Material vision: Hertfordshire tailors and dressmakers
PUBLISHED: 15:40 12 April 2016 | UPDATED: 15:59 12 April 2016
Tailoring, dressmaking and clothes design are alive and well in the county. Louise McEvoy meets three creatives with a passion for fashion
With his own label founded in 2010 and his designs showcased at London Fashion Week, Luke Archer’s flair for fashion is blindingly apparent.
Born in Stevenage in 1989 and brought up in Hitchin, Luke was interested in graphic design until a tutor at North Hertfordshire College suggested he try his hand at fashion and textiles. This gentle nudge in a new direction, began with learning the basic skills of pattern cutting and garment construction and led to Luke Archer Studio in Letchworth where he creates his collections and bespoke garments.
‘I get inspiration from many things. Shiny things fascinate me and I adore working with material that may to some seem ill-fitting, but somehow I find a way to make it work to achieve the look I want,’ Luke explains. ‘I strive for individuality and I also to create curiosity around the garments that I design and make. I believe that to make an impact in the industry you really do need to think outside the box and not follow the leaders. I’m never afraid of taking risks when it comes to materials or construction techniques.’
He looks to the past too for inspiration, studying how clothes were made before modern machinery was available.
‘I find it fascinating how people from, say the 1800s, created such wonderful garments by hand. They were all works of art. They were not trying to set a trend as much as they were trying to stand out as individual, and I can relate to this.
His latest collection, shown at this year’s London Fashion Week, was inspired by reptiles.
‘I try to make my clothes, especially my showpieces, as works of art – something that hasn’t been seen before, something that makes people surprised or shocked.’
Luke intends to expand his fashion label and to have a team of assistants working to create the garments he has designed. ‘When that happens I know I’ll have truly made it as a designer,’ he says.
The unlikely tailor
To have started your own menswear company at the age of 23 and expanded it before you hit 30 is impressive enough, but, to discover Paul Monks’ entry into the fashion world wasn’t by design, it’s truly remarkable.
Paul opened Purple Menswear on Harpenden High Street in 2009, and last year established a second store on Berkhamsted’s High Street, offering casual and tailored suits for brands such as Hugo Boss, Armani, Belstaff and Michael Kors.
‘I fell into fashion, or more specifically retail, completely by accident after I finished college – studying sport science – and needed a job,’ confesses Paul. ‘I have never looked back.’
While his career in the fashion industry may well have taken him somewhat by surprise, his enthusiasm for style was apparent. ‘I have always had a passion for clothes, especially at the higher end, and when I was a boy and everyone was saving up for computer games I would be saving up for my new item of designer clothing,’ he remembers.
‘Purple was created because I felt men needed a place to shop in Hertfordshire when they can get a high level of service from well-trained staff in a relaxed environment.
‘The secret to a great suit is always fit. You can have the most expensive suit, but if it doesn’t fit properly then it’s not going to look like it is worth the money you have paid for it.’
Paul believes the desire for a good quality suit is the key to the longevity of the traditional craft of tailoring. He says, ‘I think people are happy to spend that little bit more money on a made-to-measure suit because they know they are getting a high level of service. My clients love the fact they can become the designer, and it gives me the opportunity to apply the very latest fashion trends to my garments.’
Having found his true calling Paul hopes to expand even further to a third shop this year.
‘I live and breathe fashion. I think if you can come into work every day and love what you do, then you are in the right job for you. That is exactly how I feel.’
The couture designer
Old Hatfield designer and dressmaker Wendy Jonas began learning her craft as a little girl, making dresses for her dolls, and inherited the talents of her mother, who would design and make her daughter’s clothes.
She studied at London College of Fashion for four years and, as soon as she left, started her own business – Wendy Jonas Couture Designs. Twenty-four years later, she can safely say she has made a successful career out of her passion, creating exquisite bespoke dresses and women’s trouser suits for all manner of occasions and all shapes and sizes.
‘I love to make clothes for real women with real figures and to make a lady feel special and comfortable so she gets lots of compliments, even if she’s not secure about her figure.
‘I love most eras of fashion, except the 1980s – the puffy sleeves and huge ballooned evening and bridal dresses were awful. I love 1940s bias-cut dresses that drape beautifully, 1920s evening wear with lace and strings of beading and fun headdresses, and day dresses in the 1960s with bright colours and geometric shapes. But I would have to say the 1970s was my favourite era – perhaps because I was a 70s baby.’
Wendy has recently made an exciting departure that will see her outfits reach a huge new audience. She explains, ‘Over the years I have made everything from dance costumes to Elizabethan period gowns for the banquets at Hatfield House, but last year I made some of the costumes for a major motion film to be released in 2017, which was a new venture for me and really exciting. Unfortunately the details are still secret, but watch out for my name in the credits!’
Wendy says for anyone thinking of taking the trade to follow their ambitions with love and hard work. ‘I still really love my job and I proved to my dad that I could make a living out of my passion.’