Jacket Required – Master & Apprentice
As the owner, designer and craftsman of Master & Apprentice he had pretty much bared his soul and his talent to the UK buying community. Positioned mid-way between the main hall and the refreshments and toilets, not only did you have to go past his stand for ‘facilities’ it was one of two main throughways for the entire event. Smart thinking or luck of the draw – who cares – great spot! Admittedly, without any buyer interest, being in such a prominent position can just draw attention to the fact you are being ignored. Alexander however is built of more resilient, stoic stuff to let a few tumbleweeds bother him. (Ironically when I had come back to interview him he had gone to spend a penny!)
Alexander’s presentation suggested there’s a lot more going on with his brand with simple but effective signage around his stand. People like to see the skill of the craftsman visually displayed as a suggestion of its incorporation into the garments they buy. We also like to think we are getting an almost made-to-measure bespoke outfit and the superior quality it represents for an off-the-rail price. We are cheeky and self-delusional that way. I think Alexander pulls this off, but without smoke and mirrors – he’s too honest and earnest in his endeavor for that.
A relatively recent Fashion Design & Marketing graduate of Northumberland University in 2014, the brand was even more recent, like last month 2016 recent. Where did all these ideas and desire to be here come from I ask? “When I graduated I wanted to be a Savile Row apprentice but couldn’t afford to set myself up in London. I applied for a Government start-up loan that was approved in September. I had spent the previous 12-18 months planning to get ready.” I’m already impressed by the due diligence, foresight and maturity to forward plan his business. This places him in a very small classroom within the designer fraternity called Planning. “I had a long term view and knew that I wanted to be making things. There is no experience that compares to starting from scratch.” Listening to him speak is like having someone sandpaper away the cynicism of failed attempts, to refresh a belief that with the right attitude anything is possible. “The problem solving aspect was always very interesting to me. In order to take the problem from 2D to 3D you have to visualize it in advance.” An arena many would-be designers struggle with and a transparent leveler as far as ability is concerned.
Why waistcoats? “I wanted to approach tailoring from a different perspective: functional, utility and sleeveless.” I’m happy for my waistcoats to be sleeveless from now on. I also think they are one of the most underrated and under-used items of the men’s wardrobe – so easy to dress-up a look with a waistcoat. So, he was pretty much talking to a convert, but one that is bored looking at ‘the same waistcoat ideas and fabrics trotted out.’ He has another good premise as far as myself and brand UK is concerned – manufacturing and sourcing in the UK: – Dugdale Bros & Co in Huddersfield provide the cloth; Harris Tweed from Kenneth Mackenzie and Ventile cotton from Manchester.
I asked what I think is one of the hardest questions facing any new designer, as a determinant of their business acumen and viability (and it kind of never goes way) – how do you scale your business? Unfazed, he had a three-part answer: “Firstly, hire people. Or the best way I think is to speak and work with other factories. And third, is to grow the business so it’s sustainable, and develop into other products, jackets, trousers, suits – but I will always want to maintain waistcoats.” Not bad for a supposed rookie.
Returning to the ‘ready-to-wear’ waistcoats: “My whole purpose is functional and simple and unlined.” Which as he explains may look easier, like a quicker version somehow, but it means the finishing has to be perfect – nothing to hide behind the lining!
A number of classic styles and menswear staples have been used as the starting point for the designs that he has developed in his own style – a denim jacket styled waistcoat (not in denim); a bicycle waistcoat with longer back for comfort; military-style box pleat pockets; peak lapels (under-used today I believe). As a fun, but also functional addition to the waistcoats there are some ‘Tailor’s Aprons’ a nice idea as a gift (I think he should collaborate with Men’s Society, male grooming kit company who just happened to be opposite him in JR) but could work very well white labeled in coffee shops – who knows dotted around Savile Row and the garment districts as a coffee – tailor relationship-bonding collaboration type thingy…
Anyway, enough interfering from me. I saw a lot of interest from boutiques as I passed by and Alexander was hopeful some good things would come from some of the meetings he had at JR. He certainly deserves it. Looking forward to seeing Master & Apprentice’s next showing.
By Paul Markevicius