October 30 2012
I cycle from home down the canal to Limehouse Basin, and from there along the Thames Path to our studio, in an old wharf on the river in Wapping. It’s a fairly grey morning; the tide is out and the black-headed gulls stand peering into the muddy foreshore with a dejected air. The river seems listless.
Ikla (my head of studio) and I are working on a new shape of trouser for the E Tautz autumn/winter 2013 collection, which we’ll show in January. Edward Tautz was famous for the cut of his trousers – he invented the knickerbocker – and we’re working on something that is part plus-fours, part 1950s ski trousers and part 1980s shell-suit bottoms. Cut and cloth are crucial to the way these trousers work; the cloth needs body to keep the full shape we’re trying to create. A heavier wool melton is the obvious choice, but we’re playing with bonding lighter cloths to see how they perform.
At 11am, I set off by bicycle for Savile Row, where I do a quick change before strolling down to Jermyn Street. Richard, the chairman of Foster & Sons, the wonderful bespoke shoe and bootmaker, is to give me a tour of their compact little empire. Tucked away above the elegantly appointed shop, up a staircase lined with what appear to be hundreds of years’ worth of wooden lasts, is the first-floor workshop. You know instantly when a workroom is a happy place – the Norton & Sons workshop has that feeling, and this one has it too. The place is bright, and the team much younger than I had expected, cheerfully going about their work. Shoemakers’ workshops are wonderful spaces, rich with the smell of leather and wax, beautifully worn, wooden-handled tools lined up in purpose-built racks; there are bradawls, knives for cutting and skiving, needles, and an old printer’s soapstone block for cutting on. Emiko, the head shoemaker, still makes all her own threads. I met Richard at a book launch a couple of weeks ago and he invited me along for a snoop. I have a nerdish love of manufactory, those where the products are crafted by hand most of all. It is always a privilege to watch fine craftsmen at work.
Afterwards we take lunch at the RAC on Pall Mall, in the beautiful, newly re-gilded dining room. Richard doesn’t like the murals. I think I agree with him – they’re vaguely reminiscent of that Spanish pensioner’s restoration of her local church fresco, and also slightly kitsch.
At about 3.30pm, I walk back to Savile Row. I spend a very pleasant hour choosing cloth for a suit with a terrifically amiable Swiss customer. We close the shop at 5.30pm, and most of our tailors head for home. The workshop is quiet, and I spend the next four hours dealing with emails before cycling home. It has been raining heavily, but happily it has abated and I get home without a soaking.