Menswear Style Podcast

Alexandra Wood, Menswear Designer

July 02, 2020 Menswear Style Episode 70
Menswear Style Podcast
Alexandra Wood, Menswear Designer
Chapters
Menswear Style Podcast
Alexandra Wood, Menswear Designer
Jul 02, 2020 Episode 70
Menswear Style

Alexandra Wood started her tailoring business in 2007 as a hobby and has since designed and made clothing for hundreds of high-profile men who want to make a positive impact to the way they look and feel. Her career started in Savile Row, as one of the first, female owned tailoring businesses. She then went on to re-open the longest standing tailors (400 years) in Bishop's Stortford, with a new, modernised version of men’s tailoring. The brand has recently expanded from made to measure tailoring to successful, ready to wear collections. Alex continues to break the mould when it comes to delivering exceptional quality and service in menswear. The brand has helped land politician Chuka Umunna on GQ’s Best-Dressed top 50 twice, and GQ Columnist Tony Parsons named them ‘Tailor of the 21st Century’. Tristram Hunt, director of the V&A wore an Alexandra Wood two-piece while cutting the ribbon on the vaunted Christian Dior retrospective, and so did director Rupert Goold, while showcasing his new film Judy at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival.

In this episode of the MenswearStyle Podcast we interview Alexandra Wood about how she first got started in men's tailoring and the story of how she set up her business. It was whilst on maternity leave that Alex began as a visiting tailor, meeting clients in their offices or at home. She now serves her clients at the brand's Savile Row showroom and Bishop's Stortford store, whilst also managing the marketing and eCommerce for the brand. Our host Peter Brooker and Alex also chat about education and training, the differences between design and cutting, elevating a man's style, why you shouldn't follow trends, and opening a 1000 sq ft shop to showcase new Alexandra Wood ready to wear collections.

Whilst we have your attention, be sure to sign up to our daily MenswearStyle newsletter here. We promise to only send you the good stuff.

Photo: Amanda Forman

Show Notes Transcript

Alexandra Wood started her tailoring business in 2007 as a hobby and has since designed and made clothing for hundreds of high-profile men who want to make a positive impact to the way they look and feel. Her career started in Savile Row, as one of the first, female owned tailoring businesses. She then went on to re-open the longest standing tailors (400 years) in Bishop's Stortford, with a new, modernised version of men’s tailoring. The brand has recently expanded from made to measure tailoring to successful, ready to wear collections. Alex continues to break the mould when it comes to delivering exceptional quality and service in menswear. The brand has helped land politician Chuka Umunna on GQ’s Best-Dressed top 50 twice, and GQ Columnist Tony Parsons named them ‘Tailor of the 21st Century’. Tristram Hunt, director of the V&A wore an Alexandra Wood two-piece while cutting the ribbon on the vaunted Christian Dior retrospective, and so did director Rupert Goold, while showcasing his new film Judy at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival.

In this episode of the MenswearStyle Podcast we interview Alexandra Wood about how she first got started in men's tailoring and the story of how she set up her business. It was whilst on maternity leave that Alex began as a visiting tailor, meeting clients in their offices or at home. She now serves her clients at the brand's Savile Row showroom and Bishop's Stortford store, whilst also managing the marketing and eCommerce for the brand. Our host Peter Brooker and Alex also chat about education and training, the differences between design and cutting, elevating a man's style, why you shouldn't follow trends, and opening a 1000 sq ft shop to showcase new Alexandra Wood ready to wear collections.

Whilst we have your attention, be sure to sign up to our daily MenswearStyle newsletter here. We promise to only send you the good stuff.

Photo: Amanda Forman

Unknown:

Hello, welcome to another episode of The menswear style podcast. I'm your host Pete Brooker. How are you doing? Another episode Another jam packed episode I'm going to be speaking to Alexandra wood, MD slash founder of Alexandra wood bespoke tailoring. Alexandra has had a long illustrious career she started in several rows one of the first female owned tailoring businesses. She then went on to reopen the longest standing tailors that's over 400 years old in the UK, where new modernised version of men's tailoring I can't wait to get into this interview. But before we do, make sure you're checking out menswear style dot code at UK that's where we put up all the articles new daily content, free content and plus all the show notes to this episode and the links that you'll find. If you want to get in touch with the show. Maybe you want to be a guest Tell us about your brand and your journey. Then it's info at menswear. star.co.uk Okay, let's get into that interview. Here's Alexandra Ward, MD and founder of Alexandra wood bespoke tailoring. Alexandra help us Can I introduce you? So, I mean, this is a conflicting answer because, you know, it's not like the Guinness Book of Records where you stake your claim on an official title, but I'm classed as one of the first female tailors on Savile Row. And, and I'd like to say more, one of the first female business owners in Savile Row. You know, I'm a Yes, I have learned how to cut. I've done it traditionally and done Imperial tailoring. But overall I class myself as more of a designer. It's kind of it's an all around approach really painless stylist, stylist, and designer. There's a multi varied title in Forgive me, I don't actually know too much about the origins and I'm sure you've you've told this a few times before, but where did you actually start on Savile Row. Um, so I didn't do a you know, apprenticeship on Savile Row. I literally I worked for a few other tailors in the city. And then I set up my business when I was 26 on maternity leave. And I started originally actually going to see clients in their offices and their home. So I was classed as a visiting tailor. And then I started seeing people from our several rows showroom. So that was probably in about 2007 2008. So this was your own shop on several road? No, sir. A shared space. So I just see clients there. Okay. Okay. And store in Bishop Stortford. Right, I see. And where did you learn how to cut, I went to the London College of fashion. I started so I really enjoy learning everything about what I'm doing. So I actually started Camberwell college and I did textiles. And I used to do fashion drawing etc. Pop smile, told that my fashion sketches were terrible. I'm never gonna make it in fashion. This is a disaster. And, you know, because there's so much pressure on probably always classes the, well, I think I was just quiet about it, you know, in our class in in fashion, they were quite sort of out there. Whereas I was a little bit more quiet. And then I went to London College of fashion dip professional pattern cutting, studied DOM manipulation. And that's where I learned sort of the core basics. And it's interesting because I you know, with Ralph Lauren, he always says that he kind of puts things together and has an eye for it, what colours will go together? And that's kind of how I see what I do rather than any specific one thing. Yeah, it's interesting, because I've always been quite fascinated with the relationship between cutters and designers. And I was speaking to Henry rose. Yeah, a week or so ago. And he is primarily a cutter and he even said, Look, yeah, I don't really have an eye for design. You know, those sort of people in the past maybe like the Tommy nutters of the world would have the eye for the design but couldn't cut. And similarly Yeah, Edward Sexton would be fantastic cutter but you know, he didn't have the kind of flair and flamboyance in the eye that a Tommy no would. So would you say that you have both elements of design and you also have the kind of the skills and the craft To execute those designs, yes, however, I don't cut anything anymore. I did in the beginning, I don't think anyone would have sex very quickly, if I've continued to cut and design and sort of grow the business, that's quite a tough challenge. And then now, definitely more design, that's where my passion is. It's more and more than design as well as seeing a customer, they walk in, and I've already seen the completed outfit. And then I have to go backwards and work with them and get them to you know that because they're a little bit fearful thinking, Oh, I don't know what gonna end up looking like and will this person understand me. But it's a strange feeling that I, it's quite hard to explain when you see someone, and you can see how great they can look. And then I get excited. But I have to sort of backtrack and explain the process and be nurturing and understanding of their fears. And right. What I'm going to do before getting completely over excited. Yeah, I found when I was working in a tailors and as an assistant, but I did find that when I was doing consultations, I would let them you know, kind of give me an idea of what they had in their mind and their vision of how CEU could look. And sometimes they would be fantastic. You know, sometimes they'd be right to my kind of weird tastes like a gentleman came in and wanted all corduroy like fick whale, suit and trousers and I could hear that the women you have resistance in the background, I could hear them groaning because it wasn't really their thing. But for me, it was right up my street. And then other times, you know, people would come in, I'm like, Crikey, mate, that's gonna, that's gonna look awful. But I can't really, I can't gild the lily towards what I think is good, or what I like, I have to have an appreciation of what people want. And you know, what makes them happy? So do you ever? Do you ever find that weird with some of your clients that might come in that you have to make things that just really won't sit well with you? Just won't make? You know, that might sound terrible. But actually, I think I've the reason why customers come to me is because they're like, Look, I don't have a clue. I don't have time to think about it, you know, they're not the kind of guys who have the time to create a Pinterest board, or, you know, some of them have a natural style. But I think, you know, it's kind of like a case of like, attracts like, you know, they come to me, because they know, that I will, you know, enhance and elevate their style. And that's the whole purpose. And it's very rare. Someone say, Oh, I'd like this. But I've had a customer come in, say Oh, I'd like a 1920s pair of trousers. And I say Actually, this other tailor is more for you, because you'll be disappointed on more, sort of timeless, modern, you know, splashes of colour, but nothing wacky, I definitely have a certain, you know, clientele. And so I like to create for that for them. You know, that's, that, for me is the points. And I think, you know, customers get that. And that's what excited for them about it. Yeah. And so just going back to when you were learning to actually cut, were you learning to be a pattern maker for men primarily. And then you learn how to do women later? Or did you learn at the same time, I actually began in women's wear, so I didn't know men's wear at all. And so I would sketch on the spot women's wear designs. And so I was tailoring manager at Shanghai Tang when I was 21. And women would come in, you know, roti celebrities sometimes. So I just have a piece of cloth that was put in front of me and say, can you make something elaborate for not to be named? I would just have to create something. So it was only women's wear then. But then the husband started coming in saying, Oh, I wonder if you could make me something. And I thought more. I don't know. My question. Yeah, we'll give it a go. And I remember, this guy was turning 50. And his wife would have loads of outfits made for this special event. And he wanted me to create something. He was like Elle McPherson jumping out this gift box and blow us up blind. They want to come to this party. We made in this sort of Mandarin style outfit. And that's where it began, you know, the simplicity of men's wear, like quite like this. I think I've burned this actually. And that's how I started going more into men's wear. And that is just completely my passion. Some people go against going to women's wear again, please do some women's wear, but it's not where my love lies. Right. And so I've heard that women's wear is actually harder to do, because it's more measurement is more contours typically than what a man has. Did you find it more of a lateral Move to get into menswear and to start cutting for me. Yeah, I think it's far simpler. There are less elements to consider, you know? Yeah. You have all the curves. Men have different kind of curves. Yeah. Mainly the porches. They want to hide, but that's easier. So yeah. And so you then you've opened up your first store in Bishop Stortford. That was 2016. Yeah, that's gone fast. 24 years next month. Wow, amazing. And it's so is that where you are based? Now? Are you living in Bishop Stortford? Is this your neck of the woods? Yeah, I mean, I kind of thought, you know, what I'd really, I've run the business for a few years had children, so it was really more of a hobby, very nice hobby to have. And the last. So in 2016, I thought, I think I want to open a shop. And you know, really take this a bit further think about my branding, marketing a bit more before it was, you know, I didn't give it much thought. Just enjoyed seeing my customers. And that was that it's a strange kind of switch. When you think I'm gonna make this into a business sometimes that's quite hard to change from a hobby to a full blown Yeah, think of build this up to eventually sell it. And so I'm in a building, which is 400 years old, and it's the oldest tailors in Britain. Oh, wow. Yeah, that's, well, yeah, it was actually an Undertaker's and tailors in the first place a little bit creepy, but I'm not spooked. And so, it was some background noise going on at home to well, they tailored for Henry Moore for Sandringham, you know, so lots of top notch people. And it's changed hands sort of since then. And then it closed this door three years prior to me, opening it. And everyone's that has such shame, you know, such history. And I actually didn't know much of a stretch for us a nice building. That's where I'll start another piece that dude, you know, or, oh, this is really cool. That's amazing. Yeah, and it was interesting, some people like it will never work out and work for blower, you know, and I just thought, you know, I was bit scared, because I've put all my own personal money into it. And I thought, what if no one comes? Yeah. Well, I was gonna ask how much of it was a gamble? versus, you know, could you have carried on and not opened up a shop and just seen clients independently through like workshops in several row, etc? Yeah, could have done, I think, because my view was to go into ready to wear, which I've now done, that I needed a home to testing ground as well. To see, you know, gosh, if people come in here, this is like my market research, I get to see people come in, try things do my product fit my kind of customer. And that took a lot of testing and cost a lot of money to sample products. And sometimes, you know, sleeves came out crazy, long law. And the mitts like dropped back to the drawing board, kind of understanding what styles people liked. And so yeah, it was more to see if my ready to wear designs would take off. And that's where I'm kind of pushing the business as well going to ecommerce. So, okay, um, was that a thing? In 2016? Like, was that at the forefront of your mind to set up the e commerce and the bricks and mortar at the same time? Well, no, because I kind of opened up shop and I thought, God, this is quite a big shop, it's 1000 square feet. And we had a launch party. And then we opened up and people come in saying, Oh, I just want to get a really nice white shirt or some Navy chinos. I thought, Oh, well, I really got, because I'm a tailor going super dry. going again, so I thought, well, I don't want to stock up a product. That's not the point, my business. And you know, because actually the prior, Taylor did do made to measure and did do GaNS and other labour. So it's quite hard to kind of change people's minds and say, no, this, this is a new wave, and this is what we're doing. So you're kind of reinventing something. Right? And so I thought, I better start making some things that people can buy. And that's where it started. I thought, actually, yeah, you know, I love designing. So creating ready to work, people just come in and buy. So that's really gone well, and now I know that everything fits well. And we're pushing that forever and introducing new products. So And but you're still doing bespoke, yes. bespoke comfort measure. Yeah, right. Okay, and how much of your time is divided now? Like between bespoken made to measure? I'll say 6040 ready to wear 40%? Yeah. Okay. And it's so you kind of no overlooking the business, you're saying you're not cutting anymore. So people are doing that for you. Yeah. How do you kind of operate day to day within the business now? So I'm naturally a multitasker. People do question how I've got so much energy, but I pretty much do everything, but I just loved it. Because I'd be like, I'm gonna be so bored if I did it. So, you know, I do our marketing, I do our design. You know, imagine every element of a business, that's what I do, really, I look after the clients. But I have someone that looks after them as well. And so the customers are obviously the most important part of the business. So they have to be looked after. So me having someone looking after their customer journey is really important, and keeping people informed of their order throughout the process. And, you know, looking after them and thereafter as well. So, we'll have some people that say, Oh, I just need something for my friend's wedding or going to Ascot and they can, you know, feel confident that will then send them some samples that would be appropriate. Hmm. Yeah, I've been seeing a lot of the Ascot home photos that people are posting, I think that's quite because that's a huge deal for a lot of people. I mean, it might it might be the one event where they can really go top to tails and you know, soup to nuts with with their dress, and it's something that they always look forward to every year. All of these things I mean, I don't know if good words revival will ship might be okay. September, you know, but so many events Wimbledon, which is a personal love of mine. Go every year. Oh man, you don't realise how much you enjoy these things. Yeah, you kind of take him for granted. I think Goodwood revival is still on, or at least a secret cinema down there so people can drive down and watch movies in their cars. Oh, cool. Yeah. I'm hoping that will still go ahead. Yeah. Okay. So you mentioned earlier that they have like an eye for the timeless and perhaps more classic. Is that what you would describe your house signature as? Yeah, um, I do think my style of clothing has a slight feminine touch because I'm a lady. And that's not to say, you know, pink and pretty. It's in the secrets to the way it's cut. And that flatter a man shaped and blow secrets. Please do what? I would have to kill you. You know that I've been watching Bond films. I should have Michael Caine. I thought that I do. I do really dodgy impersonations as well, including villanelle. But it's a theme design we've developed and so men to say, Well, how do you make me look slimmer? Blimey, you are a magician? And say, yeah, we I don't like short jackets or short trousers. And that, to me is not timeless. It's not flattering. Anyway, you can show off. You know, shape on your waistline is a good start. There are many elements to suit, which I think are very important. But yeah, so I tend to do timeless designs. So nice classic fabrics, but with a little quirk. You know, I like splashes of colour men. I tried to encourage to wear more colour. And that doesn't mean bright, vibrant reds and yellows. It's a subtlety. So instead of a bright orange, I would say a burnt orange salmon for Sage green, you know, and I work with the customers skin tone lifestyle set. So I ask them specific questions about them. Because there's no point me saying, Oh, right. You're a lawyer. Let's make you a nice navy suit. You're this person, let's make this you know, it's like, where do you actually go? Who would you spend time with? How do you want to be perceived? And I take all those things into consideration and then give them ideas. And you know, also from a viewer comfort as well. I'm curious to know if there's things that people are currently asking for I hate to kind of ask you what's what's in fashion, what's trends right now, but there do seem to be waves now. Going back to James Bond. I'll give you an example after I think 2012 Skyfall was released. A lot of people were asking for midnight blue dinner suits you Yeah, Daniel Craig on the posters as opposed to the traditional black tuxedo. There we go, Well, now now we're gonna have some midnight blue. And there was a huge kind of upsurge in that trend. Is there anything that you can think of? That's got that was a real pivot, and men have started asking for more. Yeah, well, I'm caught, as you mentioned earlier, it seemed to have a little wave, you know, but I always say, don't follow the trends, you know, be aware of the trends, but don't follow them. So, you know, it's all very well opening up GQ magazine saying, well, that guy looks really cool. And the striped t shirt and wacky sports jacket, would it look good on news, the question. So I tend to be sort of aware, and looking at the trends. I mean, again, if I looked at the men's trends this year, and it's satin shirts, and where your boxers as your shorts, my kind of customer would be like, are you off your rocker? is crazy. I just work with what I see. And I'm just aware of moving trends. So Oh, that's nice, you know, but actually looking back at older style, you know, john Newman and James Dean, I love that. And that's, that is timeless. They're the iconic staples to look at. But yeah, so you have a cord. And people say, Oh, you know, but I don't want to look like a history teacher. So they modernise it. And and then I think Well, okay, let's look at different colours and different approaches to it. and go from there really? Good. I love called I tell you who else loves called mutual friend David Evans. Yes, he was what you're thinking of when I'm saying this, actually. Because I made him a chord. So I just messaged David before. Thank you. And I said, Oh, do you want me to patch you in? Or have you got any questions for Sandra, but he is a he's obviously busy. But now he's, he's, he wears your stuff. So well. And obviously, you really do you put them in some great stuff. I'm just looking at some pictures of him now. Okay, a two button blazer that's kind of I don't know what colour you'd call that like a pink but kind of off pink with a blue. Yeah, underneath. Exactly. That's the burnt orange. So David, and I actually designed a sprint like a very mini Spring Collection together two years ago, and showcased it at the Stanford Hotel in St. James. So that was lovely. That's right. And yeah, I've made here, David. I'm a chord suit. And what I like about I call him Foxy actually. Oh, yeah, well about what he's like, you could call me what you like. Yeah, what I like about him is that I made that suit. And we work together. He says, You know, I love this suit. But I think I'm, I wish I'd gone for something a bit lighter. So I think that will be our project. I'm like, Oh, well, it's got it's got to be right. Let's just do it again. Like I don't I don't feel wounded. If someone's like, Oh, it's not quite right. Sometimes it's not quite right. You start again, you recreate things. And that's, that's the point where it looks terrific. Congratulations, that looks fantastic. I'm gonna put all these up on the show notes so people can see what we're talking about. Or alternatively, they can just go to your Instagram. Alexandra, when tailoring Have you got any other plans for any other collaborations? Do you even do even look for those? Or do they? Do they just happen organically? Yeah, I tend to be like, Oh, you know what, I fancy that let's have a conversation nice and natural. Naturally, I have business goals, and you know, things I want to do. But I think I'm still early days with my own ready twist. Yeah. So I I'd love to do some collaborations, whether that be with shoes, you know, other designers. But I still feel like I'm still early days with my ready to wear collection. So we're starting to introduce limited edition collections. And so for example, in this autumn, I'm designing a collection of some rain in coats which are made from venti or which is what Spitfire pilots used to wear. So it's really Hardy, amazing colours. So there's real kind of iconic classics with a twist. Colour shirts, and because I suddenly thought, do you know what? People aren't going to be racing back into suits, I need to sort of switch about what I'm going to design. So I thought, well, a lobby always be walking in the rain with a dog and you want to look good doing that. And if you can make something from your dog as well, dogs good. What about the dogs? I'm gonna need some seats, right? Yeah, a friend of mine actually has a business called tailor made and he designs for dogs. Oh, that's gonna be a baby. Please don't tell my girlfriend that cookie. She'll be she'll be snapping them up. Oh, that would be a good collaboration. And so Nick I'm a lover of knitwear. And so, and I do think there's not much in the way of sort of some, something a bit different colour wise, texture wise for network since date introducing those kind of just bit more casual pieces in terms of ready to wear, because people already come to me to have a, you know, tailored suits made to measure. So with, with the ready to wear be a lot more casual. But yeah, opens collaborations all the time and I actually think, you know, with this virus that people are going to have to come together and you know, align, if you've got similar in a clientele, why wouldn't you come together to try and boost each other? Yeah, that could be a really nice thing, a way of supporting each other through this. And, yeah, a bit more. Do you have like an area that you look into for designs in terms of like, where you can get inspired, or you can find inspiration for particular designs, because I always think, with with suits, and suiting in particular, there's only a certain amount of movement that you can have in terms of how you can actually design a suit. Unlike like, with dresses, for example, you can kind of do really, whatever you want with dresses, you know, like the playing field is just so expensive, but you've bet with suits you, you kind of have a cut, and you have a certain look. So how do you kind of play with that? And how do you keep yourself interested with different designs for suits? Yeah, I just love fabric. So you know, naturally we get sent new fabric ranges every season. And I will literally see a swatch that's, you know, two inches wide and be like, Oh my god, that'd be amazing. See, it's so cool. That that button with it, you know, so it really is pretty good. fabric and the cut, and I do like the peak lapel at the moment. I don't like anything too crazy wide or anything like that. Um, and I always say there's one thing to go. That's amazing. I love that I'd like to see it made. And then another thing, who's going to wear this is my customer, right? Like this? Are they going to think this is just way out there? Because that's, that's interesting. There's something that you would like, and then there's also a commercial hat that you need to wear, I suppose at the same time thinking well, will this actually be a good run? Will people buy into this? Or is this just me, me loving it, and me just wanting to wear it for myself? Yeah, and it does take a little bit of encouraging because I like that burnt orange sports jacket, like grey Fox and I created I had a couple of customers that was a limited edition collection. So you had to you know, come and try it on and preorder it. And so that was 800 pounds. So people like, Oh, do you think you know, this is a bit different for me and spend 800 pounds on something I might not where, and I said look, come in and try on. And I'll give you my honest advice if it's going to work for you. And people know that I'll say this, no, this choose a different colour because it doesn't work for you. And you have to be honest, otherwise, people don't trust you in the long run. But, and I have to say that the few people that bought that piece, they were like, I love it, I get so many compliments, you know, so it's such a different piece. So I'm really glad I went for it. And, and I always say you know, try and be a little bit brave sometimes. And when those first couple of confidence come in, that's when you know, most men are sold to I think it's also down to the fit and the colours that you've put with this. And I really do encourage people to look at it because it's fantastic. So you have like this dark navy blue shirt coming through the white buttons and the, I guess cream trousers as well. It's just it's not like your typical colour palette. You probably have like the darker jacket out and with a lighter shirt underneath. Yeah, this is kind of the inverse or the the sub verse, whatever the word is of that and it just looks really good. I encourage people to try it out. Well, listen, Alexandra, thanks so much for your time. You're welcome. Thank you and happy belated birthday. I know. You fought over the weekend, so 20 That's what I meant. Dammit. Edit that in post. No. But best of luck and yeah, and everyone can just the shops open now. So over in Bishop's Stortford, but also, also the website, Alexandra wood bespoke.co.uk. All the show notes and links were put over on menswear style. So, people thanks, I was gonna take care yourself. Thank you. Bye bye. Alexandra would there Wow, what a treat that was to speak to her. The website Alexandra would bespoke.co.uk Why don't you treat yourself to some really decent clothes and get that wardrobe sorted out once and for all. Our website menswear style dot code at UK that's the place to go. Also, we'll put in the show notes for this episode, as well as our daily content that you'll get for free. And if you like what you hear, why don't you leave us a review on iTunes. I get to read them all and we thank you for that. In the meantime, remember, it's only fashion people and you're never fully dressed without a smile.