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Under Cutters

On the back of trainee Jon Pickering’s recent success in the coveted Golden Shears Awards, we asked two of our Under Cutters about their own inspirations; why they chose a career in bespoke tailoring on London’s prestigious Savile Row?

Here in Part 1, we chat with…

Alex Hills

Aged 19, Alex joined the company as an apprentice coat maker in 2013 and started his training here under Master Tailor, Saâd Ktifi.

Saâd grew up around tailoring, with his parents working as tailors, and worked for both Italian and French bespoke houses since leaving his native Morocco. Like everyone on Savile Row, Saâd is very passionate about his work. Over the four years Alex worked with him, Saâd instilled the ethos that a good tailor never stops learning, never stops seeking to improve, honing their skills.

Then in 2017 the opportunity presented itself for Alex to expand his knowledge and learn the other side of the craft, cutting, under Head Cutter Nicholas De’Ath.

'I’ve always been fascinated by history, and with that interest came a passion for classic and vintage menswear. I began collecting suits from the 1930s and 40s and started to wonder how they were cut and made. Though fashions have changed quite a bit, the way hand-tailored garments are made has changed very little over the last 100 years. It was that idea of continuity and tradition that really appealed to me. I knew I had to find an apprenticeship at one of the Savile Row houses.'

'Once upon a time you’d have been able to walk down the high street in most towns and find at least one, if not a handful of bespoke tailors. In that era the houses on Savile Row were considered the best in the world. They attracted recognisable ‘celebrity’ customers, from Hollywood Royalty to genuine Royals. This patronage attracted the eyes of the rest of the world and everyone sought to emulate the latest 'West End Cut'.

Small town tailors have mostly disappeared, but Savile Row’s legacy lives on. Its name is synonymous with quality and people still aspire to having a suit made by one of its tailors.'

Did you arrive with any ‘training’?

‘When I was 17, mid-way through my A-levels, I realised academia was not for me. My uncle had trained as a gun maker for ‘Holland and Holland’ back in the 1960s and I loved the idea of doing a traditional apprenticeship, just like him. I was interested in menswear so with that in mind, I enrolled on a Bespoke Tailoring Pre-apprenticeship course at Newham College in East London. There I completed a level 1, 2 and 3 course. It was a great introduction to the skills that I hoped to master one day.’

Thoughts on The Row, before working there?

'I was in total awe of the place and probably a little bit intimidated by its reputation. I grew up in Bexhill-on-Sea, a small seaside town in East Sussex. London’s ‘West End’ seemed like another world to me, at that age. I thought everyone working on Savile Row would be posh and a bit snobby. In reality however, there’s a great variety of people making clothes here. All just as passionate about making beautiful clothing as I am. Instead of being snobby, most are friendly and very generous in sharing their knowledge with the younger generation of cutters and tailors.'

Does anyone else in your family also work in the tailoring trade?

‘I didn’t know until very recently, but before she was married in the 1950s, my maternal grandmother worked for the cloth merchants ‘Wain Shiell & Sons Ltd’ at their offices on Savile Row. My mum tells me that she was always a bit of a snob regarding clothing so her early career may have had a lasting influence. Unfortunately she died when I was rather young, but I like to think she’d be pleased to know that I followed her into the trade.’

Style Influences?

'Not sure I can pin down an individual. Fascinated with the 1920s-40s, I read a lot of P.G.Wodehouse and Evelyn Waugh novels. As a result, a lot of my style inspiration comes from British University fashions of the interwar era. I spend a lot of time looking at pictures of Oxford/Cambridge undergraduates from the 1930s.'

'Most manage to wear tailoring in such a dressed down, natural way. Lots of sports jackets and flannels. Scarfs, accessories and specific pieces, showing individual, personal style.

In my opinion it’s effortlessly cool and quintessentially British.'

You’ve just returned to work after an unprecedented and lengthy period of interrupted business. Have you noticed anything has changed during that time? What does it feel like to be back at your cutting board, 10 Savile Row?

‘It’s a great relief to be back. Things aren’t quite back to normal just yet, and I think we are still yet to feel the full effects of the pandemic, yet our return to No.10 has been very positive so far. People have had close to 18 months sat at home saving money and thinking about improvements they’d like to make to their wardrobes. I think it would be wishful thinking to believe that everyone would be returning to the office in three-piece suits, but we’re seeing more people interested in separates, and items that have more versatility in how they can be worn. We’re probably likely to see a social and cultural shift as a result of the pandemic, but I’m confident that Savile Row has the ability to stay relevant and progressive in these unprecedented times.’

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