An artisanal conversation with Matthew Gonzalez, Matthew Gonzalez Bespoke, UK
Dear readers, one of the good thing about having a personal bespoke tailor, is that not only he (or she) can be your best dresser to create some finest tailored clothing that suits you, in your selected fabric and pattern, your bespoke tailor can be your wonderful stylist and sartorial historian too! The reason is that these skilled artisans have gained so much experience from their sartorial journey, no matter it’s from the craftsmanship, the process, the fitting detail as well as the protocol about looking after their clients, in different body shapes, cultural background and nationality (thanks to the extensive travelling from the countless trunk shows), also, they can possibly tell you some sartorial history and heritage too! Like a resourceful walking tailoring bible, to open your eyes and experience their extraordinary journey while appreciating their delicate handcrafted tailoring clothing. Today I am pleased to have a very special British bespoke tailor to join me for a conversation, Mr. Matthew Gonzalez, to talk about men’s tailoring, his work and his POV about men’s style and more. As a little intro here, Matthew has been working as a bespoke cutter in the UK for more than a decade, having his Master Degree in History of Design in University of Oxford, he has been worked in numerous reputed tailoring houses such as Thom Sweeney, Alfred Dunhill, then Huntsman. After spending his time to study, train, and work alongside with the skilled artisans, Matthew decided to establish his own tailoring house based in the UK, specializes in his distinctive ‘Anglo-American’ tailoring style - a mix of traditional construction technique of Savile Row, and, the drape and style detail of the mid century American menswear, to express his own vision through his craft.
My Modern Darcy: Hi Matthew, a pleasure to have you with us today! You have such an incredible journey in the tailoring industry, as a bespoke cutter in numerous renowned tailoring houses, can you tell us what makes you so passionate about men’s tailoring?
Matthew Gonzalez : Thank you for having me. I'm so glad we have an opportunity to chat about bespoke tailoring. The funny thing is while I've always loved clothing my original dream was to become an architect. I took autocad and architecture courses in high school and had every intention of majoring in architecture when I went to college. My journey towards tailoring started when a friend asked me if I wanted to take a sewing class with them. I thought it would be interesting enough so I gave it a go. That single class led to an entire shift in what my life would become. I started taking more advanced sewing courses and pattern cutting classes and my first job in the trade was as an alteration tailor at a department store in Orange County. I loved every second of it but I had set my sights higher. The pinnacle of what was doing as an alts tailor was Savile Row bespoke. Bespoke tailoring, to me, is the intersection of personal expression, history and tradition. Aside from the uses of a sewing machine you could go back in time two or even three hundred years and men's jackets would be made in the exact same way as they are today, same materials & hand stitching. What could be more alluring than that?
MMD: What are the most memorable thing or experience you had when you worked with your mentor in those reputed tailoring houses?
MG: I’ve been lucky enough to train and work for some of tailoring’s most prestigious houses and each one has had an enormous influence on my style of tailoring today. I first apprenticed at Thom Sweeney and left the company as a bespoke pattern cutter. The years I spent working with founders Thom & Luke gave me invaluable insight into how to build a modern bespoke tailoring house into a global brand from scratch. This wasn’t the norm when they started but is crucial for any modern tailoring house and I am so grateful that I could learn so much from them. My time at Dunhill was entirely different from that of Sweeney. It already had name recognition across the world. The head cutter at the time was laser focused on quality throughout the process. We would go over every inch of a suit with a fine toothcomb. No detail was too insignificant to overlook. That level of perfectionism has greatly influenced my own work today and is something that I always strive to achieve. Finally, my time at Huntsman was hugely informative as it was the first time in my career that I was working on Savile Row. Huntsman’s storied history as one of the great ‘Row’ tailoring houses gave me the opportunity to understand the origins & evolution of the traditions we see in bespoke suiting. It was a history lesson every day I went work and it empowered me to think about how I want to use or change those traditions. Clearly, it’s hard to pick the most memorable experience but I can say that holistically each firm that I have worked at has made me into the tailor I am today.
MMD: As a bespoke cutter, either in the past of your career or present time, what is the most challenge part in your work? And how did you overcome them?
MG: Interestingly it's good communication with the client, especially new clients. Don’t get me wrong the process of drafting, cutting and making a suit is challenging in itself and takes a lifetime to even come close to mastering but I have found that when a man orders a suit he has a picture in his head. It’s my job to help him articulate that image so I can make him what he wanted. In this way I think of each commission as a collaboration because I could make you what I think of as the perfect suit but that’s meaningless unless you agree. So every fitting I have I ask my clients one question; “Can you tell me what you hate about this right now?” I often find people giving me feedback about things that are right from a technical perspective but can be changed to fit their own personal style better.
MMD: I am intrigue about your unique ‘Anglo-American’ tailoring style, can you elaborate more and why did you choose this as your ‘signature’ tailoring style, but not fully in traditional British sartorial / Savile Row style?
MG: Anglo-American tailoring is largely a reflection of my own life experience. I was born and raised in Los Angeles and moved to London when 21. Growing up I’ve always loved American style to the point where I would argue that late 50’s and early 60’s American menswear is the most timeless, cool and elegant in history. I came to London to be a tailor. I went to London College of Fashion for my BA and Oxford for my masters all while working in the bespoke tailoring industry. These experiences and interests informed my own sense of style and as I set up my own tailoring house I decided that I wanted to create a new aesthetic that combined all these influences. The quintessential Matthew Gonzalez house style is a two piece suit with a 3 roll 2 jacket side, organic shoulder line, flat sleeve head, side vents and straight pockets. The trousers are a classic plain front (or single forward pleat), slanted pockets, single back hip pocket, side adjusters and turn up. Its all about simplicity, drape and movement. A classic elegance that will look good now and in 10 or 20 years time.
MMD: How do you define a piece of well-made bespoke clothing, either a jacket, a suit or a shirt?
MG: You really have to break down the term ‘well made’ into two constituent parts; construction and fit.
Construction is the most straightforward to define, if a jacket uses traditional canvases and hand sewing techniques to a professional standard, think floating hand canvas hand set armholes etc, then that box can be checked.
Fit can be a little more subjective in places, especially when it comes to how tight to easy someone likes the coat, but there are some absolute rules to follow. Shoulder lines should be clean, the collar should sit firmly on the back and side of your neck and the lapel should be sitting smoothly across your chest. While we could write at length about other elements of a suit and how it should fit those are probably some of the most important whether you are buying ready to wear or bespoke.
MMD: As the new season has just begun, can you tell us what is your pick for this spring summer? From fabric, pattern, color to silhouette etc.
MG: There are a few things that I have my eye on for the spring-summer season. I am currently making a mid grey two-piece from Holland & Sherry’s Airesco cloth range. It’s an open weave 4ply clothing meaning it has a lovely substance to it while still being able to drape properly. Colour and texture are very important to me so a 3 Roll 2 tweed jacket from Harrison’s is always a great option. You might not want to wear it on the hottest days of summer but it is a great casual option as we enter spring and even the early summer months. In terms of shirting it really depends on what you are looking for. If you’re going into the office then a classic white or pale blue twill is always a great option but frankly, I love oxfords. It goes back to the depth that an article of textured clothing can add to your wardrobe. If you are looking for a really contemporary take on shirting Loro Piana’s jersey-knitted cotton or wool cloth makes a lovely long-sleeve shirt. It’s more on the casual side but looks incredible and is one of the most comfortable shirts you will ever wear.
MMD: Let’s talk about yourself, what is your personal favorite ensemble when it comes to menswear?
MG: That’s a really difficult question because it’s dependent on the circumstance. When I’m at home with my family a pair of brushed cotton chinos, a knitted jumper or button-down oxford paired with some loafers is my standard go-to outfit. Whereas when I am working I like to switch between wearing a separate jacket and trousers and very understated two pieces suits. While I’m happy to wear checks on my sports coats, you will never see me wear bold checks in my suits, I don’t think I’ve ever owned a POW, glen check or windowpane suit. I don’t know why, I think they look great on other men, but I don’t feel it’s representative of me or of what I think of when I picture an “MG Anglo-American” suit.
MMD: How do you define ‘style’? In particular to modern day gentlemen.
MG: Style is such an interesting word to define, especially in contemporary menswear. The days of seeing every man on the street in a suit are long dead which means we live in an era where people can truly express themselves through their clothing. But what makes someone stylish? In a way, it’s the intersection of authentic personal expression and aesthetics. We may not particularly like what someone is wearing but more often than not we can appreciate when someone looks good even if their style doesn’t fit our own tastes. Moreover it's intuitive we might not even be able to articulate what style looks like but we can recognize it instantly.
MMD: Apart from dressing well, in your opinion, what other qualities a modern day gentleman should have?
MG: To be honest it's the same quality that has always been associated with being a gentleman, respect for those around you. In the decade and a half that I have worked in this trade, I have met every kind of person imaginable. It was never someone's wealth, status or fame that impressed me, instead it was the respect they showed for others. I’ve seen men walk in to a shop and be rude, dismissive and demeaning to everyone they’d talked to for no reason other than to make a point that they could or worse that they didn’t care. Conversely, I have had the pleasure to work with clients who respected and showed gradate towards not only what I did but everyone from a sales manager to the person making them a cup of tea. To me, that’s the quality that makes all the difference to how I judge a man today.
MMD: Besides your profession as a bespoke cutter, I realized that you are a writer as well; as a multi-talented individual, can you share with us how did you manage your work-life balance without burning yourself out?
MG: Hah! Well I think you’re being overly generous but it’s very kind of you to say. After I completed my masters I wanted to carry on thinking about design, its place in our society and how it has impacted menswear. So for a few years, I had a great time writing for the Essential Journal. Sadly when Covid hit everything was paused and then I started up on my own so that has consumed almost all of my energy. While I haven’t published anything in a while I do work with the Sotheby’s institute as a mentor on their gap year program. While it isn’t writing I get to lead discussions with university-aged students about bespoke tailoring, its place within the wider fashion industry and sustainability which is very exciting as it gives me so much insight into what the next generation sees as the future of clothing.
MMD: If someone comes to you one day and ask you how to become a great bespoke tailor, what will you tell him (or her)? Or what is your advice?
MG: That is a great question if you can get an apprenticeship, put everything you can into it. Learn why everything is done the way that it is. If you can understand the history and reasons behind every aspect of cutting and making a suit you are more capable of experimenting and evolving with the times. Menswear is currently in a dynamic state of change so tailors across the world are going to have to learn how to remain relevant.
Special thanks to Mr. Matthew Gonzalez.
Image courtesy of Matthew Gonzalez Bespoke, UK