10 May 2016

A Cut Above The Rest

In the bespoke world of haute couture, nothing is impossible. And in the specialist field of Savile Row, a family-owned tailor is cutting out a niche of their very own for royalty, superyacht owners and families alike. Here Ray Stowers, of Stowers Bespoke, speaks of crocodile skin, Michael Jackson’s uniform, and the traditional art of tailoring.

In the bespoke world of haute couture, nothing is impossible. And in the specialist field of Savile Row, a family-owned tailor is cutting out a niche of their very own for royalty, superyacht owners and families alike. Here Ray Stowers, of Stowers Bespoke, speaks of crocodile skin, Michael Jackson’s uniform, and the traditional art of tailoring.

How did you first start out in the tailoring business?

Back in the day when I left school not many people went to university and pursued traditional careers. In school my passion was drawing and sketching, so when it came to choosing my profession, I thought it would be good to use those talents. I came to the conclusion that a career in tailoring would suit me, and obviously I was right!

What prompted you to establish Stowers Bespoke?

Savile Row has changed dramatically since I started my career 32 years ago. The row used to be occupied by shops with hundreds of years of tradition, sadly most of these companies are now owned by large international corporations who are turning them into international brands selling ‘inferior’ readymade clothing at the expense of the handmade bespoke clothing.

The traditions, quality and craft are being lost and replaced by factory-made products; the real Savile Row is suffering. I wanted to reverse this trend and create a luxury tailoring company that got back to the true meaning of bespoke.

Do you and your partners, Brian Jeffrey and Brian Pusey, each have clearly defined roles?

We all have defined roles but the nature of the work means we all work closely with the client servicing their needs. Both Brians, Lee Webb and Claire (who is married to my son) are all cutters. They all measure, fit and cut the patterns, as well as design the product for the clients. I generally manage the business and the customers’ requirements, but I also fit and measure the clients when I travel to them.

What do you think is the appeal of Savile Row for both domestic and international clients?

For over 200 years royalty and the landed gentry have frequented Savile Row. Over this time the row has gained a worldwide reputation for its tailoring skills and quality. Savile Row has always been synonymous with the artistry and craftsmanship of Great British bespoke tailoring. Bespoke tailoring is the haute couture of men’s style and Savile Row has dressed every icon of male elegance from Nelson, Valentino and Astaire to Sinatra, Jagger and Michael Jackson, not to mention crowned heads of state, world leaders and captains of industry.

What sets Stowers Bespoke apart from other tailors on Savile Row?

I would say it is our expertise, and our knowledge is second to none. Also our willingness to say yes and produce whatever the individual customer desires. Our customer is king (some literally). Most of the older, more traditional shops offer a ‘house’ style or cut and will only produce clothing within their comfort zone. I prefer not to have a house style because I believe you need to offer the customer a blank canvas to allow them to have whatever they want without limitations.

Generally the Savile Row suit construction is quite solid with a shaped silhouette. We, however, produce soft, part constructed and traditional Savile Row fully constructed clothing to suit the varied desires of our clientele. This is why I call my company ‘genuine’ bespoke tailors. Our bespoke range is unlimited and we produce any style, cut or design whether classic or not, including dress wear, formal wear, uniforms, fashion or individually designed pieces for both ladies and gentlemen. We manage our clients’ wardrobes, advising them on the correct clothing and styles to meet their individual lifestyle needs.

What types of materials do you work with?

All types and pretty much anything the client requires including wool, cashmere, silk, cotton, linen, leather, crocodile and even fur. The most popular is wool because it comes in so many qualities and weights so it works for most people and climates. We regularly search for something individual to meet the client’s specification.

Tell us about the capsule collections that you create for clients.

My goal is to give them whatever they need to fit with their personal desires, lifestyle and type of work. I want to ensure they are wearing the right clothing for every occasion. In order to do this I need to fully understand the lifestyle, engagements and personality and I can only do this by working very closely with them advising and listening to their individual needs. My aim is always to build a committed, long-term, personal relationship with the client based on trust.

Do you offer seasonal collections?

Yes, but not in the retail clothing sense. Ours are more traditional and lifestyle led. We constantly have new winter, spring and summer fabric ranges, speciality new fabrics and limited edition designs. We introduce these to the client as additions to the wardrobe.

Who is your typical clientele who requires a fully bespoke wardrobe?

Our clients are generally very wealthy and seeking the best that money can buy. They recognise the true value of our products and services. We do also have clients from all walks of life, from the person who always wanted a Savile Row suit to lawyers and bankers to heads of state. Many of my clients are superyacht owners, Russians and vips from across the world, including royalty from the Middle and Far east. We produce personal clothing for them and also design and manage clothing for the yacht crews, even designing the uniform, badges and insignia to the owner’s design.

Have you ever created a wardrobe for an entire family?

We work with company offices and royal families producing clothing for all members of the family. This includes ladies and sometimes children. We’ve fulfilled requests for uniforms, designing and producing estate tweeds that are personal to the family, and individual clothing for every occasion.

What are the most unusual pieces you have ever been commissioned to make, and who by?

The first uniform for Michael Jackson was quite interesting! We recently made matching his and hers cashmere duffle coats for a husband and wife, and a well-known actor recently commissioned a purple sequined evening jacket with flashing lights inside and matching swimming shorts. Over the years I have made clothing for some interesting and famous people, including those who are no longer with us therefore I can disclose names, such as Princess Diana and King Hussein of Jordan.

What is the typical lifespan of a tailored item of clothing?

Our suits have a life expectancy of anywhere between five and 20 years depending on how they are worn and maintained. Typically a bespoke suit can be made three or four inches bigger in size and is designed and tailored to include room for growth or change and can be remodelled if required. Our aftercare service will last as long as the suit and we will not charge our regular customers for this service.

We limit our bespoke clothing to 400 outfits only per year worldwide. This allows us to offer our customers the finest quality bespoke clothing whilst offering a first-class service that extends to anywhere in the world, visiting customers on request for fittings or consultations.

Where do you get your fashion inspiration from when designing one-off pieces with a modern twist?

Most of our clothing is quite classic with small personal details such as pocket sizes, lapel shapes, particular types of buttons and linings, etc. Clients will sometimes bring an idea or shape they have seen and we incorporate this into the clothing, but anything is possible. One of my favourite quotes that we tell new clients is that we build the clothing around you.

This article originally appeared in 11th issue of Fraser yachting magazine – the intelligent magazine for living, loving and luxury yachts.