House of Billiam – bespoke varsity jackets
28 November 2012
There is another side to the fashion industry that is more interesting than catwalks and cheap manufacture. Small designers usually begin by learning to sew and pattern cut, and then making their clothes individually by hand. The results can be bespoke, original and extremely well-made.
Tom Bird (above) has deliberately kept his production at this level. Under his brand House of Billiam, Tom makes bespoke varsity and biker jackets in his east London studio. Customers select wool, leather or suede in a range of colours for the body and arms of the jackets, and then specify the colour of the ribbing on the cuffs and neck, and the lining.
For someone who is used to commissioning bespoke suits, but is also interested in casual wear, this is a wonderful extension of that passion. You can even play with some basic colours here. Tom also makes in tweeds and suitings, with one particularly nice tweed shown below. If you kept all the other style details to a minimum, you could essentially have a blouson-type jacket made in your favourite tweed – the perfect weekend accompaniment to weekday suits.
Tom cuts everything by hand. The paper patterns are standard sizes, not bespoke, but he adjusts each one to the customer as he cuts. Mostly this is adjustment to the length of the jacket, the arms and the size through the waist (although most are cut pretty trim to start with). He then makes each one individually on the sewing machine next to his bench, and add the poppers etc.
The most popular style is black wool with black leather arms. But there are also some pretty outlandish requests. He sells a lot in Japan, and they like bright, mismatched colours. When I visited, a group of friends were signing the inside of the panels of a jacket for a friend’s birthday. And he is also working on a limited-edition jacket that was given to the production team on the film Space Jam; the owner wants the body cut out, slimmed down and sewn back in again.
Tom uses high-quality materials, with nappa leather, good suedes and ribbing that is a step above anything on the high street. “It took a long time for me to get the right ribbing. It’s hideously expensive but it’s so much nicer,” he says. Tom also has a cable-knit option on the collar, which you can see above in a high-neck style. I was very enthusiastic about that higher collar, since varsity jackets are often unflattering because of their low collar and bloated body shapes.
Another selling point has to be the price – a bespoke jacket with a wool body and leather arms is around £350. A suede body pushes it up to £450 – though I would recommend wool or tweed having seen both.
Since Tom started in January 2009 he has had collaborations with United Arrows, Liberty and 10 Corso Como. He has also made for a range of stars including Tinie Tempah. Yet his studio, with just Radio 4 and a teetering stack of leathers for company, could not be less pretentious.
I recommend a visit. Or, wait a week or two to see the one I’m having made. There’s also a good piece on Tom with some examples of jackets on Steve’s site Style Salvage.
Photos: Luke Carby