Bert Hamilton Stubber: Speciale
Updated: Oct 9, 2020
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Bert Hamilton Stubber, I’m 27, and I run Speciale, a small shop and tailors in Notting Hill, London.
What was path that lead you to the decision to not work full time as a tailor? What was your professional evolution like?
I started one summer with the guy I still work with today, George. He’d just returned from an apprenticeship in Milan and wanted to take someone on. We worked together for a few years in a little workshop in London, where I was at university at the time. I was studying History so completely unrelated to tailoring.
When I graduated I interned briefly at another tailors, then went out to Florence, where George had gone for further training, and worked for another tailor there. I eventually had to come back home though because it was hard to get paid properly, and wasn’t really sure if I would continue in tailoring.
I loved the world, and the people I’d met in it, but paradoxically the better I became the more I realised I was never going to be on the level of the people I really admired. I had ok technique but was slow and nothing came naturally to me, so I was ready to just make it a hobby and pursue another career.
George came back from Italy a few months later though in a very different place. He had been making and cutting for about 7 years at that point and had trained under some really wonderful people, he was much more talented than me and felt ready to start his own house. He asked me if I’d join him and run it, incorporating a retail side in as well, and I said yes. We’d been on a lot of the same journey, and shared a point of view about it I guess, so I think it was natural to finally express that through our own shop and company.
A lot of my friends and family have always thought it a bit odd that I went into tailoring. I did a humanities degree that typically in England leads to a job in services, so working in an office basically. But it’s been nothing but a joy and I feel very lucky to have ever bumped into it.
How do you see the sartorial world evolving in the next 5, 10 or 20 years?
I truly have no idea. Everything right now is obviously seen through the lens of the pandemic, and how profound it’s effect may or may not be. In the short term crises like this will naturally squeeze smaller industries like ours and everyone just needs to try get through it one piece, in every sense!
In the longer-term there are obviously changes in the way people are living that are gradually slackening the demand for suits and smart clothing, and those changes will probably be hastened by Covid. Equally there has been a trend back towards quality, ‘buy less, buy better’ and so on, that may be emboldened by it. I think we will have to wait and see, there is a lot of forecasting going on of the post-Covid world at the moment, and it’s clearly too early to tell.
I very much hope there is a long future for craft and tailoring, but I think much will depend on the case people make for it. I see part of my job in our business as being effective at communicating what’s special about our world, imagining myself as an audience knowing nothing about it, and I think it’s important that people in craft find the right language for that.
It’s different for everyone, and I think that’s the point, people need to find a voice in it and make that interesting or appealing to others, whatever that may be. I’ll give an example, my friend Daisy Knatchbull recently started a women’s suit brand called The Deck. It’s not exactly for tailoring purists as it’s MTM but it captures an attitude about women wearing suits that’s really fun and charismatic. She’s been very successful so far which is awesome, and I actually think she’ll end up with one of the best businesses on Savile Row. In Italy Dalcuore are another good example, they kind-of characterise their company and all of it’s clients as one large family. It’s very warm and charming and it takes people with them, which is great.
Tailoring has to be human, in England there is still a tendency to go all aspirational, and talk about heritage, centuries of tradition and this kind of for-export ‘english gent’ idea, and I don’t actually think that’s very interesting. It’s sad that my answer has been essentially about marketing and not making but I think that’s where the difference will ultimately be made for the companies that are going strong in 20 years and those that aren’t.
How would you describe what a perfect tailor shop would be like? What would you describe as the right balance between production, business and artistry in a tailor shop?
Great tailoring takes time, and time takes money, so it’s pretty obvious where the tensions lie. I think generally the smaller the tailors the better the output, and part of the reason we have a shop side is to have a scaleable side of the business away from bespoke, that relieves some of that pressure on bespoke to lose it’s integrity. We are possibly a bit naive, but I don’t ever want to be in a position of making suits with non-working cuffs, machined linings or padding etc. that for me just isn’t bespoke, so it’s important to buttress the business with other sources of income.
I do think a good tailors though should have a strong sense of its own identity. And this goes back to what I was saying about finding a voice etc. I personally really dislike this idea creeping in of marketing tailoring around personalisation and being able to get your dream suit made, that kind of reduces the tailors to automatons. I think instead tailors should have a confident sense of themselves, their style and ideas, and sell that to people.
I think it’s possible for tailors of all sizes to do this, and actually what you’re seeing now is the era of grand old houses in decline, and people much more ready to buy into individual makers, and their talent, tastes, or sensibility, on a more personal level. To some extent something like Liverano was prototypical of that, and is now the same idea writ-large. He’s created a little world beyond tailoring that all flows from him as a guy, and people want to be a part of it. The suits almost become just what you wear when you get there.
It’s a little cultish and it might be too much, there has to be a balance, it can’t overpower the client, but creating a compelling culture around the actual product is important I think. I want people to feel when they have something made by us that it is their own, but is also a share in a way of thinking or being. We really care about how things are made and I want our clients to feel that when they wear our clothes.
In the last few years do you see the number of tailors rising or falling, and for what reason? What are the working conditions like for tailors and how does a career in tailoring measure up in the modern world (pay, length of work, vacation, etc)?
It’s rising. I think quite superficial things like instagram have been very effective at bringing tailoring to a larger (and younger) audience, and that will continue. It’s great as tailoring in the past has been quite atomistic. It amazes me still talking to English tailors about Italians or vice versa, and how little they know of each other, but it’s becoming more of a shared ecosystem, which makes it more attractive to a younger person I think. You really feel like you are stepping into something now, with a tapestry of characters and players and so on, which is nice.
The flip-side is the kind-of false intelligentsia that comes with that, which I know some tailors can’t stand, taking criticism etc. from non-tailors, but it all benefits the industry and shouldn’t be taken too seriously, it’s just tailoring!
As to a career honestly I think tailoring remains quite a poor career prospect vs. others. Working for a house as a maker is not a lucrative job, and the path of starting your own business isn’t any easier. I think most people are in tailoring out of passion, or it’s in their family, which is lovely, but that’s not for everyone. I think it can be a slight red herring nowadays that everyone should chase down their passion no matter what. There are plenty of very happy people I know that aren’t madly passionate about their job but find it stimulating enough, enjoy the people they work with or whatever, and it gives them a good living. Tailoring is a hard industry and people going into it should be aware of that.
What are your thoughts on some of the more recent schools for tailoring? Are they effective?
I never went to a tailoring school so again can’t say, but my impression of them from afar isn’t that great. Right now there are more people wanting to learn about tailoring than there are spots in tailors themselves, so tailoring education has sprung up as a side-industry to tailoring itself, but the two weirdly aren't that integrated. A tailoring course does not necessarily take you to a job in tailoring, or prepare you for being a tailor.
Some of the courses seem quite schematic, and are kind-of a mile-wide and an inch deep in terms of what you learn. Some of it is also just fluff, that doesn’t have practical application in tailoring, projects to ‘design a suit’ or whatever, which is meaningless in tailoring terms. It makes me annoyed actually that people are spending lots of money to go on these courses and aren’t necessarily getting what they thought they were going to get out of them, and I suspect there are some ex-tailors just running them as money-spinners.
On the other hand in the UK there is Newham, which has a long-standing reputation and does feed into Savile Row, so clearly if you want a job on there then that’s worth doing. But generally I would say always persist in trying to get training at a tailors itself.
Do you have any advice for current apprentices? Any advice for those teaching the apprentices? What advice do you have for the clients of bespoke tailoring?
I’m not sure I’m far enough down the road to start lobbing back advice, but maybe it’s more useful from somebody only a few miles on. It’s the usual cliche: hammer on doors to get training, never give up. It’s the only way, unless you get very lucky.
I don’t think I have any advice for clients, but I would say respect the tailors. You wouldn’t tell a doctor or any other expert how to do their job. Tailoring may not strike you as sophisticated but there’s a reason it takes between 5-10 years to get any good at it! I think there is still snobbery around seeing tailors as tradesmen that you can push around.
I read some horrendously pompous comments on blogs, ‘let them know who’s boss’, ‘don’t let them run amok’ kind of thing, and I am so glad when I do that they’re not clients of ours. Bespoke tends to draw in fastidious people by nature but if you’re a non-tailor your understanding of it is going to be limited. You are a paying client so you obviously have rights of complaint and recourse, it’s a lot of money, but don’t be arrogant about it. Clients occasionally want extremes of things thinking it’s terribly clever, but it never is. I know one story of a tailor who chopped up a suit in front of a client who insisted it be made tighter to the point it would pull. His apprentices quit but I respect him for that.
Why is it that when I talk with some tailors it feels as though they are trying to hide something from me, or to not explain the concept to the extent that it needs to be explained?
Hah, I don’t know if that’s true or not. I’m sure it happens and I have heard stories of that kind - tailors that take apprentices that won’t push them, or tailors that don’t really fully engage with their apprentice.
It’s possible and perhaps justifiable though that some tailors won’t give you everything because they want you to earn it. They may also think that if you’re allowed to watch them and have talent then that should be enough, and as uncompromising as that may sound I think that’s fair. The best young tailors I know do not complain that they were not properly taught, and their teachers didn’t exactly do them any favours.
What are some tailors that you admire (past or present)? Who are some people in the community that you see as the “up and comers”? Who were some people/tailors that had a profound effect on you?
There are a lot. The old L. Speciale obviously and various people out of that house but I will let George speak to that as he was actually trained by them.
When I was first getting into it I loved pictures of John Hitchcock’s (ex head-cutter of Anderson & Sheppard) suits, the drape was just awesome and it was kind-of virtuosic how much he was giving them. I think Anderson & Sheppard have toned it down a bit since, and generally there isn’t a lot of drape around anymore sadly.
In London now I think Davide Taub’s (head-cutter at Gieves & Hawkes) clearly an amazing cutter. You see commissions that are quite unusual knocked up in a first baste on a customer and he’s got it bang on, it’s pretty incredible. I like the slight legend starting to gather around him as well, it feels like someone might go get a suit from Gieves & Hawkes just to get one cut by him, and I think tailoring needs people like that.
It goes back to what I was saying earlier, people paying attention and buying into individuals. There are makers in Italy like that - Corcos, Cresent, Ciccio in Japan, small houses built around an exceptional individual with a particular style, where you’re going to get a piece of their work but also their taste etc.
I like Gianfrancesco Musella and his father in Milan a lot as well. He’s a complete tailor, the makings really high level and he’s a brilliant cutter, with real old-world elegance. I actually got a suit made by him just to have some of his tailoring.
I mean I’m really not worried about standards in tailoring, I know enough good ones out there, I’m more worried about cloth! Textiles are now made at a lower cost for the RTW market and modern cloth (even from the best mills) is just not the same quality as the stuff from 20-30 years ago. Any tailor will tell you this, and it’s a slight race to get what’s left. Rubinacci down in Naples have over 60,000 metres of vintage cloth apparently and I would love to steal it!
What makes a true tailor?
I’m not sure it’s really for me to say, I’m not a tailor. Someone that does it all obviously, there’s a thing now in England of people training as cutters without having been makers, and I don’t think you’ll find any old tailor that agrees with that. It sounds trite but I think it’s also nice if they’re a decent person. It’s almost a stereotype for the best tailors to be perfectionists who take themselves incredibly seriously, and aren’t necessarily the greatest humans. When you find somebody that’s climbed that whole mountain with grace it’s a lot more impressive.
Why is it that tailors will talk extensively with news outlets and journalists but not necessarily with their own apprentices or employees?
I think most tailors would be lucky to be talking to news outlets! I haven’t really had experience of that but if you’re asking why someone would be sycophantic to journalists and then a tyrant to their subordinates I’d say welcome to life and the occasional ugliness of human nature! That will happen in all industries and while unpleasant I don’t think it says anything about tailoring in particular.
Would you talk about some of your current projects? What is Speciale and what makes it different? What are your offerings? How does Speciale fit into the sartorial landscape?
Yeh life goes on for us, a little on the slow side given everything but still busy. We’ve got some great overcoats being made at the moment, and one really special linen jacket using a 200 year old dowry linen. The texture is incredible and you can’t really look at modern linen the same way again after seeing it, it might be the first and last linen jacket we make!
How do we fit into the landscape? In a boring sense we are the only Italian-style tailors in London, but beyond that I have no idea. George has re-incarnated a beautiful way of making from the original Speciale that is far more intensive than almost all modern tailoring, and I’m looking forward to seeing the reaction to that. Some of the makers I mentioned above are doing similar things, but it’s a short list. It’s truly special but there are obviously reasons no one makes like that anymore, and we have to make it work in the 21st century, which I think we can. Our challenge is the same as any tailor, to find like-minded people to train, and to find the clients.
On the RTW side I think we’re also gradually building something really cool. We try to work with niche manufacturers of rare quality and do fun things with them. For example last year we worked with Corgi in Wales to do these coastal landscapes on cashmere jumpers, using old intarsia techniques, which came out really well. We’re working with a lovely shirtmaker in Naples that does a lot of handwork, which is so rare now, especially in RTW. We just did a limited summer run of some with Gauguin’s hand-painted onto them, which I think was nice. We’re about to bring Sevenfold ties back to London, which I’m really excited about, as they really are the best ties in the world. We’re developing some really refined jeans, in terms of how they are cut and put together, bold abstract jacquard-woven cashmere blankets, unisex silk socks, it goes on. I like the eclecticism, and I like seeking out these makers, and seeing how we can put our own touch on what they do. I want to do more of it - I’m a bit of a knitwear geek, and am desperate to find the old ‘bare finish’ used in Ballantyne cashmere, for example.
For us it always starts with how things are made, and then we gradually work backwards to design, which I think is probably the opposite of most brands today. I’m not saying it’s better but it means you end up with something a bit different, and I’m excited to see where that goes.