A cut above: first female master tailor opens shop on Savile Row
Kathryn Sargent, who has dressed royalty, actors and politicians, opens tailoring house in Mayfair, central London
Wednesday 6 April 2016 15.36 BST
A tailor has made history by becoming the first woman to open a tailoring house in Savile Row.
Kathryn Sargent, who has dressed royalty, actors, politicians and business leaders, opened her premises in Mayfair, central London, on Wednesday.
The 41-year-old master tailor, who is originally from Leeds, spent 15 years at Gieves & Hawkes, rising through the ranks to head cutter before opening her first store in Brook Street in 2012.
She said: “It feels wonderful to be on Savile Row, and like a real sense of achievement. It is just great to have your shop and your garments on display for people to see.”
With a career spanning 20 years in the west London district, Sargent said she was delighted at the prospect of being an inspiration to other women.
“I am thrilled to be making history, although for me being a woman is incidental, I am a tailor first and foremost. There’s more and more women coming through now and doing the training. Sixty-five percent of the newly-qualified tailors last year were women. It is more diverse,” she said.
“But Savile Row has always been diverse. People from all over the world work in Savile Row and clients are from all over the world as well. It is a global destination for tailoring and it is the best in the world.”
Sargent said she discovered her passion for the trade while studying at a fashion college in Epsom, Surrey. She said the new store would showcase the trade and her garments. “We will be cutting suits out in the window and also we have done a display to explain the process of having a suit made.
“I really wanted to present all the elements of the craft so people can walk through the story. It is a real visual display and I want people to come away feeling energised by that and understanding a bit more about it.”
The store will open for spring and summer as a seasonal residency and tailor for both sexes. Bespoke two-piece suits made by Sargent cost from £4,200, with made-to-measure suits from £1,500.
Savile Row’s first female tailor, Kathryn Sargent, on smashing the “windowpane check ceiling
10 APRIL 2016 • 10:10AM
“It’s taken a lot of hard work to get here, you really have to earn your stripes on this street. Or, should I say, pinstripes,” says Kathryn Sargent. It’s an appropriate analogy; this week the 41-year-old from Yorkshire made history as the first woman to open her own namesake store on Savile Row. The fact that this is an area defined by a patrician sense of heritage and tradition, where tailors’ shops evoke the feel of a gentleman’s club, makes Sargent’s achievement all the more remarkable.
Savile Row isn’t famed for its acceptance of change. When tailor Tommy Nutter opened his boutique in the 1960s he caused outcry by breaking with the tradition of velvet curtains shielding the shop inside, and placing mannequins wearing the clothes on display in the windows. When Ozwald Boateng and Richard James came to Savile Row in the 1990s, their defiant, apparently unseemly act of opening their stores on the weekend caused many a colonel to choke on his kippers.
So how has the world reacted to the first woman opening up shop on London’s most traditional street? “Yes, it’s quite surreal," she admits. “There’s an incredibly long history to Savile Row. But I have been trained here and I’ve been part of this tailoring community my whole working life. If I hadn’t had that background, opening a shop with a woman’s name above the door might not have been as warmly received as it has.”
It’s true that women have always played an integral, if discreet, behind-the-scenes role in Savile Row’s story; nipping, pinning, cutting and sculpting the suits that have made this street the pinnacle of tailoring. “I trained as an apprentice at Gieves & Hawkes for five years, and had two amazing women who looked after me. One was a military tailor who did all the lacing on military uniforms, the other was a finisher who did all the lining and buttonholes, and they really ran the show. They ruled the roost and showed me that there were strong women within these teams, despite being outnumbered.”
Such formidable presences helped give Sargent the confidence to shatter what she terms the “windowpane check ceiling.”
“Have I felt like a woman in a man’s world? Initially yes, but nowadays I realise that I’m a woman in a diverse world,” she says diplomatically. “Traditionally there’s been an expectation that if you went to see your tailor, he’d be an older gentleman in a suit, but you soon realise that what matters is being able to communicate with the client and developing your expertise. Having said that, my father wouldn’t ever let me measure him!”
The handsome, panelled environs of her emporium at 22 Savile Row are a long way from Leeds, where Sargent grew up, but it was another pioneering Yorkshire woman who prompted her to attend fashion school at Epsom college. “I always thought that Vivienne Westwood was wonderful, I really wanted to follow in her footsteps,” she says.
Yet while Westwood’s fashion identity is defined by a renegade sense of experimentalism, for Sargent the draw was technique and tradition. “I was obsessed with construction and would buy old Burberry suits in charity shops just so I could take them apart and put them back together again, to see how they were made,” she explains.
Years of training in how to make the cut, so to speak, followed before Sargent started picking up accolades for her work. In 2000 she won the esteemed Golden Shears Award, a hallmark of excellence awarded to newcomers in the industry. And two years ago she launched a bespoke tailoring service in Mayfair, which proved so successful she felt the time was right to launch into “the Row” with a standalone store.
“There really is no quick fix in this line of work,” she says of an industry where every stitch of the needle is measured, every cuff sleeve considered, and apprentices can train for years before being deemed to have reached a standard sufficient to be let loose on a customer’s cloth. “There’s no one person on this street who knows everything, you’re constantly learning.”
I cater to women who have worked hard to get to where they are and need high performance tailoring to help them look professional
Kathryn Sargent on women now shopping on Savile Row
Sargent, herself sharply attired in an impeccable black suit with crimson neck scarf, believes part of her success is due to the fact that it’s no longer just men who want to shop on Savile Row. “I work a great deal with global business leaders and CEOs, and they are women as well as men. I cater to women who have worked hard to get to where they are and need high performance tailoring to help them look professional. My clothes aren’t fashion pieces, they are there to do a job. A suit can do a huge amount for a man or a woman.”
Top divorce barrister Baroness Fiona Shackleton is know for buying her suits on Savile Row but, of course, Sargent is far too discreet to name her clients. Instead, she cites the Queen and the Prince of Wales as prime examples of elegance and masters of the art of looking appropriate, alongside Sean Connery’s Bond and Fred Astaire. “He’s one of the most enigmatic suit wearers of all time,” she says of the latter. “He showed how you can move in a suit, and of course he had most of them made on the Row”.
For anyone else seeking to join the esteemed ranks of gentlemanly outfitters on this most revered street in men’s style, Sargent has only one piece of advice: “Find out as much as you can, seek advice and be patient. Don’t expect it to happen overnight.”
Watching her guide clients through cloth swatches and sweep through the heavy curtains to her fitting rooms, it’s clear that Sargent’s patience has most certainly paid off.
SARGENT’S FIVE SECRETS OF THE PERFECT SUIT
1. A suit has to sit comfortably around the neck
"A good tailored jacket should frame the face, if it doesn’t fit properly there it won’t anywhere else."
2. Pay attention to colour
"See what the cloth does for your complexion. If you opt for a bold statement shade or check, think about how it will fit in your wardrobe day to day."
3. Make sure you get the right sleeve length
"Consider the shirt you’re going to wear with it, whether a single or double cuff, and allow for that in the length."
4. Avoid extreme trends
"If you’re having something made bespoke, it must have longevity."
5. Accessorise with contemporary pieces
"The suit itself should always err on the side of classic."