How did you get your start?
I was born into a working class family in London’s East End. I kind of drifted into a tailoring school, where I thought I’d occupy my time while I decided what I really wanted to do when I grew up. But when I got there, I found that I really enjoyed it; I found that I could see it. I can’t draw to save my life, but I can see the curve of an arm hole and construct a paper pattern without the measurements. I can take a customer, cut the pattern and draw the suit. And then once it’s made and on the body, I can do anything to it.
Why did you start your own business?
I had four jobs before I started my own business. I kept on getting fired because I was a very aggressive young man who wanted to learn. I wanted to move on. I didn’t want to take my time. I saw one of my old bosses in a pub once and he said ‘Do you know why I fired you? It was because you thought you could do everything before I was willing to let you.’ I was very arrogant as a young man, but when you start your own business at 21, it’s your money if the customer doesn’t like it.
Where were you at the time?
I started my business in 1971. We were situated above all the boutiques on Carnaby Street. At the time London was absolutely swinging with The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. I was there for seven years before we got a shop front and, though we quadrupled our rent, we doubled our turnover. Back then in London we had to have a shop front to be seen to be good. I built my business purely by hard work and word of mouth.
And then the US beckoned?
We built up a client base in London, but then once my reputation grew I started making regular trips all over western Europe and then onto the States. It all changed when we moved to the US. A lot of tailors and bootmakers were heading there – and I thought if they can do it, so can I. On my first trip I went to New York and Washington DC and I came back with five orders, but that quickly grew to around 120 a time a few years later.
What kind of clients do you attract?
Mostly businessmen, but I do have a good sprinkling of lords, earls and barons from the English aristocracy. And then there’s the American politicians – they particularly like the idea of having a Savile Row suit made by a British tailor.
How do you think that this kind of reputation will translate into Dubai?
Dubai is an interesting concept because it seems that the majority of people here who are making there money are a little bit younger than those you would find in New York or London. I think that you can’t come in with an old man’s point of view. You’ve got to work for your target audience and if you’ve got the skill all you need to do is listen and learn. With our team here and my experience I think we’ve got a good opportunity. A pet peeve of mine is that everyone is starting to look the same the world over. With us you can have something nobody else has, which I’m sure my Dubai customers will appreciate.
Do you change your style to keep in line with fashion trends?
Not necessarily. I might nip it in here and there, but my suits are as fashionable as my client wants them to be. If they want something high fashion, then that’s what I give them. I do everything from wide lapels to sack suits, which I detest.
Why would someone get a tailor to make a sack suit?
I have no idea, but if it’s what the client wants, that’s what they get. Once I had a client in Geneva ask me for a suit that’s exactly the same as a Brooks’ Brothers suit. So I made it and when I gave it to him he said, ‘Why should I pay your price when I could get this from the shop?’ I looked at him and said ‘I really don’t know!’
And you’re doing movie costuming?
What’s interesting about the movies is that they’re period pieces. The first movie I worked on, The Good Shepherd, was set in London over a period that stretched from 1939 to 1964. So we went from thick fabrics with big lapels and baggy trousers to tight fitting, narrow lapels with three buttons. With my work in film, I’ve been to contemporary New York and Paris in the 1950s. It’s great fun. I work closely with the costume designers, looking at all the photographs of the time, source similar fabrics. And then, bit by bit, you build the wardrobe for the actor. In American Gangster, which was set in New York in 1971, I made all of Denzel Washington’s clothes.
Is working in the movie business what you enjoy most now?
I won’t deny it’s exciting. They make me work very hard for my money – I’d much rather it were easier if I’m being honest. But because of the variety, people think that I’m now a better tailor than I was beforehand. Of course I could always do this, I had just never been asked before. The first person I met about doing the movies was Robert De Niro. He directed and starred in The Good Shepherd. He even asked me if I wanted to be in it – so I ended up playing a tailor in London opposite Matt Damon.
What else do you do that’s niche?
I do a lot of high-end hunting clothes for people who want to go shoot birds in Spain or England. I advise people who have not experienced that type of activity before in what to wear. I think this is going to be quite popular with people coming over from Dubai.
Describe a classic suit.
First it would have to be a plain blue. I don’t really like grey suits – I don’t even own one myself. If you have a nice white suit and a solid tie to go with it, you can do no wrong. If that’s too boring, you can mix it up with a striped shirt and matching tie. And with the plain blue you can use the jacket as a blazer when you travel. Single-breasted is easier to wear than double, which you have to have buttoned all the time.
What’s available at your Dubai atelier?
There are three levels. We have an off-the-rack suit, which can be altered to fit the client. These sell for around Dhs4,000 and there are only a few select few to choose from. The next level is measured by Simon Parton, our master clothier who runs the store here in Dubai, and you work with him on the styling, fabrication and matching shirts and ties – if you want to go that far. This costs around Dhs9,000. All the suits go through me in New York. The final level is the signature suit, which requires me to fly backwards and forwards. This comes in at around Dhs17,500. At this level only four people touch it. I measure, cut and fit the suit – it’s literally moulded to the body. There’s a jacket maker and trouser maker who are responsible for constructing the pieces from beginning to end and a lady who sews the button holes and works on the lining – and that’s it.
Leonard Logsdail, Warehouse 17b, Street 6, Al Quoz, Behind Times Square and Spinneys Warehouse, nr. B21 gallery. For appointments call Simon Parton, 050 600 3224. Open Sun-Thu 9am-6pm; Sat 10am-4pm.