Finest artisan 2021: Whitcomb & Shaftesbury

I made a decision to provide my Artisan of the Yr award this yr to Whitcomb & Shaftesbury as a result of, wanting again on latest commissions, they’ve so constantly delivered on high quality and worth. 

These are usually not attributes we regularly rejoice. High quality and worth are sometimes overshadowed by their extra glamorous cousins, ending and elegance.

But when bespoke tailoring goes to outlive the following decade, it must ship all of those. 

And though I typically say fashion is the place most tailors fall down, the inflow of cheaper travelling tailors in recent times has typically didn’t ship high quality and consistency, giving tailoring a nasty identify within the course of.

Bespoke will win repeat prospects (the one factor that retains it viable) if males discover they constantly get an incredible match, and nice high quality. If each time they placed on a pair of bespoke trousers, they’re reminded how good the match is in comparison with that RTW pair they purchased on-line. 

And if the prospect of going to a tailor that can produce precisely the identical factor, is aware of their each choice and peccadillo, and can supply them a pleasant cup of tea whereas they talk about them, engenders an enormous sigh of aid. 

As a result of at that time, if that’s how they really feel (they usually can afford it), why would they do anything? 

Whitcomb & Shaftesbury have been that tailor for me with trousers particularly. 

Final yr I ordered 4 completely different pairs. They had been:

Mid-grey 13ozFox flannels (CBT5 A1285/22, Traditional Flannel bunch, above)

Brown 550g Brisbane Moss cords (Brown 100, GS2 bunch, beneath), 

– Traditional Cricket-White 13ozFox flannels (CBT5 A1285/88, Traditional Flannel bunch), and 

– ‘Mink’ 13ozHolland & Sherry whipcords (9518502, Dakota bunch). 

They had been all good. To the purpose now the place we do not trouble with a becoming, however go straight to the completed trousers. 

That hasn’t eliminated the necessity for the occasional tweak, as soon as the trousers had been completed. However half the time they’ve wanted nothing in any respect – and the adjustments that had been wanted had been minor. 

The match is an excellent one – definitely one I discover each time I placed on a pair after carrying RTW the day earlier than (denims and chinos for instance). And it is all the time the identical. 

It sounds so easy, but that mixture of high quality and consistency is what retains me as a buyer, and infrequently think about one other trouser maker. 

Then there’s the worth. Whitcomb & Shaftesbury supply two kinds of service: each minimize and fitted in London, however one largely made in India (‘Traditional Bespoke’) the opposite made in London (‘Savile Row Bespoke’). As I confirmed again in 2016 once I had fits made in each, there is no such thing as a high quality distinction between the 2.

Costs have gone up in 2021, with a swimsuit in Traditional Bespoke going from £1950 (together with VAT) to £2280. Trousers at the moment are £640. However you continue to cannot argue with the worth. (A Savile Row Bespoke swimsuit prices £4740, with VAT.)

I can fully perceive if readers are postpone by the thought of their garments being made in India. But it surely makes a distinction to me each that Whitcomb personal their operation in Chennai, and that it takes its employees from a rehabilitation programme the brothers initially took half in in response to the tsunami in 2004. 

This arrange could be very completely different, in each respects, from an organization simply outsourcing manufacturing to a Chinese language manufacturing facility. And it has sensible implications too: it’s rather a lot simpler for the Whitcomb staff to handle that manufacturing, to push issues by means of once they’re wanted, and to make use of it to experiment with new methods. 

“It has been significantly rewarding seeing how individuals responded to the coaching, after which rose to the problem of constructing Savile Row-level clothes,” says Mahesh Ramakrishnan. (Brother to Suresh, who prospects extra generally see in London.)

After the tsunami, the brothers took half in a scheme that supplied vocational programs for those that had misplaced their livelihoods. They ran the tailoring side, whereas others supplied programs in embroidery, leather-based working, metallurgy and different crafts.

The photographs above present a few of the ladies concerned. The brothers had been later recognised by Forbes journal, in its High 40 Heroes of Philanthropy.

The most effective college students from that 2-Three yr course are then provided locations within the Whitcomb tailoring workshop in Chennai (proven beneath).

“We have learnt over time that individuals recurrently transfer on, so we do want new expertise” says Mahesh. “Typically it is ladies that get married and go away to take care of a household, however typically males additionally return to their villages and to fishing. The best way they describe it, they fish within the morning, decide some fruit within the afternoon, and in any other case chill out – so it is laborious responsible them!”

Whitcomb are removed from good. I believe it’s truthful to say they’re not fashion leaders in the best way some MTM manufacturers are that we cowl. You do want to return clear concepts of what you need, outdoors of very traditional tailoring. 

The experimentation with methods in India additionally doesn’t all the time produce types I like – they have an inclination in the direction of the flowery and ornamental. This led to points with the coat I made with them in 2019 (above), the place components had been added that we hadn’t mentioned, and in types that had been too showy for me. 

However their restlessness may be fruitful too. They began utilizing curved linings on their waistbands not too long ago, which I discovered attention-grabbing. That is primarily canvas that, if you happen to laid it out, would curve upwards as a result of the highest edge is shorter than the underside – simply as tailors recurrently do with collar canvas, although clearly much less excessive.

And I’m to see their latest experiments with delicate shoulders and in-set sleeves. I’d predict these received’t produce something like a Neapolitan jacket, however they may nonetheless create a barely extra informal possibility for purchasers – just like my Richard James cashmere one

This award is actually extra of a thanks, than congratulations. 

Suresh, Mahesh, Sian, John and the entire staff definitely deserve the latter, however it is a private observe to say thanks for all the good garments they’ve made for me – and a extra public one than I’d normally make. 

Thanks all. I am very a lot wanting ahead to coming in once more quickly, and having that cup of tea. 

Images: Alex Natt, Jamie Ferguson and Milad Abedi