At the end of last year I got to know the new owners of the General Leather Company on Chiltern Street - now renamed Cromford Leather.
This was exciting because they not only make leather and suede jackets on the premises, but undertake alterations for brands and for private customers.
I’ve wanted to find a place to alter leather and suede garments for a while.
If you like (and, in reality, get used to) bespoke tailoring, you become increasingly frustrated at not being able to achieve anything like the same fit in leather.
Of course, the beautiful suede jacket Cifonelli made me last year is one way to get a perfect fit, but that is expensive, time-consuming and - for anything other than a simple sports-jacket shape - difficult to design.
For whatever the perils of bespoke tailoring, suits are pretty easy to commission as a customer. There are relatively few variables, and there are clear traditions and rules around most of them.
Leather jackets, on the other hand, are much harder.
A collar can be many different widths, heights and shapes; the body can be skin-tight or have a lot of excess; design details like zips and pockets fundamentally alter the look.
And a bad leather jacket is just awful. Nothing else will make a man look more dated, sad or unfashionable.
I went through the difficulty of this process with the leather jacket Davide Taub made me at Gieves & Hawkes.
I still really like the result, but there are a few things I would definitely change if I could, and I also realise how many other things could have gone wrong.
Far safer, then, to buy ready-to-wear. Let Ralph Lauren, Seraphin or Nigel Cabourn design the jacket for you.
They may still get it wrong, but at least you can see the finished garment before you buy it, try it on and consider its style.
The only issue is fit. A ready-made garment is made to fit an average customer, and few people are average.
So the solution: buy a ready-made jacket and have it altered somewhere.
The problem is there are very few workshops that can do this. Davide worked with one for my leather jacket, but they are outside London and often don’t have capacity.
Cromford, it turns out, are central, lovely to work with and also very good.
The workshop dates back to 1971.
Run by Alan Sprooles and Peter Goodall, it made bespoke jackets for everyone - rock stars, film stars and even the Queen.
It also made and continues to make for several designer brands, including Mulberry and Margaret Howell.
Pauline Harris (above) had worked at General Leather for 20 years when Alan and Peter retired in 2015, and she took it over together with Katherine and (as of last month) a new apprentice.
They re-branded as Cromford Leather, and created a new line of ready-made leather and suede pieces to replace the (frankly, rather 70s) collection of Alan and Peter's.
The new collection has some nice pieces in it, although none I really love - as mentioned earlier, this is hard thing to analyse and dissect.
Shown above are three pieces - the De Niro suede jacket (£1200), Douglas flight jacket (£2800) and Eastwood Leather coat (£1850).
The alteration work Pauline and Katherine have done for me, however, is fantastic, and I’m sure I’ll use them to make a bespoke jacket at some point.
(Below - bespoke piece made for Brad Pitt in the film Allied.)
The first alteration project I gave them was a Loro Piana jacket I picked up at Bicester Village years ago.
The quality is lovely, and is cashmere-lined, but the fit was never quite right. Collapsing at the top of the back (with my sloping shoulders) and a touch too big in the waist.
It also always looked a little too rustic, largely because of its large, shapeless patch pockets.
Pauline lowered the shoulders for me (by taking off the sleeves), which made the back much cleaner (and as a side effect, created a smaller armhole).
She slimmed the waist, using both the side seams and putting two extra seams in the back. And she took off the patch pockets, cutting them down so they were flush with the jacket.
Overall, the effect was great. It made a piece I never really wore into something I want to wear every day. And we’ve already moved onto the next piece - a Seraphin bomber. The two jobs cost £250 and £300 respectively.
I’ll post more, and far better, photographs on the next post on them.
One last point: altering a jacket like this is not easy. For most things you essentially have to take the entire jacket apart and re-make it.
That’s simpler than with bespoke tailoring, but it does take a lot of time and there are limitations.
For example, there is rarely any inlay in a jacket, so it’s much easier to take in than take out. Best to buy a jacket that’s a little too big and reduce it than the other way around.
Also, jackets are often washed to create certain effects, and these would not be reproduced on new seams. Plus if you remove anything (like my jacket flaps) it will likely leave a mark.
Do go and talk to Cromford about anything you want done, but don’t expect the same kind of potential as with tailoring.
Would be great to have an insight on why price is 3 times that of a company like aero leathers ( looking at difference between de Niro and aero collegiate as basic suede jackets). Obviously overheads of being in london vs borders matters, but is quality that much higher?
And on that note where in London can one try on aero leathers?
And a third point (apologies!), what are your views on second hand / vintage leather?
A large part of the difference is quality – or fineness – of the leathers. Aero work with more rugged, hardier leathers which are also often cheaper. The finer a suede or leather you want, the more expensive it is.
And your point on Aero points to another reason for the price difference – there is no retail.
On vintage leather jackets, I’d say they can be great if you want a worn-in look, but be careful of styling points. Often they will be rather small or short in the body.
Very interesting – i had always found altering leather garments next to impossible as the finish is never the same. Long time back, i had to get a zip replaced on a leather jacket but result was messy.
Your Loro Piana jacket appears to be suede – does alteration work better on suede compared to smooth sheep skin?
It’s lambskin actually (leather), not suede. Alterations are actually often harder on suede as it can mark more easily.
I lived in Marylebone in the very early 80’s, and Chiltern Street was a wonderful mix of independents and galleries; I haven’t been since those days, but remember GLC and a menswear retailer called Grey Flannel, which carried a really interesting range. No idea if they are still there.
Just around the corner in Blandford Street was an Indian restaurant where you could get a “meat” curry with rice, and a pint of lager, for £1.90. I suspect they are not there now either!!
Grey Flannel are still there, though perhaps not for long
This is great to know and definitely one for the address book.
I’ve long been of the opinion that you come across great suede or leather by accident and then they need those minor adjustments to make them perfect.
Simon, do you think this company could create a jacket of similar quality to the Cifonelli suede?
No. That is the work of a bespoke tailor and has, for example, a hand-padded, hand-shaped chest, hand-worked collar and so on.
However, Cromford could make with the best materials and to the best standards of ready-made jackets and coats – with the addition of a made-to-measure fit.
Apologies, I know my request is unrelated to your post but I wanted to see whether you know of any tailors that work on ties. I’d like the width of several of my ties to be reduced; a few of them are 9.0cm at the widest part and I was hoping to have them taken down to around 8.0cm.
The design of the Cecilia, the jacket for women, is outstanding. Here: http://www.cromfordleather.co.uk/collection/cecilia/
It’s absolutely clear that they could drastically widen the range and improve the designs for men.
By the way, I have found an interesting story in their Journal:
Once again, a post displaying substantial research, retrospective, sartorial insight and a connection with craftsmen in their natural environment. Great work, Simon.
Something I’ve yet to see is opinion on active wear, which is an aspect of men’s lifestyle that you may be quite familiar with (given that you cycle regularly.) Your call, though. If you ever feel at all inclined to share your preferences with active gear, that’d be a welcome addition to PS. Not strictly in the sartorial sense, but more related to how function is a component of quality. Cheers.
There have been articles on both cycling and running wear… have a search and let me know if you can’t find them
I see, I must not have been diligent enough. Thanks for pointing out the existence of those articles. Off a-hunting I go!
Any plans to add to that area in future, or (replacing worn-out things aside) do you feel you’re all set?
No, there may well be more in the future
I read you loud and clear. Thanks, Simon.
If you get the chance, I encourage you to check Stòffa (stoffa.co) out. They offer amongst other things great value MTM trousers and leather jackets (suede but I believe also lambskin).
Thanks, yes I know Stoffa – though through personal experience largely in the hats rather than trousers or jackets.
Here’s your chance to get to know them even better, trunk show in London 11-12th of march.
Thanks yes, saw that and already meeting Agyesh
Do you ever buy women’s clothes (for wife or as gifts etc)?
If so, how do you approach the extremely branded market, where do you shop, what do you look for?
I have found since becoming a follower my wife has noticed my increase in taste and discernment and I think she would like me to be able to apply that to her!
It’s a very tricky area, and one I don’t know much about to be honest. Womenswear is hampered by being so fashion-driven. It’s harder to invest in quality and for brands to justify investing more in product as a result.
There are some brands out there though – Margaret Howell, for example. But again, it has a look and you have to like the look.
Completely off topic but I have been waiting for your final review of your Charvet shirt before I go over and perhaps place an order; I need a new evening shirt. I think it was back in June you provided your initial thoughts and I am sure a lot of people have been waiting for the final considered opinion. Mind you since then the Euro has headed north putting the price up by a good 15% and the price was never low to start with!
I do apologise, John.
However, I would say in advance of the review that I wouldn’t recommend going for Charvet. If you want something truly special, pick someone like D’Avino who visits London.
Unless you want the experience above all.
Good Morning Simon
Thank you for your reply. I am afraid that I am very, very old; probably older than Nick Inkster (who is obviously past the first flush of youth if he can remember getting a pint of larger for £1.90 let alone a curry to go with it) and I grew up with and enjoy wearing tailored shirts like those produced by T&A. I actually started at Budd and still have dress shirts from them. I know that you are happy with the Italian style but for formal shirts I just don’t see how the soft collar and the Neapolitan shoulders would work for an evening shirt. For less formal, open necked shirts I have been very happy with Luca – who I found thanks to your wonderful site. But for more formal wear I tend to think it would be like asking Cifonelli to make me a suit in the English structured style. While I am sure they can do it other English tailors can do it far better. I am however fascinated at your comments that you wouldn’t recommend Charvet. I have worn their ties for ages and all the rich people I see who wear their shirts look immaculate. Am I missing something or is it just a style thing – I prefer more structure and would never consider a soft Neapolitan suit, even for a summer suit. I guess I have reached the age, stage (and bank account) where I know what I like and enjoy wearing and don’t think I will change now.
Best wishes and keep up the good work, I have been in from the start and think you have the best site on the web for men’s bespoke clothing. I don’t always agree with what you write but admire the work that goes into it.
I completely take your point on Neapolitan shirts – if that’s not your style, it’s not going to work.
The fit on my Charvet shirt was very good, but I struggle to justify it at the price. For the same construction, I would go to Budd or Sean O’Flynn.
I have several vintage jackets that i have had altered by the chaps at Oceanic leathers in Brick Lane. I have been very pleased with the results.
Did you visit the English Cut when in Chiltern Street?
Yes, I’ve visited Tom and Karl there a couple of times. The MTM service is nice – we will likely review it at some point
I went to London last weekend and visited Cromford Leather since you recommended it. I just have to say that the shop is great and so are Katherine and Pauline.
I don´t visit London that often since I live in Norway. Pauline took my measures for a MTM Caine jacket. I want to have it made in goat suede, which they have never done before. What would you go for in ways of colour? I am considering tan or dark brown?
I also visited your pop-up store on Saturday and it was just perfect! You even gave up your seat on the bench outside to my girlfriend, while I was inside looking. She really appreciated that!
Thanks Are, so nice to know the shops have been worth the visit!
Dark brown will always be safer on the jacket, but if you know from previous pieces that you would wear tan a lot, then that would be very nice.
This piece will be my first suede leather jacket, and I will mostly wear it casually with jeans/chinos and brown leather shoes. I have both tan and dark brown shoes, but no jacket in either of those colours. Is the tan equally versatile when used with the clothes mentioned?
I usually wear navy coloured jackets (coats, peacoat, leather jacket), so I thought it would be nice to try something new. Should take my skin tone into consideration when choosing tan or dark brown? any tips on this subject?
Brown would still be slightly more flexible, generally.
And no, I wouldn’t worry much about skin colour.
I was thinking of a double breasted Navy Overcoat made in Shearling knee length, having either MTM or bespoke.
How would you compare Cromford to French brands like Chapel and Seraphin in terms of quality and style?
Similar in quality, but not quite there in some of the leathers. And generally the latter better in style as well – though that’s obviously a.little subjective
good place for buying leather jackets.They custom leather jackets in unique design fo both men and women.
I went to Cromford for an alteration after seeing this article – big mistake!! I found them really poor in terms of quality and customer service.
They shortened my jacket sleeves and repositioned the zips. Unfortunately they left a gap at the top of each zip where it meets jacket seam – a gap you can see clothes underneath through.
I pointed this out on collection and the guy on the shop floor went to speak to the lady who did the work. He came back to say it wasn’t their fault I explained why that couldn’t be the case and he went to get the lady who did the work. She was really aggressive. At first she said it would have been too difficult not to leave the gap and that it wasn’t that bad. I said I was disappointed there was a hole you could see my clothes underneath through – she started arguing with me that it was a gap not a hole (so pointless). I said it was an expensive repair and wasn’t quite right (£140) – she said it was insignificant compared to the other work they do there (charming) and got back into another round of hole vs gap. I asked her to stop being rude and after a bit of fluster she calmed down. She said she would have another go at it if I really wanted. In the end I decided just to leave it as I didn’t have confidence in her after she’d initially said it was too hard for her to do, and I didn’t want her to keep reworking the leather.
Basically I wouldn’t waste your money with this company – it wasn’t a good enough alteration for the money, and they weren’t nice to deal with.
Thank you Lauren. That’s so surprising to hear. I normally find Pauline (the lady you refer to) to be excellent for dealing with. In fact, I just had my third alteration done, and will be writing about it on Monday. It was perfect, and great quality.
Sorry to hear you had a bad experience.
Hello, great blog and features. I bought a belstaff aviator leather jacket in 48 Italian but it’s that bit baggy on me that I would never wear it. Unfortunately they don’t have a smaller size. I love the model but how much work e money would be needed to alter it? I already own two belstaff leather jackets the Dark Knight in 48 and the Ryder in 46 that fit great but this new one doesn’t as it is!
Go to Cromford and ask, but probably around £100. It’s not simple work!
Shearling greatcoat or American Brown Mink lined wool greatcoat which would be warmer?
Probably the mink-lined, but I’m no expert there I’m afraid
Simon, you are lucky that you live in london, as a HK citizen ><, you may able to find some good suit tailor from HK (wwchan..etc), but that's it, you will never able to find a good bespoke leather jacket or bespoke overcoat, or anything beside shirt and suit.
Hope you’re bearing up! Do you know of anyone who can alter leather bags? The alteration is basically removing a pocket, changing its size and reattaching. I have found a few options via Google but would appreciation a recommendation if you have one?
Sorry Stuart, no I don’t know any leather workers who could do that on a bag.
Genuinely helpful article as always. I have an Armani bomber jacket in leather (EU size 54) which is around 3 sizes too big for me (I’m an EU size 48 now) It’s beautiful though. In your view, is this something that can be sensibly resized without losing its aesthetic?
Your kind time reviewing this message is genuinely appreciated.
No worries Faheem.
It’s not really possible to say without seeing it, but my instinct is that it’s unlikely. One size can be a challenge; three sizes is probably impossible.
This post is related with what I’m concerned with and it’s fantastically made. Thanks very much for your hardworking.
I am glad it was an enjoyable experience for you. I think that you should definitely do it again sometime and
hopefully I will be able to make it to that one