Henry Poole cutter Craig Featherstone marks out my Prince-of-Wales suit
Last week a reader asked me who the various people were in a bespoke tailoring house, and it occurred to me that this is one area I have never offered a guide to. So here goes.

The personnel in most tailoring houses divide into salesmen, cutters and tailors.

The former, also known as front of house or a euphemism like ‘client consultant’, will greet you, discuss your order and record it, as well as handling most communication from then on.

Although he is a salesman, he should not be undervalued. He is frequently a great source of advice on cloth and style, and great tailoring houses have been built by such men. Timothy Everest, Richard James and both Mariano and Luca Rubinacci are wonderfully stylish men, the best ambassadors for gentlemanly dress and an inspiration to bespoke commissions everywhere, but they are not tailors or cutters.

The cutter is the artist. He is the man you will be introduced to by the salesman and will take your measurements. He will cut your suit and fit it on you. A good relationship with your cutter, particularly in communicating to him how you want your suit to look, is absolutely essential.

Cutters are often big personalities too – Richard Anderson, John Hitchcock, Lorenzo Cifonelli. They are arguably the core of a tailoring house, and many men will always follow their cutter, wherever he works. European tailors are nearly universally built around a family of cutters (Caraceni, Solito, Panico).

And of course when a house becomes very small, it is essentially just a cutter with whatever salesmen and tailors the size of his business can afford (Steven Hitchcock, Len Logsdail, John Kent and Terry Haste). This is one great advantage of having freelance tailors (coat makers, trouser makers etc), as is the practice in England. It makes the costs of being a tailor business very flexible.

So cutters and salesmen are very different, but they also vary in their role from house to house. Sometimes the big selling point is the style of the salesman, sometimes the reputation of a cutter. Just as often, the two make a particularly good combination of personalities (Richard Anderson and Brian Lishak, Craig Pogson and Dougie Davis, Thom Whiddett and Luke Sweeney).

The actual tailors are likely to be buried away, either in the basement or in different premises. Most are coat makers, some will be trouser makers, and still others will specialise in waistcoats. But other than admiring their handiwork, you don’t need to have much contact with them.

Many cutters start off as tailors, only switching when they become more experienced. So they can cut and make suits, and some still operate on this basis – or young names start out that way.

When you visit a tailor for the first time, whether it’s a big Savile Row house or a small regional outfit, it’s important to understand whom you are talking to. Salesmen, cutters and tailors may overlap, but they will be responsible for very different things when it comes to your suit.
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Anonymous

Thank you, Simon, for this insight.I greatly appreciate your broad view on menswear also guided by the high esteem you hold the men, women and the craftsmanship that make up this absolutely fascinating world.
John

Tailor Dan

Really fascinating post. In my line I work as the salesman. We don’t have cutters, except at Oxxford which we use, so we do have to roll a lot of the service and knowledge into just us and do our best with our patterns.

Thanks for the guide.

Anonymous

I’ve always thought you should clearly encapsulate in a concise summary all the steps in the bespoke process. One gets the sense of it haphazardly, in many articles you have done over the years, but one can’t point to a single article and say, “so, that is what happens with these sundry mysteries like cutters, tailor/makers, basted fittings, forward fittings, and the like”. In this latest article you concentrate more on the division of responsibility between salesmen and cutter/tailor, but not so much that between the cutter and the tailor. The cutter cuts fabric and canvas, attaches the two, baste-stitches the principal components, and does the first (basted) fitting. Exactly at what point does the tailor / coat maker / trouser maker get involved ? After the basted fitting ? Or after the forward fitting? Come to think of it, what precisely has happened in between basted and forward ? In between forward and final ? And what is the role of the cutter after the basted fitting ? All the answers are contained in your blog somewhere, but they are scattered and someone who has never had a suit made on Savile Row would be rather foggy about the major highlights.

Anonymous

Indeed. Then add another six weeks+ to whenever they tell you the commission will be finished.

Anonymous

That’s the joy of having something bespoke…the build up of expectation, nothing more thrilling I find.

dafno

is there any information on the internet regarding tailors? i am interested going to italy (napoli or milan) to search for a tailor, bit i can not seem to find quality information on the internet.

AFJ

Great post

Anonymous

hi simon, i have started to buy RTW suits from some of the saville row houses which have started to move into RTW, sadly i cannot afford to go bespoke yet.

usually the salesman will have a look in the fitting room & mark the suit for any alterations to be made. is this normal and is a salesman able to do this just as well as anyone else in the shop? im wondering if a cutter would make a better job of it as from your article it would seem their experience is in this area?

in any case i havent had any issues with the alterations i have had made, but im wondering if it would make any difference really.

cheers, Andy

Jonathan

Just wondering if the salesmen, in those houses you mentioned, do the measurements or do the cutters do it themselves?

Bernie Leung

Hi Simon,

What is a difference between a bespoke tailor who employs a basted fitting and another that offers a muslin/test fabric fitting? Both will create garments from scratch, so they are both considered bespoke, correct? I guess what I am really asking is the pros/cons and cost difference of having basted fittings vs muslin fittings as the first step, before the forward fitting.

My best,
Bernie

Bernie Leung

Hi Simon,

Would you say that there is a disadvantage of not being able to see how the regular cloth behaves until it is too late to make major changes? Basted fitting seem more customer friendly in terms of input.

Bernie

Bernie Leung

Is it still considered bespoke if the first fitting was a muslin fitting then transitioning to a forward fitting using the actual cloth – nothing was ever basted?

Also, I think I read here that some tailors skip to the forward fitting. Would it be a basted forward fitting?

I was told by my tailor that other tailor shops charge extra for a muslin fitting or forego it all together to cut costs.

Best,
Bernie

Bernie Leung

I see. What is the argument for a muslin fitting over a basted fitting, then? Does a basted fitting require more skill and experience?

Bernie Leung

Thanks for the explanation!