It was one of those important trips to London when I finally got a chance to meet Anda Rowland - the owner of “Anderson & Sheppard”, a legendary bespoke clothing firm on the Savile Row. “Anderson & Sheppard” has an experience of more than a hundred years in bespoke tailoring and people say that when you buy a suit there - you don’t buy just a suit, but you also buy a piece of history.
It is quite an iconic place with quite iconic clients as well - even Prince Charles has his suits tailored for him there. Fans of Alexander McQueen might know this place very well, since it was Alexander’s first place for training - he skipped the university and went for his training straight to “Anderson & Sheppard” to learn the basics of tailoring.
In April, I met Anda Rowland to talk about the luxury market and the history of “Anderson & Sheppard”. Since we live in the age where almost everything is labeled as ‘luxury’ - luxury clothing, luxury cars, luxury ice cream, even luxury cat food - I was interested to know how is the luxury different at such place as “Anderson & Sheppard”.
Anda Rowland was exceptionally kind and nice to me from the very first email. I arrived to “Anderson & Sheppard” ten minutes early and she was punctual as well - arrived exactly on time without making me wait. She was wearing a formal navy dress and asked whether I would like to have a drink, but I was so excited to be there that I just wanted to go straight to business. Therefore, she introduced me to one of the tailors working for “Anderson & Sheppard”, whose name was Max Castano.
I was fortunate enough to see all the ‘backstage’ of this absolutely stunning store, since Max showed me around. I would like to say that it looked royal and it felt royal. All the tailors are incredibly well dressed - they all wear black suits, white shirts, ties, cufflinks and black leather shoes. During my visit, I felt a strong sense of discipline there. People say that for a young guy to become a mature man - you need to send him to the military. However, to such people I would say now that all the young guys should spend at least one year at “Anderson & Sheppard” in order to learn how to be a real gentleman with a good sense of style and great manners.
After an impressive tour, we had a conversation together with Max about the technical side of working at “Anderson & Sheppard”. Also, I was curious to know about Prince Charles’s suits and what was Alexander McQueen like when he was working there.
When I was having a conversation with Max, he actually opened my eyes about bespoke tailoring. I believe that after reading my interview with him, you will understand why the price of a bespoke suit at “Anderson & Sheppard” is a four digit number and why the suit from their store should be on top of your dream list.
Here is a full interview with Max Castano, one of the tailors working for “Anderson & Sheppard”:
B: Thanks a lot for having me here and showing me around - this place is absolutely stunning. First of all, I would love to talk about the technical side of making a suit at “Anderson & Sheppard”. I know that you pay a lot of attention here on person’s posture. How do you write down such thing as a posture of a particular man?
M: Yes, that’s true. Describing the posture and writing it down correctly are essential points, especially having in mind that our customers are from a bit older generation, rather than 25-30 years old guys. First, we judge whether the client is a bit lean forward or back - that is the thing that you can see immediately. However, when you ask them to take their jacket off and they have only their shirt on - you can see such things as the position of their shoulders. We also pay attention on how do they stand and we write it down as well - for example, some people hold their hands a bit more back than others and some people more forward than others. Generally, we write down every single detail, because in somewhat way that detail will influence the shape of the jacket or suit.
B: You take people to train here as well. We all know that this was the place where Alexander McQueen developed his skills for tailoring. Sometimes, I am just wondering if there is a school that would be good enough to prepare a tailor for your store or would you consider this place as the best school? Because I wouldn’t be surprised if your answer was “YES”…
M: Well… Me, personally - I never went to some kind of college for tailoring - I just came straight to here. However, don’t get me wrong - college is a great basis that teaches you a lot, but I felt that while being here, I learnt more in one or two years than what I would have learnt throughout the whole course. Furthermore, there is not that much theory here, since we all have to use our skills practically and I am that kind of person, who actually has to do it with my own hands - I always prefer the practical work.
B: How old were you when you realised that tailoring will be your career path?
M: I have been here at “Anderson & Sheppard” for four and a half years, but probably I was eighteen when I decided that tailoring would be a path that I would want to follow. I had to make a decision if I wanted to go to university, but then suddenly I got this offer to do my work experience at this place and, honestly, only then it opened my eyes what a great business it is and, most importantly, how good of a job it is. Today, I am glad I skipped university, because I also saved up a lot of time by figuring out what I would like to do in my career. As I said, the work experience that I had here just opened my eyes and up to this date - I still enjoy every moment of being a tailor.
B: I’m glad to hear that you enjoy what you do, probably all the people working here would say the same and that is the key in terms of what makes “Anderson & Sheppard” one of the best on Savile Row. Going further, I want to ask you about the sense of fashion. This place looks very conservative. You all wear black suits, cufflinks, ties, black leather shoes, I see those chandeliers here in the room and, also, as you mentioned - your customer is a mature customer, most likely, the one that prefers a conservative dress code, but perhaps I am wrong. Therefore, my question is - do you actually need to have a sense of fashion when you work here? Or do you just need to know the rules of making a good suit?
M: Definitely - we must have a sense of fashion. I know what you mean, but in the end of the day - it is a combination of both - a great sense of fashion and an excellent knowledge of how to make a suit.
B: So where does your sense of fashion come from? Is it in your genes? Does it come from your family?
M: It was mostly self-interest kind of thing, style wise. However, I must mention that I was always taking some tips from my dad. He’s quite a snazzy dresser, who wears suits.
B: I see… And do you still have that open policy at “Anderson & Sheppard” to take people for training?
M: Yes we do. We’ve never had any problem to take people for training from whatever background they’re from or their ability.
B: How do you select people that you accept here for training?
M: To be honest - anybody that applies during the time when we’re looking for someone, we invite all of them to come in and do a couple days or a week of work. We want to see if they feel the job. If they were working with me, I would judge on how they have been through that job. Also, if I like someone on the personal basis - that would also effect whether we’re taking that person in or not.
B: So in terms of that personal basis - what are the factors that you pay the most attention to when you see a new tailor walking in?
M: I assume that as soon as that person walks in through the door, we see the appearance. If you come in and you’re well dressed, then you automatically stand on a good note. Also, how do you address people, how do you talk to people. For me, personally, it is a big thing - good manners and respect for others are essential in order to work here.
B: That’s true. In terms of the development of a new tailor, how do you judge such process?
M: Just showing your dedication is the most important and how you learn - whether you are able to take criticism easily and build upon it.
B: We all know that “Anderson & Sheppard” was the first stop for Alexander McQueen. How did he fit in here? I am asking because we all know Alexander for his quite controversial mindset and shocking fashion shows. I am one of the biggest fans of his work and as much as I respect him, I still can’t really see him in such environment as “Anderson & Sheppard”. Even his own dress code used to be just jeans and some type of baggy clothes - so how did he fit in here?
M: Well, my boss used to work with him here and remembers him very well. Unfortunately, he is not in here today, I would’ve introduced you to him. Well… McQueen worked here for only a couple of years before he moved on to do his own bigger things.
B: Was he a rebel here as well? We all know he was a rebel in a real life - but what about such a conservative place like this?
M: (Smiles) From what I’ve heard, he was a nice person here, but he also had that kind of rebellious side within himself. However, he would never wear a suit here. He was a coat maker, so he used to work downstairs and a suit wasn’t a part of the requirement for people working in that room. We still have some pictures of him working here. There is one picture where he is wearing a baggy red T-Shirt and jeans - exactly as you described him.
B: That’s right. I would also like to talk to you about the differentiation within the luxury market. We live in the era, where we are obsessed with luxury - besides just luxury clothing, we also have luxury ice cream and now there’s even luxury food for pets. Also - Savile Row has expanded and besides the Savile Row, there are many other places that offer bespoke tailoring. In my opinion, nowadays - it is all about who is who. Therefore, I’m interested to know - how does the luxury here is different from all the other places that also offer what we call ‘luxury’?
M: That’s true. Anyway, I still do believe that the type of luxury that we offer here is very different from others. Even though there are many other places that offer bespoke tailoring as you mentioned, I think that our customers at our place have some type of ‘homey’ feeling when they walk in. Also, we take an incredible amount of time for the details and, generally, everything. All the visual details are based on what the customer wants. I believe that we offer a much more personal service here, because it is all about just that one particular person.
B: So if I, as a random person from the street, came to your store and wanted to have a suit done by you - how much time would it take?
M: On average, we say that for the first fitting it would take about four to five weeks. Then following the first fitting, it would be another four weeks until it’s finished. Afterwards, the customer would come and, hopefully, everything would be fine. If not - fixing would take another week or two. Essentially, the whole suit takes about two months.
B: What about the price range?
M: Of course, it depends on many factors that influence the cost. Usually, £4,500 is for a standard style. If there is something more than just the standard - the price can go up to £ 7,000 - 8,000 for a suit. It can also go up - sky is the limit for a suit, it really depends on customer’s needs.
B: Tell me one more thing then - what makes a good suit good? As a tailor yourself, perhaps you see one mistake that many brands or tailors do when you see their suits?
M: In my opinion, suits have become very fashionable. People want very tight coats, skinny trousers. I suppose it’s because that I work here - but it is very hard to compare ourselves to others or even compete with others, because our direction is very different. Even though our suit is fashionable, it is still more of a timeless and classic item, that is focused on comfort, rather than being fashionable and trendy. Our suit looks great on clients, but we don’t follow fashion trends. That’s why I wouldn’t be able to judge others, simply because of the reason that I’ve mentioned already - our direction is very different.
B: Talking about the fabrics. I know that some of the fabrics that you have here are made for you exclusively and I would love to talk more about them with you. Are they made in the U.K.?
Max: Yes, we make them here in the U.K.. A lot of the mills are in Huddersfield and we also have some fabrics that come from Italy.
B: Let’s talk now about the fact you make suits for Prince Charles. Is it just Prince Charles or the whole Royal Family?
M: No, just Prince Charles.
B: How many suits do you make throughout the year for Prince Charles?
M: To be fair, he doesn't have masses of suits. He quite likes his old stuff. If something happens, we do a lot of repairs for his old suits. However, he doesn’t really like ordering stuff for no reason. He likes his own specific suits. For example - this year, he ordered only one. Last year, perhaps it was only three or four. Generally, he likes his old suits to have maintained rather than ordering the new ones.
Photography: Bernard Garby