Our bespoke specialist and Savile Row correspondent, Mansel Fletcher, continues his regular column with a profile of up-and-coming tailor Fadia Aoun.
Fadia Aoun is unique among Savile Row tailors for three reasons. Firstly she is a woman at the top of a tailoring house (the elegant Anda Rowland is MD of Anderson & Sheppard, but she’s not a tailor) and secondly she’s Lebanese. However, it wasn’t either of these facts that inspired me to commission her for the first time last year. What impressed me most is that Aoun can make suits in the structured, military shape that defines British style, and in the rare soft style (achieved by removing the shoulder and chest padding) employed by the legendary tailoring houses Rubinacci and A&S. Among bespoke aficionados the passion inspired by the dichotomy between soft and hard tailoring is hard to overstate, so doing both makes Aoun pretty special.
Her story began in Beirut, where she was born, at a time when the city was defined by its elegance and joie de vivre rather than by war. She says of the Lebanese, “They love dressing, and they love clothes.” After an extended stay with her brother in London she enrolled at the London College of Fashion.
“To be honest you don’t learn a lot in college, it’s about ideas not work,” she says. Edward Sexton employed Aoun as soon as she left college; he used to work with the late Savile Row legend Tommy Nutter who’s known for the exaggerated shape of his suits – square roped shoulders and nipped-in waists. Aoun started with the basics, “just laying the pattern on the cloth and marking the fabric for cutting.”
After six years with Sexton (she started cutting after a year) she moved to Johns & Pegg, but moved on when the firm was incorporated into Savile Row tailor Davies & Son. She was then employed by Brian Rusell, who worked for Anderson & Sheppard for 20 years before striking out on his own. This exposed Aoun to a whole new approach to tailoring, as she explains, “I started cutting the Sexton shape, but with Brian it was the opposite, he was ex-Anderson & Sheppard so made a really soft coat with little shape, so I can do both – it depends what my customers like.”
In reality, she admits, “Very few customers like the soft coat, most prefer the shape that flatters the body more.” And what about Aoun? As both a tailor and an attractive woman she’s uniquely placed to advise men about how women like them to dress. “I prefer the structured and shaped suits,” she says.
After Rusell’s sudden death two years ago (he worked right to the end) Aoun took over the business, keeping the name the same: “I could have changed it, but I promised Brian I’d keep it, and knowing how much he loved his work and his company I couldn’t see any reason to.”
Aoun’s clients are mainly British, which is very rare on Savile Row, and, equally unusually, include lots of young men. “My youngest customer is 14, his mother is treating him,” she says. Like all good tailors Aoun will make anything her customers want, but she particularly likes “the classic styles, I sometimes take ideas from old books, things like high buttoning double-breasted jackets. I love to make something unusual.”
Reassuringly she dismisses the notion that she’s had problems as a woman on Savile Row. “I never had any difficulty. A lot of tailors worried that it would be embarrassing for me to take the inside leg measurement, but I never felt like that,” she says. “I’m doing my job and I don’t worry about the rest - my customers never made me feel uncomfortable.”
I’ve certainly never felt uncomfortable around Aoun, rather the woman’s touch adds something valuable to the bespoke experience. So far she’s made me two pairs of trousers (one in heavy grey flannel, one in cream-coloured worsted barathea wool) and a navy suit in Donegal tweed, and, crucially, they’ve passed the ultimate test – my wife really likes the cut. Suddenly it seems obvious that we men should let women design our clothes more often. Brian Russell, 6 Sackville Street, London W1 (020 7287 4880)