Fashion - Northern soul
Tailor to those in the know, Richard Smith has a reputation for stylish designs and good quality. He has exhibited his work to critical acclaim in New York, featured in countless glossy magazines and dressed the great and good. Angus Davies is impressed…
Luxury goods are often synonymous with London. The streets may not be lined with gold, but many are overflowing with designer stores offering high-end products that make shopaholics salivate. These pockets of opulent consumption are havens for oligarchs and WAGs.
However, greatness, of course, is not merely the preserve of London W1 or SW3, it can be found in provincial cities. Manchester, once famed for its dominance of the music scene during the late 1980s and early 1990s, is my city and it has a lot to offer.
It was whilst thumbing some back issues of Great Golf Magazine and reading previous articles about Savile Row that I was suddenly struck by a glaring oversight. I have never spoken of my own tailor, Richard Smith Bespoke. It now seems ridiculous that despite writing about luxurious products for this magazine for several years, I have not talked about the man who creates some of my favourite made-to-measure shirts, suits and jackets.
Sometimes, when excellence is placed in our midst, we take it for granted and perhaps that is the case with Richard Smith. The Mancunian has a tower of professional achievements, but he has lost none of his hands-on skills; chatting to clients with pins in hand while ensuring the optimal fit for his eye-catching creations.
INSPIRED BY GRANDAD. In what seems like a very traditional career, it is perhaps surprising that Smith decided to pursue a profession in fine tailoring. “I always said I wanted to wear a suit everyday when I was young,” Smith explains. “My inspiration is my grandad. He worked in a tailors and he even mows the lawn wearing a suit!”
I have seen Smith on numerous occasions – both in his boutique and away from work – he has never sported a shabby pair of jeans or looked anything other than sartorially splendid. Indeed, I am reminded of the sailing expression: ‘You can tell a man by the cut of his jib’. Clearly, Richard’s jib is sharp, brightly patterned and always exhibits stylish prowess. This is a gentleman who ‘walks the talk’.
A ‘STICKER BOY’. Smith’s professional career started at the tender age of 16, working as a Christmas temp at the local Armani store. “I started as the ‘sticker boy’ and worked my way up,” says Smith. “I worked on ‘Collezioni’ and ultimately ended up working on made-to-measure.”
It was whilst working at Armani that he studied at Manchester Metropolitan University, taking a degree in Design and Art. “I chose this degree rather than fashion because I knew then that all I wanted to do was work on suits.”
After graduating from university, Smith continued to work at Armani before taking the bold step to establish his own business, aged only 24 years. He cites his parents, Pete and Yvette, as instrumental to his success. When he could not drive, they would often chauffeur him to appointments. His mother has also proved a consummate bookkeeper, ensuring the debit and credit entries in the cashbook always reconciled.
Today, Richard Smith Bespoke is a flourishing business and its eponymous figurehead is an exemplar of ambition. He plans to expand, looking for additional premises to complement his existing boutique in Manchester city centre. However, despite being driven, he has lost none of his down to earth demeanour, which has engendered huge loyalty among his faithful clientele.
CLEAN, SHARP ANGLES. So what is the house style? “Our look is about clean, sharp angles. We offer ‘classic British tailoring’ but we also infuse our suits with a notable air of fashion, which especially appeals to our younger clientele,” Smith explains.
On hearing the word ‘fashion’, I challenge the tailor, quoting Oscar Wilde: “A fashion is merely a form of ugliness so absolutely unbearable that we have to alter it every six months!”
Clearly, these garments are imbued with longevity and exhibit a lasting eye-appeal, which usurps the mere notion of fashion. Smith ponders my remarks and agrees, pointing out the distilled details of each suit and its protracted creation. A Richard Smith Bespoke suit, contrary to many high street clothes, is made to provide years of faithful service. There is nothing intrinsically obsolete about these suits; they are the very anthesis of disposable fashion.
FABRIC FLAIR. Another aspect of Smith’s tailoring is his brave use of checks and tartans, judiciously selected and always exhibiting stylish poise. I cannot fail to notice the wonderful suit he is wearing at our meeting and learn it is made of Dormeuil. The vibrant blue hues and distinctive check exude modernity and reveal an individuality seldom seen elsewhere.
We sit down, share a well-earned Scotch, and discuss potential cloths for my next bespoke suit. Richard clearly has a love for fabrics, pawing exquisite materials which are wonderfully tactile. Many of the finest examples of cloth are made over the Pennines in Huddersfield. However, Harris Tweed has enjoyed a renaissance of late and those with limitless means may be tempted to choose Vicuña, one of the world’s rarest fabrics.
FEELING SPECIAL. Made-to-measure two-piece and three-piece suits, trousers, jackets and shirts all prove popular with discerning clients seeking the perfect tailored ensemble.
In some cases, a special outfit is needed for that special day and Smith is frequently entrusted to attire the groom and his entourage for one of the most important moments in his life.
The ultimate expression of luxury is ‘bespoke’ –where a unique pattern is created for the client, taking into account every subtle nuance of their torso, in order to achieve the absolute no-compromise fit. Traditional rope shoulders are partnered with Smith’s own flourishes of avant-garde detail. Examples of this individuality include a buttonhole sporting a soupçon of colour to evince an ebullient twist or a lining exhibiting a vivid tone, conferring a contradistinction to an otherwise classical form.
A DIFFERENT APPROACH. There is something disarming about Smith’s approach to fine tailoring. Despite his matchless creations exhibiting a notable degree of formality and his professionalism manifest with every deliberate action he takes, he sometimes, dare I say, appears casual. This is not a criticism, but rather a compliment, because his friendly interaction with clients encourages the body to relax and adopt a natural attitude, resulting in clothes appearing at one with the wearer. It is this charming approach to customer service that defines Richard’s brand of tailoring, suffused with northern soul.