Gormley & Gamble is the first made-to-measure tailors dedicated to women in the history of Savile Row. Founder Phoebe Gormley tells The Resident about misconceptions, the personal touch and why there aren’t other tailors like her…
WORDS Mark Kebble
Was tailoring something you were always keen on?
When I was 15 I did my first internship on Savile Row under a guy called Gary Kingham and just completely fell in love with it. I can’t really remember if I knew right from the off that I was passionate about it – I knew I loved clothes and I had been dressmaking since I was about 12. It was one of those things if I said to my parents, ‘Can I have this new dress?’, they would say no, and if I said, ‘Can you help me build this skill where I can make clothes?’, they would say ‘OK!’. They would buy me fabrics, but not a dress, so if I wanted something I had to make it.’
Being a 12-year-old you just want every item you could possibly have. It was more of a desperate attempt to have something new to wear. I knew I wanted to work with clothes, but I didn’t necessarily think the fashion industry was for me so I thought tailoring would be a good way of doing it. I came down to the Row and there was so much to see in terms of the menswear, the cloths, the cuts and the quality, it was all just impeccable. In the last two years you have seen such a huge trend in customisation, but before then it wasn’t really a thing.
The big difference between menswear and womenswear, with men’s the more you pay the better quality it is, whereas with women’s the more you pay the quality kind of stays the same, but the more prestigious the brand. So from about 18 I started dreaming about having my own womenswear business – there just isn’t a made to measure women’s industry.
You make it sound so simple…
I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, so it just seemed very normal to me that someone would risk everything they have and start a business. I went to university and did costume design and bespoke tailoring and absolutely loved it. I was really passionate about it for the first year, but the second and third year it was self taught, so you would have one lecture a week paying the classic £9k a year and thought if it’s self taught I don’t really want to be up here in Nottingham, I want to be learning on a job, and being a 19-year-old girl in a world of 65-year-old men no-one is intimidated by you, no-one is cautious, everyone is open arms and open doors. If you are honest with people and say you just want to learn, you don’t need to pay me, I just want to learn from you and soak up all the little insider tricks, and they were OK with that!
Was there one main thing you learnt?
Impeccable customer service. That has always been really important. You definitely get people that when they go shopping know exactly what they are looking for, but the majority want guidance – they don’t want it prescribed, but they want guidance. So learning how to judge a person’s body shape and style and personality and lifestyle into what works for them. For example, when someone comes into G&G, the first thing we do is sit down on these sofas and chat about their lifestyle and what they need. So if they want a jacket and she is a business executive who travels to Hong Kong twice a month, then we are going to need to do it in mohair as that doesn’t crease, so it can easily go in the suitcase and come out the other side.
If it was a full-time domestic goddess that wanted a lovely little weekend jacket, we’d probably do it in cashmere as she wouldn’t wear it that often and it doesn’t need to be hard wearing as she wouldn’t be grinding her elbows on a desk all day. And we talk about what was the one piece of clothing they spent loads of money on that they have never worn, and we make sure we don’t make that! We talk about what are their pieces of clothing that are falling apart because they wear them so often, we talk about if their alarm doesn’t go off and they have 10 minutes to get ready what outfit would they wear, and all those kind of things that help you work out what someone’s go-to outfit is.
With womenswear they say you wear 20% of your wardrobe 80% of your time, so we want to make that 20%. We are not trying to be leading the Topshop fast fashion trends of the day, we are trying to make things that are amazing and incredible quality that will last you.
You have been open here for just over a year – how has it gone?
Well we have gone from a restored bike shed in the city to the only women’s only tailor on Savile Row, so good!
Has the reception here remained good?
If I had come in and started a menswear business I don’t think I would have been received well. And if G&G helps to promote the idea of made to measure womenswear and women become accustomed to the idea – for example if a man wants something to fit him really well, he will get it made to measure, that’s normal – but if a women wants something to wear well she will trail Regent’s Street. If made to measure becomes normalised for women then they will all start doing womenswear lines, then it will only benefit them. They are looking on with intrigue rather than feeling threatened.
Why are there not tailors like you?
Women are too hard to please, their body shape changes every day, they are not interested in investment just fast fashion… [So it’s all nonsense?] Yes. It’s stuff that was maybe true in the 90s, but nowadays particularly with more and more women in business, you get these high powered and successful women that just do not have time or energy to go shopping for themselves, but have to look and feel really smart and confident. We can go to their office and measure them up and sort them out, and they love that.
Who are your clients?
Most of them are working, but we do get a few domestic goddesses. Basically every woman believes her body shape is not quite right for the high street. They will come in and say their bum is too big, my waist is too small, there is something out of proportion. I think most of our customers feel like that. I have had a 16-year-old get suits for school, I have had a 73-year get a hot pink trouser suit, and everything in between.
Do new clients feel nervous coming to see you?
I think it is quite intimidating as you have to book a fitting, and maybe they feel quite obligated and maybe a bit under pressure, but if you look at your website you can bring it all, your mum, friends or dog… I can see it can be quite intimidating, but I make a big effort to make sure they don’t feel like that by making the website all so price clear, it’s not being ‘if you have to ask you can’t afford it’, it’s all friendly.
Apart from your own story Phoebe, what do you think makes your business stand out?
Being able to give the client’s service where we can go to their house or office is great. And the amount of customisation. I know the majority of tailors will show you the fabric they have in stock, but if you say you want something in a mustard yellow with some gold thread running through the middle of it, they will say you can’t have that. Whereas it will be my job to go out and source that fabric, find it and come back and send them swatches and ten different things… That’s the level of customisation. The 73-year-old who got the pink trouser suit, we couldn’t find the right shade of pink for her, so we just custom dyed a white piece of wool to the perfect shade of pink she wanted. And she wanted a lining of peonies in it as they are her favourite flower, and we didn’t have that lining so we just custom printed her one on silk. There is literally nothing you can’t do.
Roughly how long does a commission take from start to finish?
The standard is six weeks, but if you want a custom printed lining or we have to source a fabric we add an extra two weeks to that. If you want it back in 24 hours it’s 100% extra of the cost. [That must be pressure?] A lot!
There’s essentially two of you – but two others do work for you – but you seem so calm. Has it been easy to get to this point?
There have been some bad moments. I based my whole business plan from a quote from these suppliers, then I moved to London and said I am ready, and they said we have been thinking and you are too young, don’t have enough business experience, and we don’t really like working with women because we find them too volatile… I have had a client come in and she was really positive, and then she asked how old I was and I said 21, and she said ‘I don’t want to place this order. How can I trust you, you are so young?’ And just left… I don’t feel like a 21-year-old when I hang out with people my own age, I feel like an alien. When someone judges me for my age when I don’t feel it represents me at all, it’s really hard. But I don’t think my sex in this industry has negatively affected me, my age has.
But I have had a lot of positive experiences. My first client bought four three-piece suits on my first day and set up a direct debit for a suit every month, she’s a superstar! I have had the women’s network at Deloitte send an email to all their female partners about G&G and made five figures off one email. I have had people go out of their way and be lovely. And James who runs Cad and the Dandy, which is the biggest tailor on Savile Row, to be really kind and let me achieve my teenage dream.
Where do you go from here?
I won’t do menswear. It ruins the USP. The branding is all meant to be super feminine and I have no interest in menswear.
Find out more at gormleyandgamble.com