A cut above

A Bri­tish tai­lor is chang­ing the way suits are made with a new made-to -mea­sure ser­vice. MF find out how they shape up

Men's Fitness - - Perfect Fit -

If I told you I was go­ing to meet a tai­lor who had worked for most of his ca­reer on London’s Sav­ile Row, you’d start to paint a men­tal pic­ture. You might imag­ine a stuffy for­mer pub­lic school­boy with a re­luc­tant chin and a fixed sneer. If I then told you that he used to make suits for Prince Charles, you’d need to re-draw your car­i­ca­ture to ex­ag­ger­ate the fea­tures.

So I’m a bit sur­prised when the man in ques­tion, Tom Ma­hon, is about as close to my stereo­type as an off-the-peg suit is to one

of his ex­quis­ite hand-cut cre­ations. He may be Sav­ile Row roy­alty, but he’s also a warm and wel­com­ing Cum­brian. And as the founder of English Cut, he’s the man re­spon­si­ble for re­shap­ing the mod­ern Bri­tish suit.

I’m at Ma­hon’s shop on Chiltern Street, Maryle­bone, to find out more about the sar­to­rial rev­o­lu­tion tak­ing place in London’s West End and to ex­pe­ri­ence the top tier of English Cut’s new made-to-mea­sure ser­vice (see “Mea­sur­ing up”, be­low, for de­tails). Un­like other made-to-mea­sure ser­vices, which of­ten use generic pat­terns as the start­ing point for gar­ments, Ma­hon has per­son­ally de­signed the pat­terns from which the suits are cut, which gives them a more ele­gant shape.

But be­fore I get to the tale of the mea­sur­ing tape, I have a con­fes­sion to make. I’m not a smart man (in the fash­ion sense, of course) and I have two ex­cuses for this. First, I’m a jour­nal­ist and we’re not known for be­ing a stylish bunch. Sec­ond, I work in fit­ness mag­a­zines so, for me, making an ef­fort means putting on a clean pair of train­ing shorts.

There’s an­other rea­son I need to up my gar­ment game. I’m in my mid-30s so when I turn up to a meet­ing wear­ing jeans and a T-shirt, the peo­ple on the other side of the ta­ble think I’m be­ing lazy rather than edgy. And re­searchers at the Uni­ver­sity of Hert­ford­shire agree. In a re­cent study, sub­jects were shown dif­fer­ent pic­tures of the same man with his face ob­scured and asked to make snap judg­ments about him based on his clothes. The re­sults were com­pelling. When he wore a made-to-mea­sure suit they con­sid­ered him to be more con­fi­dent, suc­cess­ful and a higher earner than when he donned an offthe-peg equiv­a­lent in the same colour. The les­son: it pays to in­vest in a well-made suit.

Shape of things to come

When it comes to first im­pres­sions, Ma­hon has nailed both the style and the sub­stance. He has a charm­ing take-me-as-I-am at­ti­tude, an ap­proach that’s wo­ven into the fab­ric of the busi­ness. “What you get here is an English cut,” he says. “It’s not just a name. We don’t do nar­row lapels or short jack­ets. I don’t want to be all things to all men. If you want an Ital­ian suit, go to an Ital­ian tai­lor. I re­spect Ital­ian tai­lors. It’s not my cup of tea but it doesn’t have to be – you don’t have to please ev­ery­body.”

I also dis­cover that English Cut isn’t just about stay­ing true to an aes­thetic. Ma­hon wants to push the trade into new ter­ri­tory. “I’ve looked at menswear over 30 years and I’ve no­ticed that the faults keep get­ting re­peated and noth­ing re­ally changes,” he says. “Maybe there’s a new cloth or the lapels might change shape, but there are huge mis­takes go­ing on. There are lots of de­tails in the cut and con­struc­tion of a gar­ment and top Bri­tish brands, even ones with roots in Sav­ile Row, do things like put the waist but­ton too high. It’s al­most on the chest bone and that’s fun­da­men­tally wrong.”

Ma­hon is pas­sion­ate about these flaws and is soon in full flow. “The lapel hole, which is sup­posed to be of a func­tional size, should be able to fit a flower in it but a lot of ex­pen­sive brands have tiny lapel holes that are what we call a ‘sham’ – it’s just sewn and there’s no hole. Or the arm holes would be too big. I know why – they want to put a coat on you so you

“A man wear­ing a made-tomea­sure suit was judged to be more con­fi­dent and suc­cess­ful”

stand in front of the mir­ror and they say, ‘How does that feel, sir?’ And you say, ‘Oh, that feels good’. Well, it would feel good be­cause it’s not re­motely touch­ing you. It’s clean but as soon as you start to live in the real world you find that, say, you can’t drive with the jacket on and you should be able to. So I thought, one of these days, I’ll steam­roller all of this. But it’s not an easy thing to do – to re­write the book.”

Ma­hon’s at­ten­tion to de­tail is im­pres­sive and he is en­thu­si­as­tic about shak­ing things up, but he’s adamant that he isn’t seek­ing per­fec­tion. “The perfect suit doesn’t ex­ist so that’s not my fo­cus,” he says. “I’ve never promised to make any­one the best suit they’ve ever had. That’s con­trary to what a lot of other peo­ple say but, to be frank, they’re talk­ing horse­shit be­cause this is about a re­la­tion­ship. It’s about us un­der­stand­ing each other and making sure we have a sim­i­lar ob­jec­tive. If there were two iden­ti­cal peo­ple, I could make the same suit for both and one would love it and one would hate it. I’m just try­ing to stay true to the way I was taught to cut.”

Mea­sure for mea­sure

Where he thinks English Cut can make a dif­fer­ence is in the way it in­ter­acts with cus­tomers. His phi­los­o­phy is that a team of ex­perts who un­der­stand the craft and know how to in­ter­act with clients will pro­duce bet­ter suits and hap­pier cus­tomers. When I’m in­tro­duced to Karl Matthews, the se­nior tai­lor charged with tak­ing my mea­sure­ments, it’s

clear that Ma­hon’s vi­sion has fil­tered through. “When you’re choos­ing a tai­lor it’s im­por­tant to get a sense of who they are and what they’re about, be­cause not ev­ery house style is suit­able for ev­ery in­di­vid­ual,” says Matthews. “A lot of it is per­sonal pref­er­ence and re­ly­ing on the eye of the tai­lor you’re work­ing with. It’s a re­la­tion­ship you’re build­ing.”

That re­la­tion­ship be­gins by go­ing through the key op­tions. The big ques­tions are easy enough to an­swer. I’m go­ing for a mid-grey rather than a broad pink pin­stripe and it will be made with 12oz worsted merino wool.

“If it’s the first suit you’ve had made, I’d al­ways go for some­thing sim­ple, classic and ele­gant,” says Matthews. “You’re look­ing for the equiv­a­lent of the lit­tle black dress. You can wear a grey or a blue suit on any oc­ca­sion.”

When it gets to the de­tails of my fin­ery, he strikes just the right bal­ance be­tween ask­ing ques­tions and throw­ing in ob­ser­va­tions and anec­dotes to help when I’m strug­gling to make a call. He also makes it clear that this isn’t a test and I’m not go­ing to drop through a trap door if I go for patch pock­ets over an­gled ones (as if any­one would go for patch ones on a smart suit!). “A lot of tai­lor­ing is based on per­sonal pref­er­ence,” says Matthews. “I’m won’t tell you what to wear or what to do. I’ve got ideas, and within our house style I’m siz­ing up what I think will look good, and then I put those ideas to you. It should al­ways be a col­lab­o­ra­tion.”

We set­tle on a two-but­ton (tra­di­tional but cleaner than three but­tons) sin­gle-breasted jacket, with navy lin­ing – Karl is a fan of an un­der­stated colour that will off­set the grey – and side vents on the back be­cause they “point up and in to­wards the waist to give the im­pres­sion of more shape”, cre­at­ing a more stylish shape than the straight up-and­down cen­tre vent. Once we’ve set­tled on a style Matthews takes my mea­sure­ments, which Ma­hon will use to cut the suit in his work­shop in Cum­bria be­fore giv­ing it to the tai­lor who will put the mas­ter­piece to­gether.

Hav­ing spo­ken to both Ma­hon and Matthews I feel like I’m get­ting a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of what goes into making a good suit, but I’m still not sure I com­pletely ap­pre­ci­ate the con­fi­dence boost as­so­ci­ated with smarten­ing up your act. To get some ex­pert in­sights I speak to per­for­mance coach, Char­lie Un­win (per­for­mancel­e­gacy.com).

“Con­fi­dence is one of the big­gest pre­dic­tors of per­for­mance but it’s a mul­ti­fac­eted con­cept,” Un­win says. “A suit can in­flu­ence your self-con­fi­dence and how you see your­self. In psy­chol­ogy we call it a schema – a mode of think­ing that’s a bit like run­ning dif­fer­ent soft­ware. A nice suit may help you run the soft­ware that makes you feel more im­por­tant, in­flu­en­tial or at­trac­tive.” It seems like the sub­jects in that Uni­ver­sity of Hert­ford­shire study were on to some­thing.

Fit for a prince

A few weeks af­ter my mea­sure­ments are taken I get the op­por­tu­nity to put Un­win’s the­ory to the test by re­turn­ing to Chiltern Street for my first fit­ting, dur­ing which I try on the suit, give feed­back about how it feels and get Ma­hon’s in­put on how it could be ad­justed for the bet­ter.

When the jacket slips over my shoul­ders it has the un­ex­pected ef­fect of in­stantly cor­rect­ing my pos­ture. I’m stand­ing taller and even look­ing taller, thanks to the shape of the trousers. And be­cause they’ve made the jacket broad through the body while tak­ing it in at the waist, I also look like I’ve been spend­ing an ad­mirable amount of time on the bench press.

When it’s time to col­lect the fin­ished ar­ti­cle, Ma­hon in­vites me to join him for a drink with some of his old Sav­ile Row pals in a pub just off the fa­mous May­fair street. They’re a charis­matic bunch and could eas­ily form the cast of a gen­teel gang­ster film. There’s Peter, who talks with equal ad­mi­ra­tion about the wealthy landowner and the refuse col­lec­tor that he counts among his clients. There’s David, the put-upon land­lord (who rents out space to the tai­lors) for whom the group have the ut­most loy­alty and af­fec­tion. And there’s Pa­trick, with his gold leaf busi­ness card and tales of youth­ful sport­ing suc­cess. They hold court at the bar, swap­ping sto­ries about how to deal with in­tol­er­a­ble cus­tomers – the win­ning yarn in­volves throw­ing a five-grand suit out of a New York sky­scraper win­dow in front of a client as a way of call­ing time on a par­tic­u­larly frus­trat­ing job.

But it’s not just mem­o­ries and drinks that they share. There’s an old-school ethic that means they’ll mea­sure for each other as a favour to avoid one of the group los­ing a client, some­thing the younger gen­er­a­tion are slow to em­brace. When you have a suit cut by one of these guys you’re not just buy­ing an ex­pertly made gar­ment or a con­fi­dence boost. You’re buy­ing a slice of Sav­ile Row his­tory.

“When I put the jacket on it has the un­ex­pected ef­fect of cor­rect­ing my pos­ture”

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