SHIFTS: Cock of the Walk, bespoke tailors

Shifts is a project by photojournalist and podcaster Jerome Whittingham, in which he works a full shift with a fascinating business or organisation, photographing and sound recording as he goes.

This shift is a day of style, and a little bit steamy too.

A gem of a business that maybe you wouldn’t expect to find in Hull, one of just a handful of its kind outside of London in fact.

Based on Grimston Street in Hull, Cock of the Walk is a group of award winning bespoke cutters, tailors, and hand finishers.

Headed by trained coat-maker Gillian Long, their craft is carried out using the time honoured skills found in Savile Row workrooms.

PODCAST: Duration 30 minutes.

PHOTO ESSAY

Gill and Luke dress a mannequin with some ‘work in progress’, to show on social media accounts.

“Our customers are not those that need a suit, they’re those that want a suit, which is a totally different psychology,” Gill.

Cock of the Walk is one of a very few high-class bespoke tailors outside of London.

“Each city has got its own style. We find the Manchester customer a lot more of a layered customer. I find that their approach to style is very honest. Whereas our London customers, I find that I’m more making them a costume,” Gill.

Proprietor Gill trained as a coat-maker on Savile Row.

“I also find the Hull style a lot more rural, it’s a rural city. Even the city people have more of a tendency for tweed and hardy cloth.  You see cities kind of reduced down, boiled down through the tailoring,” Gill.

Gill explained that there’s a real romance between the garment being made and the skilled worker.

“In our industry our buttons are not a metric measurement, it’s a really archaic measurement called ligne, there isn’t actually a measurement for it, you just have to know the measurements in your head,” Gill.

Katarina and Luke at work in the small workshop on Grimston Street, Hull.

“You can get quite close to your customers. You see them at their best and their worst. We do gossip a lot with our customers, but nothing leaves the shop,” Gill.

The workshop resounds with the spitting and hissing of steam irons.

“There’s horse wee in most of what we’re making. We don’t see that as unusual though. You’re wearing very luxury natural fibres and insects are going to want to have a piece of that, and want to lay their eggs in that. So, you’re going have to repel the insects. Historically, what you would do is soak the canvases, which are the interior of the suits, in horse wee. There’s a natural antiseptic nature to the wee that repels the insects,” Gill.

The apprentice, Luke, is spending a year putting the learning from his first-class honours degree in fashion design into practice.

“I was working as a barmaid in a bingo hall, and I thought my days are free, I’ll go to college and learn a bit of sewing, the tutor there said you’ve got a bit of a gift,” Gill.

Gill was working as a barmaid in a bingo hall when she first decided to undertake some training in sewing, and she quickly learned that bespoke tailoring was the career she wanted to pursue.

“Looking at somebody, I can unpick what they’re wearing in my head and turn that into a 2D shape. It’s quite cool to be able to do that,” Gill.

Each member of staff has their own sewing machine, and are fond of the individual characters of their own machines. Gill’s can be a little slow, and wild, but she’s tamed it.

“We have secret words and terminology for things. You have to acknowledge certain [body] shapes, you have to or it won’t fit correctly. ‘Corpulent’ is wide in the stomach area, maybe a bit or a beer belly shape, but I don’t write those words when the customer is in,” Gill.

The relationship between tailor and client can be very close, but always professional.

 

This garment is at the client’s ‘first fitting’ stage, when adjustments are made to measurements, and tweaks completed to the customer’s satisfaction.

“What we are is the highest in the sewing world, bespoke tailors, and he [the apprentice] is appreciating that he can do it, and what he is doing is good enough,” Gill.

Luke, the apprentice, has to know his place. He’s at the call of the others in the workroom to ‘do this’ and ‘do that’, but he doesn’t mind at all, he tells me.

Of a possible ‘apprentice piece’, Luke said: “Yes, Gill has promised that will come along, after Christmas. I’m really looking forward to doing it… I don’t know whether to go a bit over the top, or make something I can wear all the time.”

Reels of thread adorn the workshop walls.

“A bespoke garment is a live garment. When you see it at the beginning it’s a little strong, but it’s going to adapt to your body, and it’s for all your life, it’s for your whole life,” Jorge.

Jorge, from Spain, has worked in the fashion industry for over 30 years, and is a passionate spokesperson for the craft of tailoring. he makes the ‘canvases’, the innermost fabric of the suit which give the garment its shape and strength.

“I like my job. It’s not a job, it’s like a hobby… I feel very happy when I make something with my hands… But hand stitching keeps me slow. I feel like turtle, tortoise, yeah… I like machine work,” Katarina.

The team enjoy the challenge of making garments in various classic styles, for both men and women.

“My eye is always switched on, I can’t switch it off. It’s when I see a suit on telly, or in a film, a bad suit can spoil a film for me, but not in the streets no, I’m a lot more easy-going than people expect,” Gill.

As the day progresses into the darkness of the early winter afternoon, Luke finds himself a corner for stitching.

“I just like my work, I enjoy it. For example, I make trousers, and when a customer comes to the fitting room, and I see he likes, this is my pleasure,” Natalia.

Natalia undertakes some intricate work. She loves the sense of creating a garment that will bring pleasure to the person wearing it.

“I don’t see beauty in something unless it has a purpose as well. If it’s not useful, I don’t think it’s beautiful at all, I think it’s just pure decoration,” Gill.

The Cock of the Walk workshop is a gem in the city, often attracting the attention of passers-by who sometimes stop to take photos through the window.

“We already have a use for all the offcuts… Once a year I’ll take a big box of offcuts over to the college for the tailoring side of their degree… Any other pieces, we turn them over to a charity that turns them into dogs and teddy bears for the Daisy Appeal, that the main one we give extra pieces to. Nothing goes to waste,” Gill.

Gill doesn’t like waste. Almost every off-cut of cloth is used. Some is given to the local college. Other pieces get turned into toys to raise money for charities, such as The Daisy Appeal.

“There’s not many like us at all. Apart from us, if you don’t count the London tailors, there’s about five of us that are really making, that deal with the customer direct, do the cutting in-house, make everything by hand,” Gill.

Templates and patterns hang on rails around the workshop.

 

Gill is adamant that the skills she enjoys should be passed on to others, to keep the bespoke tailoring trade alive for many more generations, especially outside the capital.

“I’m a great believer that these skills shouldn’t be dying on one street in London, that there’s just this one street in the whole of the country where you can go for a suit, because that’s not very democratic… We see ourselves as like a tailoring Resistance,” Gill.

Cock of the Walk, at the end of a stylish, and steamy, shift.

All photographs & podcast © 2019 Jerome Whittingham, @photomoments.

Website: Cock of the Walk

[Jerome Whittingham – @photomoments – www.photomoments.news]

 

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