How one small business is updating traditional English tailoring for a new generation.
For Luke Sweeney, the decision to get into the business of making and designing clothes wasn’t some grand philosophical one. “For me, it was purely visual,” explains Sweeney, who co-founded London tailoring brand Thom Sweeney with Thom Whiddett in 2007.
Still, as he and Whiddett prepare for a U.S. trunk show at New York’s Bergdorf Goodman on September 25th and 26th, Sweeney notes that there’s some family heritage in the mix. “My dad, my family, were always in the clothing industry. And every time I saw tailors working in the cutting room, or coat makers making jackets, everyone looked smart, everyone looked cool, and I just wanted to be a part of it. I didn’t know anything about the business side of it, I just knew I wanted to be a part of it because everyone looked so great.”
Sweeney got his start working in fabrics and measuring for an established tailor, Timothy Everest, who trained under the legendary—and legendarily quirky—Tommy Nutter. It was at Everest’s bespoke atelier where he met Whiddett. The latter man, for his part, fell into the world of bespoke almost by happenstance. While working for Esquire UK, he went along on an interview and met Everest. And things fell into place. Soon, he was working as a cutter, tracing and cutting patterns for garments. “I love the industry and wanted to learn the trade,” says Whiddett. “I wanted to kind of soak it all up there, and then we could do our own thing later on.”
The business did grow, though. And by 2014—after years of customer requests for ready-to-wear options—Thom Sweeney decided to break out of the bespoke world and introduce a seasonal collection to complement their custom offerings. It launched exclusively with online retailer Mr Porter, with whom Sweeney and Whiddett already had a relationship: Mr Porter’s editor-in-chief, Jeremy Langley, was a bespoke customer. The tailoring duo was confident that it was the right outlet.
“We wanted to keep it tight,” explains Whiddett. “We don’t want to be sold everywhere. We want to, in an ideal world, pick and choose the right partners who can buy and sell it correctly, and with Mr Porter, we were really confident that they were the right guys to do it.”
Now in its fourth season, Thom Sweeney’s ready-to-wear collection is the natural outgrowth of its bespoke business. Marked by rich fabrics, muted colors, and a house cut that’s a little slimmer, shorter, and softer than traditional English tailoring, it’s the kind of stuff that even guys who don’t have to wear a suit every day can live in. It is also impeccably tailored, even straight off the hanger. Turns out obsessing over things like armhole height, jacket length, and lapel width for seven years is a pretty good way to iron out all the details so crucial to well-fitting clothing.
“You have to find a garment with those details,” notes Sweeney, “but not gimmicky or in-fashion. You try and create pieces that you can take out of the wardrobe in two or three seasons’ time and they still look current and modern.” To that end, though, both tailors look to the fashion world for inspiration from time to time, they eschew the capital “F” designation—and the often over-tight jackets that grace so many runways.
“I have nightmares about it,” says Whiddett of the so-called fashion jacket. “We always have our customer in mind, and I think our customer doesn’t really buy into that. I think if you’re going to wear something that costs you decent money and last a while, it should be made well. That’s really our focus.”
That doesn’t mean frumpy, though. Thom Sweeney may be informed by the classics, but the end goal is to create garments that are modern, cool, and impeccably constructed. The duo credits their ability to toe this line as the main reason for their success. Says Sweeney: “I think that’s why we’ve really tapped into a market. There aren’t many young tailors doing it the old way with a modern take.”