Why the future of tailoring is female: searching out Savile Row's newest stars

Golden Shears Rachel Singer
Golden Shears Awards winner Rachel Singer with a model in her design Credit: Jon Bradley

It’s been 45 years since the then-president of the Federation of Merchant Tailors launched its biannual Golden Shears Awards, during which time its role in unearthing new talent in an industry that tends to forego self-publicity in favour of dutiful discretion has found its own voice.

This is thanks to the assiduous stewardship of its committee chair, Simon Cundey, sixth-generation proprietor of Savile Row tailor Henry Poole & Co., alongside an expert judging panel comprising expert practitioners and sartorial standard-bearers including David Gandy and Jodie Kidd.

Jodie Kidd and David Gandy were judges for the awards Credit: Jon Bradley

In highlighting the importance of both apprenticeships and academic training programmes in protecting and advancing a craft-based discipline, the awards have served as a bell-weather of sorts, uncovering most recently what Mr Cundey refers to as a “tremendous swing to female tailoring with some hugely adventurous designs”.

It’s a direction of traffic for which this year’s Golden Shears winner, Rachel Singer, can certainly take some credit. Now an apprentice at Maurice Sedwell (where she’d previously trained onsite at the Savile Row Academy’s tailoring school), Singer was a finalist in 2017, taking the top prize this year with a beautifully cut double breasted trouser suit in Prince of Wales check worn with a military-style, cream wool coat made from upholstery cloth, the better to achieve the perfect shade of cappuccino she was after.

A self-confessed novice when she arrived onto the Row back in 2015, Singer was nevertheless no stranger to the wonder of “making things”.

“I’ve been sewing since I was really small,” she says, “I used to make clothes for my sister’s Barbie dolls, and I used to make bonkers outfits for myself: wraparound Velcro kilts, mesh tops, stuff like that.”

But a projected career in fashion didn’t take hold. “I don’t think I knew what a job sewing looked like, and as far as I could tell a fashion degree didn’t lead directly to making clothes,” she says. “And I wanted to do something where I was making something with my hands.”

Rachel Singer's sharp tailoring  Credit: Jon Bradley

Savile Row, and in particular the on-the job training offered in the backroom of Number 19, provided the answer. “As soon as I found (the Academy) it felt really obvious that Savile Row is where I should be working.”

After completing the 18-month course, Singer was taken on as an apprentice at Maurice Sedwell, where she exemplifies the youthful energy transfiguring a business which for too long has been considered a fuddy-duddy backwater best suited to elderly gents in search of their business armour. No longer, Singer assures.

“There is always going to be the need for a grey or navy blue suit and things that are appropriate for particular occasions, but we also have a lot of people who are happy to wear exciting clothes, and for us that’s really attractive.

“Although we do have a house style - a certain pocket detail and a lapel proportion we try to adhere to - we are really happy to steer away from it. We are happy to try different details and make something that you can’t get elsewhere.”

So, given her success at this year’s Golden Shears, how does she view the steady rise of female tailoring, from a purely technical standpoint?

“There are so few people who are specialised in it, there’s a lot less information on how to do it, so it’s a labour of love,” she acknowledges. “I’m putting a fitting together now, and it’s really hard because you are trying to create a lot of shape without all that extra shape being visible. I am sure it’s going to be a career’s worth of trial and error.”

Bill Prince is the deputy editor of British GQ

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