The Riddle Magazine
Precision Cut in Crewe
The Lutwyche workshop in Crewe should be a mecca for those seeking the finest hand-made tailoring with the tailor now introducing his Tony Lutwyche Academy range
Article by Rupert Watkins Photography by Andy Barnham
Nestled in an unassuming industrial estate a 10 minute drive from Crewe station lies an epicentre of English tailoring excellence. The Lutwyche workshop has been in its current location for four years, though chatting with workshop manager Mark Farrington and chief pattern designer Victoria Weston, Tony Lutwyche’s involvement with Crewe goes back over 11 years and the town itself has had a history of menswear manufacturing for many decades. Today the workshop remains the heart of Lutwyche’s tailoring operation and is also home to the Tony Lutwyche Academy (TLA).
It is not unusual in tailoring to find extremely experienced artisans and this workshop is no exception. Victoria remarks both her and Mark have been in the business for over 30 years each and one recent employee retired at 75 having worked for 60 years for both Lutwyche and his predecessors in the town. The workshop has a modest 38 strong workforce, with six under the age of 25 – a good omen for the future health of this most English of crafts.
Over the past few years, the workshop has developed an in-house training system, the TLA. Whilst at any one time, two or three or the most recently employed artisans will be effectively in a full apprenticeship programme to get their initial skills up to the standard expected, this training and mentoring has allows all the workforce to diversify and expand their skill sets, “We didn’t want to continue along the route of one person specialising for an entire career in one tiny area” Mark remarks. The TLA system allows any of the workforce to add to their core specialism, and if they enjoy their new area (within the constraints of not unbalancing production capacity) spend some time working within it.
Walking around the workshop floor, Mark explains that the team attempt to set aside Fridays for in house training and development. So someone whose current expertise lies in, for example, sleeves, can be trained – under supervision by the workshop’s experts – in, say, cutting and constructing the hand stitched full floating canvases Lutwyche uses on all its suits and jackets. Mark points out a couple of the staff who through this unique personal development system have learnt to make, and have made, complete jackets. “Whilst they might not do that on a regular basis our training means that they do have the complete skills, “Mark remarks. “They feel they can have true ownership of that final garment and everyone gains a mutual respect for each other’s skills – they know the work that has already gone into a garment by the time it reaches them,” and this in turn leads to a remarkably high level of self-policing quality control. This cross pollination of skills also allows for a more seamless production process as there is clear redundancy in the system.
The staff are by a huge majority local, “they’ve been drawn to us as they are passionate about fabrics and garment making,” Victoria explains also proudly pointing out that when local college textile lecturers have visited the workshop, “they have been blown away by the depth and quality of the training and the standards that are expected here.” This passion does translate into loyalty and the longevity mentioned at the start of this article, “people only leave if they fall out of love with textiles,” Victoria smiles.
Moving through the workshop, it is quite clear an obsessive level of attention and care is shown at every stage, quite the equal of any bespoke workshop be that in London or Naples. All the horse hair canvases are wetted and then left to dry before they are built up, lining is sewn in and excess lining cut out by hand, collars are hand basted and all sleeves are attached by hand. All the garments from the jacket button holes to the hook and bar on the trouser waistbands are hand finished. Each garment takes between 30 and 50 hours to make.
As well as the core Lutwyche made to measure offering, his ready to wear range for Saks and an exceedingly small number of third party customers the factory makes for, Lutwyche is introducing the TLA range. As Victoria explains, “you cannot train or practise in isolation, you have to practise on full garments to understand how and why everything sits together.” The TLA range is the result of this remarkable workshop’s in house training. “We want people to expand their skills, push their tailoring boundaries but all the while fully mentored so still creating a stunning product,” enthuses Mark. As these are the foundation blocks for Lutwyche’s full custom offerings they still have almost the same amount of time put into them, usually taking 20 to 25 hours to make. With the amount of hand stitching and finishing along with standard full canvas the results are still amongst the very finest ready to wear suits available.
Making for Lutwyche’s US custom base, both Mark and Victoria comment they see many customers going for a bolder check, often in a lighter cloth, than would be seen as quite acceptable over here. Driven by demand from clients on both sides of the pond as well, they have also expanded into shirt making. “We had no pre-conceived ideas about shirts,” recalls Victoria, “we went into the area looking at bring our tailoring knowledge into shirt-making and to develop our own style and cut.” As such Lutwyche shirts are constructed with a similar ethos to their jackets; collars and cuffs are hand sewn, there is a full yoke, cut away collar and all shirts have an offset underarm seam to set the sleeve in a more comfortable and elegant position (look at your own shirt – it is likely to have one long seam from the hem through the armpit down to the cuff in an attempt to save money and time). As those shirts or suits are made, the workshop also sends photographs and updates to waiting clients – an understandably much appreciated and popular way of making a distant customer feel part of the process as well as clearly seeing the sheer artisanship and attention being lavished on his order.
Certainly compared to the more one-dimensional specialisation in some traditional tailors, Lutwyche’s TLA programme stands out as a modern and methodical way to keeping the finest tailoring alive in this country. It allows a cross pollination of skills and career long development, alongside a business oriented mind-set that gives the workshop the capacity to adapt to surges in demand. Some of this flexibility is also due to the fact the firm has only been in this workshop since 2013. Mark comments they had the luxury of setting up and optimising the layout from scratch and further refinements will be easy to introduce moving forward.
With Crewe’s history of menswear manufacturing both Mark and Victoria remember a time when factory shop sales bought queues down the street. The Lutwyche workshop does today still have a small shop and for those in Cheshire seeking a truly outstanding handmade ready to wear suit, I encourage you to head to this industrial estate and the tailoring mecca found there.