap-up’ for 2017. My Modern Darcy: Hi Steven, thank you very much for having this conversation with us, how are things lately? Steven Hitchcock: ‘Things’ are busy at the moment! I got back from my extended USA trip (added LA and San Francisco to my usual trip of NY, Philadelphia and Washington.) in late November, it was a great success. More than I thought it would be, a nice surprise! However, I have to get all the fittings ready for my next trip to the USA in February 2018. So, busy, busy, busy! I feel so pleased that the US is hungry for my bespoke soft tailoring! MMD: Let’s talk about your life as a master tailor; as I know that you started as an apprentice at Anderson and Sheppard, which your father worked there before, can you share with us what motivates you to choose this as your career? And how did you realize that? SH: I left school, and it was suggested that I work as a car mechanic. I was happy to try it; however, my mother was utterly dismayed at how dirty a job it was! I would come home covered in grease, she didn’t want me to traipse it through the house. So, my grandfather suggested I try a day or two at Anderson and Sheppard with my Father. I will always remember that first day, it was amazing! I remember the old A&S shop on Savile Row, it was like a museum. All the dark wood, ends of cloth piled up, smartly dressed cutters and the fun and friendly tailors downstairs and upstairs. I saw the then famous actor Tom Selleck in the shop and was dumbstruck. One of the trouser makers took me to Piccadilly circus in my lunch break, and I fell in love with the West End! So, I knew that being a bespoke tailor was for me.
MMD: You established your practice in your mid 20s, which to me is a very courageous and brave decision in such young age, can you tell us how that journey looks like? What are the challenges and things that you feel very memorable and worth celebrating even now? And what makes you to open your own practice instead of working for someone / in a tailoring house?
SH: I came to realise that whilst working at A&S I would always be working for ‘someone’. That ‘someone’ would be either my head cutter and ultimately the Rowland family (the owners of A&S.) I felt restricted and confined knowing that. I had bigger ideas, in regards to cutting, to style, to my pay cheque and for being my own boss, answering to myself.
I think the journey was pretty smooth, but I think that was due to the fact that I was so young! I grew up on Savile Row, so I knew a lot of cutters and tailors from various companies. So, they helped me because they wanted me to succeed and knew what lay ahead for me!
I don’t see anything as a ‘challenge’ as I enjoy my work. I just see the future, the next step and beginnings of new journeys. If you constantly look forward into the future, you cannot fail! I am very proud to have made for HRH The Prince of Wales. I celebrate every time I take a trip to the USA to see clients, as travelling with my work is the dream that I made come true. My passion is to pass on my knowledge to the young tailors that I am training up to be my future coat-makers and trouser-makers.
I love working for myself. It was very liberating when I left A&S, as that was not what you did back then. (And that I was the son of the Head cutter!) My father was very supportive back then and has told me since, that he is proud of how successful I am. I will be honest to say that running your own company, growing it and maintaining it is very hard work! But that is the fun, and at the end of the day, week, month and year I can say: ’I did that.’
MMD: You are a master tailor and an entrepreneur at the same time, how did you manage both the creative / artistic side and the commercial side? And within your atelier boutique, how did you split your time in between all the daily tasks, craftsman work, meeting clients and at the same time, maintaining your craft in high quality and standard? SH: Good question! You would think that there wasn’t enough of me to go around! I never truly switch off the ‘work’ mode in me. The key is to have good relationships, I call them friendships with my tailors. The same goes for my clients. Some clients I find a natural friendship with and others I have good relationships with. It’s important to communicate well with everybody, this is so we all understand each other. Even if there is bad news, talking about what is going on and how to resolve a problem is key.
My girlfriend Celia, is my creative director and best friend in the world. She sees things I don’t and is great with the customers. So, Celia being part of my company is important to me as I trust her and know she will work in the same manner as I do.
I maintain the quality of my craft by only making a certain amount of suits a year. I don’t want to be a millionaire, that’s not what I set out on my own to do. I wanted to make beautiful clothes, my way. I have a great lifestyle, dream home and a happy family. To want more is greedy, and we all know what greed does! I personally cut all my suits and I oversee my coat makers and trouser makers work, to maintain the quality that my clients expect, as well as the quality that I expect. My name is on the label after all!! MMD: You have a very unique term for your tailoring work – the ‘Soft tailoring’, can you tell us more about this signature of yours and what makes it stands out / unique about? SH: My soft tailored style derives from Scholte, one of the founders of A&S. He invented the soft style of cutting, to offer clients an alternative to the hard military style of tailoring that was the mainstream. I love the idea that he chose to be different, to dare!! The draped chest and high arm hole is such a sublime style! It looks luxurious, but is in fact effortless to wear. I don’t believe that style should be fussy or fussed over. There is a trend for ‘Sprezzatura’ in men’s tailoring. I find it ridiculous to take so much time in styling oneself to look like you haven’t, which in fact, one does look like they have spent hours preening in front of the mirror. All too conceited for me!! For me, style is in the cut and fit of the suit, the rest will follow.
I like to be playful with colour, adding liberty print inside the coat. Or choosing unusual cloth, weaves and textures. I do not like ostentatious, so my tailoring is about being subtle and playful and ultimately soft!
MMD: Among all the trunk shows that you have done so far, which one (or which city’s) is the most special to you and why? How did you find clients outside the UK to see British tailoring than the ones from your home country? SH: I love New York. That was the first city I went to, and I was received pretty well. New Yorkers are brave, willing and don’t mind taking a chance. I cannot thank them enough for accepting me and loving my soft tailoring. I still have clients from the very first trip to New York from 2002. (I was meant to travel to NY in September 2001, but the devastating Twin Towers incident stopped me) Savile Row tailoring is world renowned, so Americans already knew about Savile Row and its exquisite delights! MMD: How do you see the impact of the coming back of mens tailoring in recent years? Can you share your thoughts about this artisan sartorial movement will be headed in the upcoming years? SH: The trend of men’s tailoring has really revived Savile Row. It has brought in a younger clientele. As well, as a clientele which has decided they will dress more individually in the work place. It is now seen appropriate to display your personality through your clothes. It is not just grey or navy blue suits, that blend in as one in the work place. People want to stand out. So, bespoke tailoring can help those people do that.
Celia often says that, once you have had a bespoke suit you don’t want anything else. “You create a monster!” She is right, as now the client knows what a bespoke suit is like, the experience and the hand craft of it, they don’t want to buy a suit that is made in a factory in a foreign land. So, I see those clients that followed the trend of men’s tailoring, continuing to buy bespoke. MMD: OK let’s tell us about your personal style, what is your favorite attire? And what is the most essential clothing in your wardrobe that it should be a ‘must have’? SH: I love flannel cloth, particularly a chalk stripe! So, if you looked in my wardrobe, you will see a variety of suits in flannel chalk stripes! Celia fell in love with one of my very first A&S chalk stripe suits, I made it when I was about 19 years old. It was too small for me, so she had it altered to fit her, “Looks great! That’s flannel for you!” I would say, flannel chalk stripe is a must have!!
I have many ties, from various shops, Drakes, A&S, Turnbull and Asser…… As well as a drawer, full of silk pocket squares. I like colour, so have a wide choice of colours and patterns. I do love a tie pin, it really dresses the tie. I only wear subtle tie pins, no big stones or motifs! A moderate diamond, or a pearl or just simple gold.
A clean shaven face and groomed hair is a ‘must have’, for any bespoke suit.
MMD: How did you define ‘style’ for a gentleman? And what element(s) is required? SH: To be a ‘gentleman’ is not about style. It is about your outlook to the world and to others who live in it. To dress well, is to respect yourself. I personally like to dress well, but know it is not the route to being a gentleman. Many a Charles Dickens novel will confirm that!! MMD: Apart from impeccable clothing, what are the other qualities that a modern gentleman should have? SH: Respect for others, animals included! It is all well and good looking like a gentle man, but letting a door slam in another person’s face or sitting down before your guest is not very gentlemanly at all. So, be attentive and respectful. MMD: What is your advice for someone who would like to become a tailor (or an artisan)? SH: There are not many job opportunities in the tailoring community, as it has become very popular for young people to become tailors. However, don’t give up. Knock on doors with examples of your work. Be honest about what you can do and what you can’t do. Explain what you want to learn, what your end goal is. If you really want to be a tailor, then don’t give up on that. MMD: Finally, what would be your wish for the upcoming new year (2018)? SH: My wish is prosperity for bespoke tailoring. I love Savile Row and bespoke tailoring, so I wish for that to stay true and strong.
Special thanks to Mr. Steven Hitchcock, image courtesy of Steven Hitchcock. http://thesavilerowtailor.co.uk/