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Tailors & Master Makers: Behind Mayfair's Premium Crafts

Mayfair and St James’s have cultivated some of Britain’s most quintessential craft industries. Luxury London meets the characters behind three of the area’s premium trades: gunmaking, tailoring and leatherwork

The Tailor: Colin Heywood, managing director of Anderson & Sheppard

Anderson & Sheppard may have moved premises from Savile Row to Old Burlington Street in 2005, but it is still a founding member of the Savile Row Bespoke Association and its practices remain true to The Row’s time-honoured standards.

Its house style, the English drape, was invented by the Duke of Windsor’s tailor Frederick Scholte who trained Peter Gustaf (‘Per’) Anderson. Anderson and trouser cutter Sidney Horatio Sheppard made the softer and less constructed cut their trademark when they founded the business in 1906, drawing custom from Fred Astaire, Noël Coward and Laurence Olivier. More recently, Tom Ford called it “the best tailor in the world”.

To this day, suits are made bespoke in its Old Burlington Street shop, with measurements recorded by hand in a leather-bound ledger. Around the corner, its Clifford Street haberdashery sells trousers, suits and accessories.

What has been the secret to Anderson & Sheppard’s enduring success?

Our house style is extremely popular and is a break from the more structured garments associated with other tailors. We continue to make them in the same way today, more than 110 years since the company was formed. Other contributing factors are the consistency and dedication to our craft, and attention to detail. Many of the workforce – cutters, sales staff and tailors – have been with the company for more than 30 years, with several gaining more than 40 years’ experience with the firm.

Who is the typical customer?

Our clothes are often described as timeless, giving the wearer decades of enjoyment and use. Fashion changes quickly: the typical Anderson & Sheppard customer is one who really appreciates the craft, dedication and time that goes into beautiful handmade garments.

Are there any parts of your suit-making process that are completely unique?

At Anderson & Sheppard we have always crafted a hand-drawn pattern, cut from card for every customer and based on more than 30 measurements. For us, this is paramount to the consistency we are striving for. Combined with our high armhole, minimum padding on the shoulders and soft drape through the chest, the finished result is a coat that is not only extremely comfortable to wear but looks incredibly stylish too.

The Gunmaker: Alastair Phillips, general manager of William Evans

William Evans founded his gun manufacturing empire in 1883 after learning the ropes from Holland & Holland and James Purdey & Sons, and the name has been synonymous with Pall Mall ever since he set up shop there in 1888. Being in the heart of St James’s meant that the company attracted high-ranking customers from the surrounding gentlemen’s clubs and, notably, The Duke of Connaught. 

Traditionally, William Evans is associated with conservative designs – as popular with gamekeepers as they were with Maharajas – rather than the more elaborate models of other companies, however its bespoke service gives the customer ultimate control.

There is now a full lifestyle range available to buy in the Piccadilly store, as well as European guns. William Evans is also a partner of Bisley Shooting Ground, where customers are encouraged to ‘test drive’ their purchases. The company will be attending the fifth annual World Gunmakers evening by GunsOnPegs, on 18 May.

How has the industry changed over the past century?

The end of World War I was the start of the decline in the number of gunmakers in the UK. The economics of the gun trade changed as well because it became more costly to work with the few craftsmen who were left. That has made it quite tough for UK businesses, even now. I don’t think hunting as an activity is the same as it was at the end of the World War II, either. The public’s attitude to food changed, and a decade later people didn’t care as much about hunting and preparing their own meals. Immediacy and convenience became a priority.

Have your gunmaking processes had to change or adapt?

We are still providing a similar product and service compared to what was provided all those years ago. There is a bit of machining to save some time, but the oil finishing, the engraving and the checkering is all done by hand in almost exactly the same manner as it was in 1883. We still use the same tools, systems and methods, because they have always worked and provide the guns with their particularly unique fingerprint.

How does William Evans maintain the standards of its craft?

We employ a range of gunsmiths across the country who are each best suited to working on different types of guns across a range of manufacture and design processes. When a gun is handmade and incorporates that level of craft, it is much more specialised to repair and replace its parts. If a gun is machine-made, a spring can be easily switched out. A handmade gun has its own identity and uniqueness in design.

The Leatherworker: Trevor Pickett, owner of Pickett

Visiting Trevor Pickett’s Mayfair establishment at Burlington Gardens is an experience that one is unlikely to forget in a hurry. The store is a labyrinth of snug, twisting staircases and corridors that lead off into various rooms filled with bright and precious gifts.

Pickett began working in a leather shop in Burlington Arcade after leaving school at the age of 16, becoming the manager at 18. Seven years later he bought the business and transformed it into his own luxury emporium, specialising in high-quality leather goods that are made entirely in England.

While the store sells other adornments such as pashminas and slippers, leather is where Pickett’s expertise lies. There is a library filled with all variations of the material, from butter soft goatskin to exotic shagreen and ostrich. Pickett offers bespoke and corporate services, and finishing touches, such as deep green and orange gift-wrapping, that make visiting Pickett truly special.

What does the Pickett brand represent?

Quality, quintessentially English leather goods for those who have an inner strength of their own taste and style, and don’t need to wear branded goods to reaffirm it. You describe yourself as an editor rather than a product designer. What do you mean by this? Products need to evolve with the customer – we take them on a journey where their use of what they buy has relevance. Evolution, not revolution.

What inspired you to start a bespoke service, and how does it work?

The service takes the client from the start of the process, selecting leathers and discussing design, to the final product that is a unique piece, individual to their commission. I am often asked what luxury is: it is having the ability to create something utterly and completely yours that embodies your style and spirit. It is not about money or opulence; it is an individuality and self-confidence that no-one else can possibly replicate. That is what we strive to provide at Pickett, especially in a world where services like this are seriously diminishing.