Quentin Blake gets me thinking. I’m sure that’s because he’s a great artist, and great artists excite the brain as well as the senses. I was at Sotheby’s (London) for a charity event in support of the House of Illustration last December when the actor Peter Capaldi read extracts from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. During the reading Quentin Blake executed two original ink and water colour illustrations of the story – in real time. They were later auctioned in support of the charity.
One of his most striking stories in pictures can be seen at the new St Pancras International Station in London – a fabric mural which envelopes an entire building, covered with Blake’s madcap characters.
So I found myself thinking, you can find stories everywhere. Perhaps our clothes also tell their stories. But of course all manner of uniforms and work clothes signify lives as soldiers, police, shopkeepers, carpenters, accountants, priests and farmers. But their stories are generalised in nature even if the people wearing them have their own tales to tell. What interests me are the particular, specific stories an individual garment can tell. Perhaps it’s only the tailor and the wearer who can eventually read the story – but a story nonetheless.
Clothes can be the trophy of a life-defining moment, a memorable occasion. The careful planning can take months. Sometimes a client will bring along part of another story to add to the poignancy – a treasured piece of fabric, button or bead, a piece of jewellery. One bride brought her favourite poem to think about while we talked through her design.
In the beginning stages I sketch a few lines on paper. I think about building garments all the time, and there are ideas swirling around my head all day and sometimes night. Recalling them at the right time and in synergy with what the client wants is I think, where real the process takes hold. There is a process – a narrative being created in the time dimension, as well as a tangible artefact being created in space.
Quentin Blake’s virtuoso drawing in real time reminded me of the first, often hesitant, sketches I have to execute alongside a client. We are struggling to conceptualise a mix of image, emotion, dreams, anticipation, in terms of a piece of clothing. The story not only of the garment, but of the person who will wear it, becomes invisibly embedded in the process of design, cutting, tailoring and finishing.
I’m not sure whether other bespoke tailors have similar experiences, but for me the creative process which takes me through from a blank page to a finished suit or dress is one of the most exciting activities any human can hope for. A heady mixture of the unknown, the exercise of skill, initiative and imagination, of respecting traditions and breaking rules simultaneously, of problem solving and craftsmanship … and all the more satisfying where there is a client present to accompany me on the journey.
With Tailoring for Women, you get much more than just a suit of clothes!
photo: Jamie Govier