The Old World Tailor: Frank Shattuck
Updated: Aug 22, 2020
Who are you, what is your age and what do you do? Do you have a specialization (ex: coat maker)? Why are you a tailor? What was path that lead you to the decision to become a tailor?
I started my apprenticeship almost 40 years ago with two 85 year old Italian twins in the shop they’d been in since 1930. They made suits for my grandfathers and my great grandfather. I did not look to be a tailor. I would go have lunch with them and then one day I was stitching.
I caught the tail end of the trade 30 years ago. I apprenticed with the greats of nyc. Raphael, Henry Stewart, The Great Toninno Christoforo, the pattern maker Tony Farelli.
How do you see the sartorial world evolving in the next 5, 10 or 20 years? Do you see any concentrations of knowledge about the craft in certain tailor shops or countries?
Tailoring today is a shell of what it was even 15 years ago. The magic of cutting a true individual pattern is gone. It’s all sprezzatura chorizo suits and beautiful Italian handwork but cutting knowledge is gone.
How would you describe what a “perfect” tailor shop would be like? What types of characteristics are important to have in a high-level tailor shop? What type of relationship between the business-side and the making-side in a tailor shop do you feel is needed for success?
If you want to have a good tailor shop business learn to make a pattern for everyday men. Bent over, lopsided, big belly, round back. Make them look elegant. The suit must move with them. So many things go into a collar that stays as it should. Learn the old manipulations in the old books. Your handwork is a tragedy if the suit doesn’t fit.
What are your personal goals as they pertain to tailoring and your own tailoring business? What’s the mission of Frank Shattuck’s “old tailoring ways”?
My personal goal is to make my new hefty customer look elegant as hell. His armholes will be high and his collar will set high and never move. Do you want to know the secret to elegance? A well fitted pattern is the secret.
How do you see the environment around tailoring in the U.K? What are some of the fundamental differences between the Italians and the English?
In Italy and England I see glorified MTM suits today. They are cardboard. No charm. They sell a fantasy. An experience. But not the craft. “Craft has been replaced by Luxury” (Michael Alden quote).
What are the most difficult phases of work in the creation of a bespoke suit and why? How did you learn them and how long did it take you to become proficient?
“Cutting” is conceiving a paper pattern to fit and move with the bends and bulges of an everyday individual. It must be learned like painting a portrait must be learned. Or building a stone cathedral. It cannot be visualized It must be purposefully learned. Cutting from scratch or from blocks is the same if the tailor knows his craft.
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?
My advice is learn as much about making an individual pattern from the old men. That is what has gone. That’s the alchemy. The ancient secrets. Handwork is secondary.
Learn cutting, gentleman. Pattern making for the individual is the true lost art. And it is lost. I see suits today and they most all look OTR. My eye is from the old way of a fitted suit. A totally different sensibility and philosophy of what should be. The benchmarks for fit have been lost. Fit = Elegance.
Why is it that tailors will talk extensively with news outlets and journalists but not necessarily with their own apprentices or employees? Or if you don’t agree with this premise, could you explain why?
Tailors will talk extensively with journalists and news people because that is what tailoring has become. Razzle Dazzle sprezzatura Instagram stuff. Labels and bullshit. Kirby Allison interviews about jetted pockets and lapel width.
Would you talk about some of your current projects? What are the services that you personally offer? How are you able to fit a jacket with Skype or Zoom fittings? How has technology helped you continue your work?
If you told me ten years ago I would be doing skypefittings I’d have laughed. But I have mastered it. I have re-learned how to read a customer through photos. My newest customer has had suits made all over the world. Mine will be his best.
What made you feel compelled to make the suit for Anthony Bourdain? Did his character have an influence on you? What is one thing that you took away from that experience?
Anthony asked me to for the video. Every customers influences his suit. Some things work with some customers and not for others. What I took from the experience is that Anthony might have come across a bit smug on his show but in person he was beyond humble and down to earth. He treated the most unnoticeable person with dignity.
Note from Frank: