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How bespoke tailors work

7 March 2012
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.