Celebrity tailor Stephen Williams talks suits
Stephen Williams can boast that rare ability of being a “double threat”.
You see, he used to be a model before his current work as a tailor. He not only crafts gobsmackingly fine suits but can wear his own creations with panache.
But that’s not to say he lacks willing gentlemen to sport his suits. The master suitsmith has clothed personalities like David Beckham (and the mini Beckham sons), Dragon Duncan Bannatyne and ex-Dragon James Caan.
That’s leaving out Michael Portillo, boxer David Haye, Jermaine Jackson and Olympics 2012 presenter (and 1988 silver medallist) Colin Jackson.
After blazing a trail in Savile Row and in Mayfair at the helm of Terence Trout, Williams is now focussing on his new tailoring house – Bespoke HQ. As you can imagine, it’s all about high-quality beautifully crafted and bespoke suits.
He’s worked on items that went into John Lewis, Selfridges, and worked with Giorgio Armani and the whole of the fashion circuit. With this fashion pedigree, I caught up with him to talk about his latest project of Bespoke and how he has managed to get where he is as a tailor to the stars.
How did you get started as a tailor?
I started quite by accident! My family were in the wool trade so I was surrounded by colour and textiles. That was quite an easy thing for me to get into. My mother was a very sharp businesswoman so from the age of 11 I was working in the shop, learning about customer service and working with people.
People came in everyday to see what she was wearing and she would sell. She hated knitting but she could sell. It inspired a lot for me. I was going to work in the family business but she wanted me to get profession first of all.
I started off at NatWest bank and I liked doing the customer service side but when I got promoted to a desk job, I realised it’s not for me!
I wanted to get into fashion. Next opened in 1984 and I saw a job advert and applied. I got the job of a sales consultant, when I started they used to have an old chain of Hepworths, an old man’s tailoring branch. I was basically told that one of us had to learn how to do tailoring so I volunteered and that was the start of my career.
I really enjoyed it and did courses upon courses, I trained people in how to do it and that was the start of working with suits.
How long did you spend at Next?
About three and a half years. Then it progressed to the stage where I wanted to go further. I saw a job advertised in Drapers for a designer in a Portugese manufacturer. All I could see in the advert was Portugal and textiles. I applied and lied that I had this degree in textiles and got through to the final interview and said to the guy ‘I know I could do this job, but I haven’t got a degree’.
He said ‘I appreciate your honesty, and you’re going to go on training” and so I studied. The company was one of Europe’s largest garment manufacturers, I worked on putting collections together for Burtons, Debenhams among others.
Burtons was the biggest break I had really. I put a small collection together for them and it sold virtually overnight. The company I was working for was making 5 and a half thousand garments a day and I was feeding this monster! It was a great time. I was approached to work for Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Armani and the whole circuit. It led me to work in Savile Row.
I took a break from suits for seven to eight years and modelled full time when I was 35. My passion came back when I was a freelancer in Savile Row and I had decided to set up my own tailoring business. I set up a company called Terrence Trout, we opened a shop in Mayfair and that is how I started with celebrity clientele. It was a continuous start of a great life and building of a business!
Who have been your favourite celebrity clients?
David Beckham. He is so stylish. Victoria asked me to make suits for all the boys and I did and then I made some for David. He was the only person I didn’t measure, she sent me his measurements. I made two garments of each of the fabric that she had selected and they were a centimetre difference in fitting and he was delighted with them. He is a great clotheshorse.
There have been a lot of great achievements, making the suits for Blue at the Eurovision song contest a couple to years ago. It was watched by 132 million people and it was great seeing the suits out there!
How would you describe the state of men’s fashion?
It’s great. The younger generation is appreciating tailoring and giving a new twist to it. The detail is back!
Some English guys now are completely edge forward in wearing suits and twisting the mixture of textures and styles, a suit jacket with jeans and a little bit of edge. A classic chic. Some guys take it one stage further.
Magazines like GQ have compiled lists of stylish Brits, what do you think of the British style?
Extremely impressed, GQ’s article on it was very good too. Number one of the best dressed businessmen was David Walker Smith, from Selfridges who I have known for 20 odd years. I actually employed him as a Saturday boy in Next. We’ve followed each other’s career and seeing where he is today is tremendous. I’d be delighted to have a range of clothes in Selfridges or Fenwick’s.
I’ve made suits for James Caan and Duncan Bannatyne. Caan likes his suits a little differently and the suits can really stand out. It’s all about how it’s worn.
There is a lot of different men’s style out there. I appreciate Oswald Boateng, Richard James and we may all do something slightly different but fundamentally it’s British tailoring, looking and understanding what your client needs. All about the service and attention to detail.
So Bespoke HQ is your current label?
All my clients have followed from before. Bespoke HQ is a previous collection I designed and we decided to look at a new brand, new label. Bespoke HQ fitted perfectly for the house of tailoring.
Finally, what should you look out for as a sign of a good suit?
If should be stylish and comfortable. Pinstripe suits may be great for business but a great cut suit can be worn separately with a pair of jeans. It’s the attention to detail, the working cuffs, the shape of the threads and the button holes.