Ok, so I didn’t change the title, but as you’ll find out through these passages, my first experience of walking through the doors of Redwood and Feller was nothing short of mesmerizing. Sure, it wasn’t a huge space adorned with beautifully clothed mannequins. But it wasn’t intimidatingly stuffy either. What it was, was a love letter to a by gone age of traditional bespoke tailoring and true sartorial style with a personalised and old fashioned attitude to customer service, seldom found in any industry these days.
You may remember in the last installment of this series I mentioned Claire – my fiancé. Well, as the project manager of our wedding, Claire wanted to see what I had planned for my suit. Not because she’s some kind of controlling battle-axe brandishing a rolling pin (Claire, if you’re reading this, I love you, I love you, I love you, mwah, mwah, mwah) but because she could see how excited I was about potentially having my own suit made as I’d been banging on about it for the past week. Also, ultimately my decision in choosing cloth and colour on this day would dictate the colour scheme of the whole wedding. We’d been pretty transparent about what we wanted the wedding to look like up to this point so it made sense that this would be another big decision that we would make together.
As we walked in I immediately recognized the friendly voice that I had heard not a week earlier on the phone when booking the appointment.
“Good afternoon sir” was the instant greeting I received from a gentleman cutting a luxurious piece of cloth over a polished oak cutting table under the watchful eye of the Queen herself (a beautifully quirky portrait FYI).
I should say now that Elliott Rowland may be the best-dressed man I have ever seen in my entire life, and I don’t mind telling you that I was initially reluctant to even let Claire continue through the doors behind me.
“How can I help you today?” Elliott enthusiastically chirped, resting down his shears on the table. As I began to explain who I was, Elliott immediately leapt in to action. He knew exactly who I was and what I was there for. He still referred to me as sir anyway as, after all I was a customer in his shop and therefor the highest of priorities. Now the last time I had been referred to as “sir” it was followed by “would you mind stepping back please” on the way into a night club that I probably didn’t even want to enter in the first place. Even then I knew it wasn’t a genuinely respectful request. But this felt different. I got the sense from Elliott that he had a true passion for customer care and I can say quite honestly that I felt relaxed immediately. After shaking our hands he asked us to step forward onto the beautifully cosy shop floor. I say shop floor. Redwood and Feller is no car show room. This is a working shop floor. You can be assured that any work on your own garment is carried out by hand, by the very person who greets you through the door. Something that was extremely important to me as someone looking for a true bespoke experience.
Elliott put both Claire and I at ease instantly with a friendly, yet professional demeanor. In fact, the three of us must have chatted candidly about our wedding for at least 15 – 20 minutes over a cup of tea before we even got to the matter at hand. And the matter at hand I hear you ask? What did I – sorry we - want. This was why it was good to have Claire there with the details. We explained the aesthetics of our wedding, the vibe, the music and generally the overall look we were after. My Brother had just had an incredible wedding the month before with a great rustic feel to it as it took place in a beautiful barn. Both Claire and I loved the fact that his attire stayed true to said theme with a very cool check tweed waistcoat. We had something completely different in mind for our day however.
Luckily Claire and I had very similar ideas on what our wedding should look like. Early on we both thought along the lines of a ‘black tie gala’. Only problem – I’ve never really been a fan of the whole tuxedo and bow tie thing. Don’t get me wrong, I think they can look great on other guys, but with my, shall we say, ‘abundance of neck’, I’m not sure I’d be comfortable posing for pictures in one. We decided that a very dark charcoal, or lighter black colour scheme for me would complement Claire’s bridesmaid’s dresses - a very opulent cloud grey.
With that being said, we both had one worry. A near black suit and tie for a wedding? Surely I’d be venturing into funeral territory? But you know, that’s the great thing about being able to discuss the cut of your suit with a consummate professional. Elliott assured us that, despite the colour of my suit veering towards the dark side, the cut would let everyone know, in no uncertain terms, that this suit was for a groom and not a chief mourner. So with our confidence reassured, we got to the first of many fun parts of the bespoke process – choosing a cloth.
Now, dear reader, I don’t feel like I’ve yet expressed just how impressive the interior of Redwood and Feller actually is. Sure, the windows outside feel like Savile Row mixed in with a touch of Knightsbridge’s pageantry, but it’s the inside of 89 Rochester Row where the real magic happens.
Quirky framed illustrations of men’s fashions from a bygone era, wall-to-wall rolls of luxury cloths, classic style button braces and silk ties all rest under the watchful eye of a small crystal chandelier. It really does feel like stepping back in time.
Now as you may have figured out by now – I’ve never visited a tailor before. For the other novices among you, the only thing I can liken it to is going to the hairdressers. We all have someone who we trust when it comes to our barnets. Someone who we’ve been going to for years, who knows what we like and won’t mess about. Someone who we’re comfortable with, who we don’t mind asking for a little more off the top when the mirror is brought out. There’s nothing worse than going to a new barber and not feeling confident enough to direct them to the exact style you’re after.
I was elated to find that Elliott was the complete opposite. He seemed genuinely interested in what I wanted, and strived to help me realise the vision that I had in my head. And what was that vision I hear you ask? Timeless and classic. Think old pre-war Hollywood - A time when a man’s success was measured by the width of his lapel. Having googled this era, I found the first of my two main influences for which I showed to Elliott. A picture of a young Fred Astaire, perched upon a table looking like an absolute Don. High cut armholes, slim waist, strong squared shoulders and a set of exaggerated lapels. His waistcoat was also double-breasted with large peaked lapels. I especially liked the fact that he was wearing a pocket watch on his waistcoat.
As they did for my brother on his wedding day, my parents bought me a pocket watch to match the chain handed down to me from my mum’s dad. It was very important for me to show this off, as I was extremely proud of it. That leads me on to my second influence. A photograph of my dad’s late dad in his early 20’s. I love how suave and sophisticated he looked in this picture – something I was keen to emulate (Elliott would really have his work cut out for him). The thing that linked both gentlemen in each photo was the fact that their suits were made from flannel – a cloth that was extremely popular during the 40’s. I loved how well the material draped and photographed and thought it was something a bit different from the usual wool or tweed many choose for their wedding suits.
Elliott knew exactly what I was talking about and proceeded to carefully choose a selection of luxurious looking leather bound swatch books from the walls. As we went through the books, Elliott’s vast knowledge of each and every cloth within became evident. When I asked who was the best manufacturer when it came to flannel he immediately responded without pause. Fox Brothers was the answer. A manufacturer that dates back as far as 1772 that was second to none in producing the world’s finest flannels. Quintessentially British and steeped in tradition, Fox Brothers was the flannel that made up Winston Churchill’s iconic double-breasted pinstripe as well as all of Carry Grant’s flannel suits during the golden years of Hollywood. After a little digging I even found out that Fox Brothers was the preferred flannel of one Fred Astaire, not to mention Edward The Duke of Windsor for whome they developed the iconic ‘prince of wales check’ in 1920.
With all this in mind, not to mention how incredibly soft and luxurious their flannels felt, I was sold on Fox brothers. I found the exact shade of dark charcoal I was looking for and couldn’t have been happier with my selection. Elliott even suggested that I take it outside to see how it looked in the natural light. It was just thick enough to suit our cooler October Wedding, but just lightweight enough so as not to overheat when inside our venue.
With my cloth sorted we moved on to the fit. Fortunately R&F’s house style matched exactly what I wanted. A slim fitting slightly longer jacket with squared roped shoulders, high arm holes and a generous lapel. The trousers would be classically high waisted, with a slight taper towards the end of the leg where upon the hem would neatly skirt just over the ankle.
Elliott proceeded to set to work on taking my measurements that only took a couple of minutes. He recorded everything from the width across by back to the length of my leg. Each and every detail was then archived in a leather bound record book that he could later reference when cutting my own very specific pattern block. This would then be unique to me in all the world.
But I would have to wait a little longer to see what these measurements translated in to when I next returned to R&F a few weeks later for the next stage of this sartorial saga – the first pocket baste fitting. I couldn’t wait…
Next week’s installment - Redwood and Feller - A bespoke tale episode three: Great expectations