Words Jenna Walker
Portraits Sandra Vijandi
“I have had pointed out to me that I’m not easily impressed. Perhaps this is part of what can make a good craftsman.”
Tucked away behind the hustle of Tottenham Court Road is Windmill Street. And, nestled into its neat selection of esteemed boutiques is Jonathan Quearney of London. Quearney believes in the art and craft of classic tailoring; creating timeless classics for the modern world. A well-cut suit has always been a thing of desire. A mark of wealth, of respect, of sartorial consciousness. Indeed, Savile Row gained its place of prominence as far back as the days of the iconic rogue, Beau Brummell, who was the envy of the town. As a personal friend and confidante of King George IV, a young Brummell set the stage for the fashion of his day. Single-handedly, he did away with the overly ostentatious attire that was popular at the time, in favour of a more subdued and ‘fitted’look. From that point on, gone were the ruffles and frills, in was the tailored suit.
Today, as men desire a more custom approach to their outfitting, tailors such as Jonathan Quearney are becoming increasingly sought after. According to Quearney, the process of tailoring a bespoke suit is as individual as the person wearing it. This process runs further than taking measurements – rather, you need to take onboard the entire person. “This helps establishing what is necessary on this occasion and find the best starting point, whether you’re dealing with a newcomer or a more experienced man. I have had pointed out to me that I’m not easily impressed. Perhaps this is part of what can make a good craftsman. As a tailor examining cloth daily I have become well trained in the tuning out of cloths that don’t impress me. This helps me be independent in my taste. When you meet someone, you look them up and down – and everyone does it. But when we do it, that’s the natural line of the body we’re looking at and what you put on top of it influences how people see you.”
However, there is more to a bespoke suit than the cut of the cloth. “It’s the combination of the person’s personality, the function the suit’s going to have and the carefully selected cloth”Quearney explains. “When we combine these three elements, we can build something that has great value, a great design sensibility and integrity.” Tailoring runs in Quearney’s blood. His father, who was a cutter in Dublin, planted the seed in Quearney’s early years. “My dad brought me to work and I had an early age introduction to tailoring – it wasn’t training, it was just early exposure.” However, it was after he finished school that he realised his love for clothing was more than just a passing fad. He began working in clothes shops, but soon found that he had an appetite to learn design.
“Before I left Ireland, I worked for a designer called Cuan Hanly, Paul Smith’s right hand man, who went on to become the creative director of Jack Spade. He encouraged me to go to the UK and study. He called me and said, ‘You’ve got talent, you just don’t realise it yet!’ So he motivated me to go back to college. He mentored me through the process of designing and understanding how to present a portfolio.”
After that, when he was 24, Quearney made the decision to come to the UK, accepting interviews at London College of Fashion and in Glasgow. “I got offered a place in both colleges,” he says, “but I took Glasgow because it felt like I was going to learn more there. The college in Glasgow taught you how to make clothes properly as well as design them.”
After a period of work experience with Prince Charles’ tailor Thomas Mahon – “he made me aware of the importance of precision, procedure and detail in his work” – Quearney was ready for the move to London. Mahon provided a reference with Quearney’s application for a position at Airey & Wheeler of Savile Row and his reference secured the job. This period of his career involved both learning the craft of cutting and how to put into practice the training received from Mahon.
Airey & Wheeler was founded in 1883 and their focus on lightweight clothing went hand in hand with Quearney’s soft tailoring style. He had mainly worked with Worsted wool business suits up until this point but Airey & Wheeler customers required outfitting; deconstructed featherweight blazers, patch pocket shirts, safari Jackets, Nero collars and one piece collars. This opened up the world of cloth’s colour, composition and construction. “Within a few years of making suits, I could see the importance of having my foundation in the craft. Customers, colleagues and students all value my knowledge and now 13 years on I still enjoy building on that and practicing the techniques with new cloths and cuts” says Jonathan.
His customers vary from the suit wearing elite of New York and London, the British Royal family, to a whole host of designers and artists who appreciate Jonathan’s ability to turn the craft of tailoring into an art. Having worked as a tailor for over a decade, Jonathan has seen many different faces of the industry throughout the years. Does he reckon it’s changed much? “Oh yeah,” he says, “without a doubt. When I started there were very few apprenticeships outside the main Savile Row houses and there was a huge shortage of craftsman within the top tier of tailoring. The Savile Row Academy and Newham College have been set up with vital input from Savile Row –that’s made a huge change, as there’s far more interest in bespoke tailoring as a career.“
“The difference is that, before the students looking for work experience had very little technique, whereas now these colleges try to give them some training in sewing skills. That gives us the chance to establish their potential quickly and if necessary take them into a business and give them the training they need to get to an industry standard. It’s not just learning a craft, it’s taking it seriously as a career, because you don’t get into it for the money. You’ve got to make clothes for a living.”