The Non-Traditionalist Traditionalist: Craig Featherstone
Master tailor Craig Featherstone has been tailoring for 25 years and is passionate about preserving the pure bespoke standard in his clothing line. Consistently refining his technique, meticulous in his craft, and committed to keeping the traditions alive, his tailoring is a cut above the rest, making him a sought-after name in the world of bespoke.
The Pemberley: What is your background?
CF: I come from a little country village. My mom is Irish and worked in accounts, and my dad was a postman. As a student, I didn’t take my studies very seriously and completed school with no qualifications. When I met with the careers office, they suggested that I try a fashion design course. I thought I would need credentials to get accepted, but because I was the only guy interested in the program, I got right in. At college, I was the suddenly the top of the class. I received distinction after distinction and was amazed to discover that I was actually good at something. When you're interested in something, you apply yourself properly.
The Pemberley: Tell me about your early work experience.
P: Growing up, there was a guy in our neighborhood with long hair and stubble who lived in a little terraced house with a really nice car in his driveway. When I was 17, I met him in a pub and discovered that he was the master tailor, David Chambers. He asked me if I wanted some work experience, and I gladly accepted his offer. He had a workshop in his garden at the back of his house, where we made suits. I learnt more from this guy in one week than I did for a whole year at college. I begged him for a job, but he didn’t have any apprenticeships, so I worked for nothing for the first two years. We were very similar and got on very well— I was like a younger version of him, and very passionate about creating. He had an amazing clientele and he took me to parties which gave me the opportunity to rub shoulders with George Michael, Elle MacPherson and Hugh Grant, who were his clients.
TP: How did Valentino find him?
CF: If I recall correctly, the story was that David was going out with Bryan Ferry's niece, so he started to mix in celebrity circles, and from there it was just word of mouth. Tim Jeffries was also a regular client and he introduced him to Valentino. He patterned, cut the designs and hand-finished everything himself. He was an amazing tailor, the best I've ever been with, but he didn’t teach me how to cut. I left him after 14 years, because I wanted to be a master tailor.
TP: Why didn’t he teach you how to cut?
CF: It’s an old belief that if you teach someone everything, they might leave and do their own thing. When I teach, I share everything I know, and I don't care if they go on their own— I'll even help them do that. Even though I have people working for me, if one of them doesn't show up, l can just jump in and take over. On Savile Row however, there aren’t many master tailors— there are either cutters or jacket makers or trouser makers, and each trade isn’t equipped to do the others. When I first came to Savile Row looking for a job about ten years ago, saying that I make suits, they asked, “which part of the suit?”. Eventually Henry Poole approached me and said that they heard that I wanted to learn cutting and they had a position available. I worked there for approximately ten years.
TP: What was your job title at Henry Poole?
CF: I was an apprentice cutter or undercutter as they call it. As a tailor I picked it up faster than anyone else because I understood how garments go together. Today, people come in and learn cutting without really knowing the construction of a suit that well, but with my background, I learnt very quickly. Within 4 years I was a director of the company, and then after about 6 years I was the senior cutter of the company. At that point there wasn't anywhere for me to go, because in a family-owned business it’s impossible to get to the top.
TP: Is that what prompted you to start your own business?
CF: Yes, it became clear to me that I needed to branch out on my own. Through the connections I made and the people that I've met over the last 10 years, things have been going better than I expected. Also, because it’s very common for people to stay with a tailor (like with a hairdresser), the core clientele doesn’t change, which makes it very dependable. As soon as I started on my own, I had the final say about the process, I was taken more seriously and had the opportunity to attend lovely events. The first year has been great. Although I love making clothes, socializing with the customers has been an added bonus.
TP: How is the marketing going?
CF: My wife has marketing degrees and is very good at that side of it. She worked for Sky Sports news for the last 17 years and just gave it up recently to join me. But I’ve also discovered that whilst the accessories and other details in a tailoring business is nice, but my clients come to me because I’m the best at bespoke, and I’m passionate about it. I realize that it’s better to leave the accessories to those who are in that business.
TP: Who inspires you other than David Chambers?
CF: David was my first inspiration in suits, but I've never really been inspired by famous people— I’m more excited when I see something that looks really good on a person and I try to see how I can make something similar to look good on me. It’s good to see people's characters and see what makes them feel comfortable and stand out, because really, it’s not just about the suit, it's about the person. When someone walks in the room, you want to see them glowing, not just a suit flying around. The inspiration for me can be anything from architecture, carpets, art, colors, and I'll always envision it on me first.
TP: I heard that the Savile Row trained tailors are expected to spread their wings and spread the word of bespoke to the far corners of the world. Why did you choose to stay in London?
CF: Actually, I've been everywhere— Paris, New York, and I’ve traveled a lot. But I’ve cut down on that recently to focus on my existing clients so that I can give them the time and attention that they need. I have a unique bunch of clients— it's like a little club— and they feel better because it’s more personal. Not everyone knows of me— I won’t ever be a household name.
TP: Featherstone, you've got the name.
CF: Funnily enough, as a kid I hated my name. But five years ago when I was in LA, a lovely Japanese customer was so fascinated with my name, and told me that it’s the best name for a tailor. That’s when it hit me.
TP: Do you think the bespoke market in London is saturated?
CF: It’s hard for me to say because I don’t have too much information, but I'm quite surprised when I see how many traveling tailors there are. When I was being trained by David Chambers, I didn't know any other tailors, but once I came to London, I discovered that there’s a whole world of them.
TP: How do you compare your humble beginnings to where you are today?
CF: There were a lot of sacrifices in the early years. When I was an apprentice, I was making suits out of my bedroom, on the table, even on the floor. I needed to step back to learn and manage without money for years, because I knew I would eventually be successful. When I started my own company, it was scary, but God, when I made the first suit with no help from my master tailor, and put it on, it was an amazing feeling.
TP: What are your biggest challenges today?
CF: Getting noticed by magazines. It's not a necessity for me because I've got my clients, but it's a bit of an ego thing. There are a lot of people that are in it for the money, but I care about the trade and want it to be authentic, so I should be in there! I don't need the fame, but I think it cements my brand in my clients’ minds. The magazines are scattered with many tailors, and you don't know who’s the real thing— but people tend to think that if someone is in a magazine, then he must be good. If I can get into the publications, I shouldn't miss out on it.
TP: What's your favorite part of the job?
CF: The creating. When I cut out a pattern and start putting the pieces together, and suddenly the sleeve appears and then you get a nice curve in the body, and start sculpturing around the dummy— it’s very gratifying. I was a cutter for 10 years and I made maybe one suit a year just to keep my hand in, but I remember how I used to love sitting and sewing. People don't like doing the hand sewing— they have finishers to do all that— but I'll do that myself because it's a perfect time to sit down and let your mind wander. The craft is definitely my favorite part.
TP: What's a typical day like for you?
CF: I drop off the kids at school and then come back around 9:20 to do an hour of important things, such as cutting a pattern. Then I'll go to yoga and then lunch. In the afternoon I sometimes need to meet with a customer or I'll do a couple of hours in the workshop. I might take my boy to football training and then once we get back, I go up to the workshop to do another hour. Sometimes I do some more tailoring at 11 at night, but I get more sleep now that I don't need to get into London at 6 in the morning like I used to. Each day is different depending on when I need to see my clients. I also golf once a week.
TP: That often? Where do you go?
CF: I'm part of a golf team in which I have a lot of clients as well. It's a cliché, but I've done more business doing golf than anything else.
TP: What are your hobbies and passions besides yoga and golf?
CF: I was a martial artist for 30 years and I did about four or five different kinds of martial arts throughout the years. I’d get to a black belt and then start another one because I wanted to learn different things and I want to get to the top of whatever I do. I love music as well, and I have a studio where I write songs.
TP: Has technology helped you in your business?
CF: Only for social media. There's no technology if you're doing it the pure bespoke way. Technology has moved on for other kinds of tailors, but for the pure bespoke— give me a needle and thread I can make something out of a bin bag.
TP: What is so special about bespoke?
CF: Since I became a tailor 20 years ago, I've never worn an off-the-peg suit. Being well-dressed makes you stand up taller, and people think you’re doing well simply because of what you're wearing. It's just one of those gentlemanly things to have a suit made for you.
TP: What plans do you have for the future?
CF: I just want to be known as the leader in bespoke. I know the standard that I insist on, I know what I can do, and I push the people who work for me to do it exactly how I want it. I've been around all the tailors, so I know I can be the leader. There are some good tailors out there, but I know most of them and I’ve worked with them all, so it's not a bold thing to say that I could be the leader in pure bespoke.
TP: What are they doing wrong that you're doing right?
CF: No one is doing anything wrong, it's just different. I don’t follow everything that my master showed me- I did my research and made some changes over the years. When I first went to Savile Row, I was surprised by some of the things I saw, but then I discovered how I was able to improve things over the years. I have two people working for me now who are in their 70s, and they can't believe what I insist they do, but they actually love it— they tell me that they haven't done tailoring like this for 30 years. Tailors today sometimes cut things out and stick them down instead of sewing it down, and zips and pockets are now being done by machine. But years back this was all done by hand and I'm not in it to cut corners. When you insist that it’s done by hand, the staff love it, because they feel like they're doing a craft again.