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Interview: Pip Howeson on her Bespoke Tailored Coats

Monday 25 November 2013

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Words Spindle

What tops my Christmas wishlist every year is a new luxurious coat to bundle myself away from the frost. Call me a snob, but simply pulling out the previous year’s winter coat from the storage is an option I will always dismiss.

I put this down to being a high street shopper, where I am drawn to the cheap price tag of churned out catwalk copies. This means I never invest enough in my coats to love them through more seasons, and why should I, when in return they give me a soon-faded style and struggle to endure a couple of washes? I am fed up of re-stitching seams, trying to shave off bobbly bits and finding that my rags have spat onto the floor yet another button. And I think I have had enough arguments with shop staff over the definition of ‘fit for purpose’ in attempted exchanges and refunds to last a lifetime. If a coat can’t stand being outdoors then what’s it good for?

The real mistake lies with me. I still pick up another coat the next year from the end of that same manufacture line that privileges cheap cost over quality. But what I really want is to be united with a coat that will wrap me up safe and tight through the routine battering of British wind and rain. I want one that will grow old with me.

Alas, Spindle have found someone on the same wavelength whose bespoke coat and jacket designs are directed by the customer’s vision, however romantic. We catch up with the lady herself to find out about these classic handcrafted pieces made to measure and made to love.

On what basis did you decide to set up your bespoke tailoring company?
Having worked for a high street company followed by a women’s tailors, Selina Blow, I saw a gap in the market for bespoke pieces for women. Fit is so key to a woman’s body; how you cut a shoulder or a cuff can make a huge difference to the resulting figure. I also wanted to be able to offer a huge range of fabric so that each piece is unique and that my customers can be safe in the knowledge that they will never go to a party and see someone in the same garment. Britain has some really wonderful mills whose fabrics are a pleasure to work with and I am so lucky to be able to offer these individual looks.

pip howeson 2

What is your favourite British fabric to work with and why?
Without a doubt Harris Tweed – it’s so versatile! There’s so many colours and tones because of the way it’s made and it has a certain romance.

What is your opinion on the use of real fur?
I have not used farmed fur that is reared solely for that purpose, but I do use sheep fur toscana as it is a by-product. I would also work with vintage fur as it is being recycled.

Can you talk us through the stages of your design process? How do you involve the customer throughout?
For a totally bespoke piece I will talk through with the customer about what it’s for, whether it’s walking to the office, a wedding, the opera or to the races. This will help decide whether we will be looking at using Harris Tweed, cashmere, brocade or maybe light a weave such as those made by Linton in Ullswater, Cumbria. We may use a favourite piece that they have owned or inherited, or perhaps even a picture for inspiration.

We will then discuss what makes it so wonderful; is it the boat neck collar on the picture of Audrey Hepburn or the length of the opera coat from Grace Kelly? If it’s a piece that is going to pull together a wardrobe I like to look at what pieces the client currently owns. I then take measurements and suggest a style that would work and cut this into a calico which we use to tweak.

What has been the most peculiar customisation request you have received?
There have been a few memorable ones like client’s overcoat brought in that was at least 60 years old. It was so flee bitten but he just loved it. I had to search high and low for the right shade of Harris Tweed but in the end the results were amazing. A bespoke riding jacket in cavalry twill was another. There was a lot to think of there, like how the arms would move. I must have been on automatic because I put a ‘dry clean only’ label in. The owner called me up laughing saying that was the most pointless thing to put on a country jacket!

What do you intend to communicate to the customer through the setting of your ‘Mallorcan Weekend’ AW 13 campaign shoot?
I want it to be fun. I love the light out there and shot the campaign myself. I have surprises up my sleeve for the next campaign. The current trend for just studio shoots is so boring! I like getting lost in pictures that make me smile.

Mallorcan Weekend 3

How are you preparing for Christmas sales?
We have just opened our flagship store on Rugby Street off the famous Lambs Conduit Street. It has a wonderful feel including a little fireplace and I can’t wait to put the tree up and decorate! We will be displaying designs from our new cashmere collection to whet people’s appetite and hopefully inspire them to add a bespoke Pip Howeson design to their own wardrobe or a loved one’s.

For more information head to www.piphoweson.com

Words: Laura Yuen