SAVILE ROW NEWCOMER CHAMPIONS QUALITY
Just as there are fine wines for the connoisseur, antiques and works of art for knowledgeable collectors, and exquisite timepieces for those who study horology, so there are truly bespoke suits for the discerning male.
In each of these areas, and indeed most others, inferior imitations are always available, many giving a passable simulation of the real thing – to those happy to accept such fakes. Generally sold at a lower price than the genuine article, such bargains are pretty clearly not the real McCoy.
But even within the hallowed precincts of Savile Row, there is bespoke and then there is bespoke, and price is not always an indicator of the best.
So it is particularly gratifying to be able to report upon a relatively new standard bearer of old Savile Row quality, a champion of classic methods but with a contemporary approach, a genuine, dyed-in-the-wool, bespoke tailoring house - Comelie London.
With no grand entrance on the Row, no long history in the trade, no clutch of illustrious warrants from old customers or past celebrities, this young house has already garnered for itself an impressive reputation, not least amongst its peers on the Row.
Established just six short years ago, it has rapidly built up an international customer base of impressive status. In addition, it has created a wholesale bespoke operation, supplying other tailors in London and across Europe. And it has now opened a shop in Dubai to cater for its flourishing business in the Middle East.
This whirlwind growth has been achieved by Comelie’s owner, Shakil Saddiqui (above), an engaging young man in a hurry about everything but his tailoring standards. After a high flying career in banking on the international stage, he gave that up at the grand age of 27 to pursue his first love, tailoring
“I always wanted to be a tailor,” he said. “I had my first bespoke suit made when I was 15 and I was just fascinated by everything about it. But my father had other ideas and so I ended up going into the City after a brief try at medicine.”
From a background of Harrow, Kings College and privilege, he is an unlikely candidate for the tailoring workrooms but is clearly delighted with his change of career – and is dedicated to making the very best of suits.
Zoom in on the suit above to see the enlarged section of its signature stripe which may be woven with a customer's name, in cloth from the new Comelie Exclusive cloth bunch. Below, two of his classic suits.
“I started on buttonholes,” he explains. “Look at these…” And with great delight, he shows off the immaculately hand stitched buttonholes on his own suit and that of a customer’s in progress.
Each Comelie bespoke suit is entirely stitched by hand, with such small, almost imperceptible stitches that it might be thought the fairies or the famous mice of Gloucester had been at work (see Beatrix Potter’s tale of The Tailor of Gloucester, in which mice come to the tailor’s rescue).
His entry into the tailoring fraternity was under the able instruction of Peter Strong, a Savile Row stalwart who worked for the legendary Helman brothers.
“He taught me everything,” Shakil reveals, “from stitching buttonholes through cutting, patterns, and about cloth.”
Having honed his skills, he set up his company, Comelie London, in 2004. The many contacts he had established during his banking years undoubtedly gave him an entrée into eminent circles but only by providing suits of the highest quality could he hope to retain the custom of such discriminating men – which he has.
“I count the stitches to the inch,” he says, “and look at these stitches on the lapels, and these canvas stitches. We do everything to old standards, to what I describe as vintage bespoke.”
He attributes his success not only to the excellence of Comelie’s tailoring but also to some lowering of standards within Savile Row. “ I have customers who have been disappointed at the service and quality they have experienced at some Row establishments. I have been able to offer them both – and often in a shorter time.”
Aware of the pressures on tailors who no longer have ready access to trainees and a raft of CMT (cut, make and trim) workers, he saw an opportunity to help them and expand his business.
“I brought together a band of tailors, some who had retired, some semi-retired or who had moved out of the Row. I persuaded them to move to Scotland, where I set up workrooms in premises near Aberdeen. These are tailors of the old school, real craftsmen, who make suits to the highest quality.
“Now, I’m supplying tailors throughout Europe, as well as in the Row. We have a further dozen or so young tailors coming along, who are learning the whole business. And I hope to establish workrooms in London before long.” And for good measure, he has just launched an exclusive Comelie cloth bunch of fine suitings, made exclusively for the company by a small mill in Huddersfield.
Phew. In addition, there are Comelie bespoke shirts and ties and shoes (“the shirts are cut with a knife for greater precision, the shoes are made in Northampton”), he has an expanding ladies custom, and the shop in Dubai is blooming.
So far, so good. What next? A shop on Savile Row, of course, but without one being immediately available, Shakil is very happy to have a business facility within the Holland & Sherry showroom on the Row where he can meet customers.
Indeed, he seems pretty happy altogether, delighted to have switched from banking to tailoring, proud of the craftsmanship he has learnt, and blessed with a customer list of illustrious eminence.
“And my father is happy now,” he smiles.