Making the cut

 
Melissa York
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Savile Row cutter David Ward on reclaiming 200 years of bespoke excellence

THE cutter is instrumental to everything,” says David Ward, one of the most respected purveyors of an ancient sartorial art. Ward has risen to become one of the most respected men on Savile Row thanks to his prowess at cutting the cloth for bespoke suits. His 100-year-old shears have created the foundations for creations by Alexander McQueen, Christopher Kane, Timothy Everest and Henry Holland. But the role of the cutter extends beyond being handy with a pair of scissors – they measure the client, advise them, then go through stages of fitting with them until the silhouette is exactly right. The cutter then “strikes” the pattern onto cloth with tailoring chalk and cuts out the pieces by hand before they are passed over to tailors to be sewn together.

“We’re the conduit between the front of house and the tailor,” he says. “It’s very hands-on – the client comes in and says ‘this is what I want’ and all you’ve got is a flat piece of fabric to work with.”

Ward started out as a tea boy for Norton & Sons and climbed the ranks as a bespoke cutter. In his nearly 20 years on the Row he’s starred in a BBC documentary and made dress tails for Hugh Bonneville’s imperious Earl Grantham in ITV’s Downton Abbey (“Hugh’s a big chap, really large across the chest, but he carries it well”).

Now he’s striking out alone. He left his last position as head cutter for H Huntsman & Son – known as the most expensive tailor on the Row – after the 165-year-old house was bought by a subsidiary of Chinese retail giant Li & Fung. Many of the old houses on the Row, once family-owned businesses, have been bought up by foreign investors (others include Gieves & Hawkes, Kilgour and Hardy Amies). Ward’s decision to set up his own business is, he admits, partly in protest – “to reclaim 200 years of excellence from the impersonators.”

“The price per square metre to buy somewhere on Savile Row is ridiculous. If you’re Abercrombie & Fitch or Ben Sherman, then sure, you can afford it. But is that right for Savile Row? I don’t think so.

“It dilutes the traditional values, the heritage, and I don’t want to be a part of that. I work with friends and clients who value exclusivity and that’s not going to be a part of the future of these houses. These companies aren’t aware that when they buy a house, they’re not just buying the fixtures and fittings, they’re buying the expertise of the staff. It’s very sad.” Savile Row’s critics say its discreet snobbery and aversion to the world of contemporary retail have led to its decline. But Ward says the Row needs to speak up more about its “unique and beautiful craft”.

“I think some people did play up to this kind of old fuddy duddy character who doesn’t entertain anybody who isn’t wearing the right shoes, but it’s not about that. To say it hasn’t moved on is an old dig from people who don’t understand it.”

His new venture, David Ward Bespoke, occupies several unassuming rooms among the chimney pots of 9-10 Savile Row. Many of his old customers have stayed loyal to his services thanks, he says, to the special bond that exists between a cutter and his client.

“Seeing the finished article, regardless of who it’s for – young or old, rich or poor, someone who’s saved up for their wedding or a multi-millionaire who’s got ten suits on the go – makes you appreciate the work. You’re integral to that suit. When you can change someone’s perception of clothing, it’s a wonderful thing.

“As the Row gets smaller, less and less bespoke clothing is being made. It’s becoming incredibly niche and I want to be a part of it.”

To book an appointment at David Ward Bespoke, visit davidwardbespoke.com or call 07870 601 374.