James Whitfield Bespoke — Part 1: London elegance in Berlin
James Whitfield is as far as we know the only genuine Savile Row tailor running a bespoke business in Germany. We’ve known him for a couple of years, now we wanted to get a first hand impression of his tailoring art. Witness the process in our series of articles.
You are reading Part 1. You can find Part 2 here. We will publish the third and final instalment soon, with the finished jacket.
If a tailor learns their craft in Germany, they will become a tailor. A tailor who learns their craft on Savile Row will be something more. A Londoner, born and bred, who learned his craft at Anderson & Sheppard is a thing to behold, especially in Germany. Much like a chef trained in a renowned restaurant in France or a guitarist from Nashville, Tennessee, there is a certain excitement that will grasp an enthusiast upon hearing that a person has learned their craft in a certain place. Our particular Londoner, bespoke tailor James Laurence Whitfield certainly does profit from the excitement that being from the tailoring capital of the world generates. Yet, as many an enthusiast will have learned through experience, a regional reputation will only get a man so far. What really counts at the end of the day is whether you can deliver the necessary quality. James delivers in spades.
James became head cutter at Purwin & Radczun shortly after moving to Berlin in 2012. This is also where I first had the pleasure of meeting him. James is not the garrulous cockney of many a tailor of a certain generation, nor the acquiescent type whom hides his snobbishness behind a smile. In fact, he doesn’t sport a permanent fake grin at all. His humour is very dry, and he is, especially for an Englishman, very direct. Since 2019, James has been working under his own name out of a location in Moabit consisting of a small front room which is used to discuss details of commissions with customers and for fittings, and his workshop at the back. As testament to the time-honoured tradition of having good relationships with customers, it is worth noting that it was a customer who recommended the location.
Over the years, I have seen quite a few suits, coats, overcoats, and trousers cut by James; some basted, some fully finished, some on hangers and some on customers. His Instagram does a good job of illustrating his preferred house style with its extended shoulder, nipped waist, and longer skirt. While his making is light, it is certainly more structured than would be typical of Anderson & Sheppard. James generally recommends heavier, more robust fabrics from British mills.
I would be remiss if I was to recommend a tailor without having gone through the whole process with them first. As such, I commissioned a coat on our last visit. I had brought my own fabric, a length of mid-weight checked fabric from Scabal. During our conversation, James explained that the 1.8m length might be a bit short for his preferred way of cutting the inside pockets of the coat. It is also a general adage that a tailor will always prefer to have a bit of a buffer when cutting a first coat for a customer, in case something should go wrong. This is exacerbated when working with a checked fabric as fabric use is higher when matching checks. James was kind enough to suggest that the first fitting be made with a jacket cut from a different fabric (called “toile” in French tailoring). If that goes well, he will start cutting checked fabric.
We agreed on a style for the coat quite quickly: three buttons, welted chest pocket, and two patch pockets. My first thought was to go for two side vents, but James convinced me to opt for the more classically British single vent. The interior pockets will be enveloped in fabric as this is one of James’ signature techniques. When taking measurements, James works solely with a measuring tape and uses his fingers to feel for the required measurement points. Many a German tailor will use a sort of measuring tape that wraps around the body to mark the waist. James does not, he simply feels for the waist with his hands. Overall, the measurement process was over quite quickly with James measuring very close to the body. Were it not for the current Covid-19 pandemic, we would have already had our first fitting. As soon as the restrictions on movement have been lifted, we will make an appointment.
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