The Bespokesman - Meet the tailor

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In the summer of 2002 I walked into Chris Kerr’s shop and ordered my first bespoke suit. His brief was to make me an "invisible" navy blue suit, one that could be worn in almost any formal environment without attracting undue attention, either good or bad.

For less than a grand he made a navy blue serge two-button, single-breasted suit that I continue to wear on a weekly basis seven years later. It’s hard to think that a man could ask for more from a business suit, or for better value for money.

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Esquire: Your father is famous Sixties showbiz tailor Mr. Eddie – were you always going to be in the trade?
Chris Kerr: I’m only second generation because my grandfather was a cabinet maker, but craftsmanship is in the blood. As a kid I’d hang round the shop, look at the bunches of fabric and go out with my dad when he did fittings. When I got older I got more interested in his clients, particularly if they were well known figures.

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ESQ: Who were the clients that impressed you as a kid?

CK: In the Eighties my dad was doing a lot of snooker players so I met Steve Davis, and went to the snooker championships. Also my dad has made clothes for Lenny Henry since he was a young man, so I saw a few of this programmes being made. One day when I was in secondary school my dad came home and told us that he’d had a really scruffy bunch of Irishmen in his shop that day. He had no clue who they were, but he suspected they were a band. We worked out it was U2.

ESQ: So did you go straight into the business after school?

CK: No, I left school at 16 and went into a job in the graphic design business – which teenager wants to work with his father? When I was 22 I was working at The Sunday Times and I re-touched a shot of Ozwald Boateng, Richard James and Timothy Everest standing together on Savile Row. It was an article about how these were the new men in the world of tailoring; I thought, "That could be me." So I gave it a go.

ESQ: Where did you learn to be a cutter (the job of producing patterns for bespoke clothes)?

CK: At my dad’s side; by watching him and doing the job. I also did a couple of courses at the London College of Fashion, they were fine but they didn’t teach me a lot.

ESQ: Tailoring requires taste as well as skill. Were you always into fashion?

CK: I’ve always been interested in clothes and as a kid I had things made by my dad – I was the only kid in school who had bespoke trousers. At the time I wanted Farahs like everyone else, but mine were fashionably cut. When I left school I always spent money on clothes.

ESQ: If no man is a hero to his valet, is the same is true of tailors?

CK: There are no lies in the fitting room. I tell it like it is; everyone’s got their faults and the truth comes out with all the measurements. People are often shocked.

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ESQ: A man ordering a bespoke suit feels like he’s calling the shots, but to what extent are you guiding the decision-making process?

CK: You’ve got to come up with the ideas and the options for the customer and understand what people are going to want [as opposed to what they think they want]. A guy from the city really needs a uniform for the office, but a guy working in the film industry is going to want something different. I have to decide what’s right for them, even though they didn’t explicitly ask for it, or even necessarily notice.

ESQ: How are you able to charge less than half of what Savile Row tailors charge for a suit?

CK: We’re not cutting any corners. I use the same fabrics, the same canvases, we cut the same way and we make the same way. Geographically we’re in a cheaper area and we have a smaller premises. I do an honest job for an honest price, I take less profit but do more work. Not everyone can pay £2,500 - £3,000 for a suit — if I said tomorrow that my suits cost £2,000 I’d probably cut my client list by three quarters.

ESQ: What brings your customers into the shop in the first instance?

CK: I pick up quite a lot of clients from their first wedding suit. It’s the first time a lot of men will spend serious money on a suit, whether they’re going to be the groom or just a guest, and we retain quite a few of those because afterwards they never go back to ready to wear suits. And then we still have old customers of my father’s.

ESQ: Is there a house style?

CK: No, we do everything from sharp suits for men about town to country suits for men to wear shooting. We are versatile; we’re not dictating what people should wear. We’re there to make what you want, although I’m there to give guidance and help.

ESQ: What are the most unusual requests you’ve had?

CK: I’ve recreated Dr Who outfits, and I once made a pink three-piece suit that was a replica of something Robert Redford wore in The Great Gatsby – the client got married in it.

ESQ: The first suits I bought from you had low waisted trousers. Is that still how you’d make them if the customer doesn’t specify anything in particular?

CK: It depends on how tall they are, and how wide they are but people want them lower and lower at the moment. Higher trousers are more comfortable because there’s more space inside them, but fashion dictates that people want them to sit on the hips.

ESQ: Your dad had lots of famous clients. Do you?

CK: A few. Johnny Depp, Nick Cave, Matt Lucas, Dermot O’Leary – how about that?

ESQ: Have you secured the future of your business by fathering any young tailors?

CK: I read my youngest daughter’s report the other day and it said that she’s very good at needlecraft, so she might provide some cheap labour one day. She’s only seven though.

52 Berwick Street, London W1F 8SL (020 7437 3727; www.chriskerr.com)

Mansel Fletcher