Lessons From a Master Cutter feat. Leonard Logsdail

February 11th, 2015

As we’ve discussed recently, the true art of bespoke tailoring is a dying one.

Thankfully, there are still a handful of experienced craftsmen who are cutting garments the old-fashioned way, by hand.

We had the honor to meet one of these experts recently. His name is Leonard Logsdail and he’s one of the most widely respected pattern-makers and cutters in the business. 

Len’s career might seem all glamor now; hand-making suits for the world’s most discerning menswear buyers and A-list celebrities alike, but the road to get there was no walk in the park. His story is one of chasing passions, making mistakes, and persevering at all costs – as you would likely find with most successful entrepreneurs.

I left school at 15 and went to tailoring classes only to fill in a gap while I decided what to do with my life… I walked in to the shop and simply fell in love with the whole thing. I found I could see the shapes and ‘feel’ the fabrics as though I had been doing it for years.  If ever there is love at first sight, this was it.”

But, as it turns out, it takes a lot more than passion to be a great cutter. By 21, Len had already been fired by three tailoring houses in London. Down on his luck but not discouraged, he decided to up the ante and start his own business with a fellow tailor named Brian Burstow.

“And that’s when it started going down hill – rapidly. The regular wages I had been receiving were exchanged with non-existent rewards for suits I had made for clients who declined to accept them. At 21 I realized that, perhaps, I did still have a lot to learn. Luckily for me, back then there were no bloggers who could rip my aspiring abilities to shreds.  If there had been, I doubt I could have lasted.

My early days of being self-employed saw me doing long hours of alterations to make ends meet. I worked from a 4th floor hovel above a boutique at 47A Carnaby Street, at the time a mecca for fashionable London. From there, with just an initial base of only 2 clients, I was able to gradually build a UK following and begin to travel and meet clients throughout Western Europe. Very soon I found that my life consisted of cars, trains, ships and planes, and, of course, the cutting room. I loved it!  I loved the excitement, the hard work, and the wonderful people I met. But most of all I loved being an entrepreneur. I found that I had an eye for my work, too.  I could see the shape of a pattern in my mind while measuring a client and could see the finished product in my mind as I cut the suit.”

“We had finally paid our dues, and we were no longer seen as up-starts. And so, business flourished. In fact we went on to own Denman & Goddard, Carr, Son & Woor and Hicks & Sons, three of the oldest and most established tailoring houses within the golden Mile of Savile Row.  All seemed well, for a short time… Then I made my first trans-Atlantic business trip – and began a whole new love affair.  Not with a person, but with America!  This country had everything I had wanted, but hadn’t realized that I did.

My first trip consisted of two days in New York at the old Biltmore Hotel, and 2 days in Washington DC.  I sold 12 suits and was thrilled.  On my second visit I sold 8 suits and on my third, only 6. Burstow was pulling his hair out at the money we were losing (on travel expenses and accommodations).  I told him that I felt I could make it work and the effort and initial losses would pay off.”

Len eventually went on to part ways with Burstow and move his family from London to New York City, which meant starting over from scratch and developing an entirely new business and book of clients.

“When we arrived at JFK all we possessed was our daughter, the baby my wife was pregnant with, and whatever was in the 4 suitcases by our side.  We were starting from scratch… Once we settled I remember walking along Park Avenue when it suddenly hit me that I had no work to attend to.  No work in progress. I suddenly realized the daunting task I had given myself of building another business from the ground up.

Luckily it wasn’t long until I hit the honeymoon period with the American press. At the time they loved the idea of someone giving up an established Savile Row business to start a new life in the land of opportunity.  My good friend, Bruce Boyer, assisted greatly by writing a bit about me and bringing in other writers to do the same.  This boost of publicity gave me the leg up I needed to set me on my feet.  Now, don’t get me wrong, it was still an enormous struggle, but steadily I moved, occasionally backwards, but thankfully, mostly forward.”

After thousands of suits and forty three years of tailoring experience, along with riding the highs and lows of entrepreneurship, Len is finally sitting comfortably in his midtown Manhattan studio as one of the most respected pattern-makers and cutters in the business.

The two jacket above are awaiting a next fitting from a Mr. Tom Hanks, one of his many high-profile clients. When asked who his best-dressed clients are, though;

“I believe i know two people who I would say are extremely well-dressed and ‘as good as it gets’. They love clothes and can afford to have them made, so they wear garments that are tailored to perfection, with style and have character.  They happen to be brothers. I am, of course, talking about Dr. Keith and Dr. Andre Churchwell.  

As far as favorite projects, I’d have to say the movie work. The wardrobes are always interesting and they test my abilities as I have work in different time periods.  Wall Street 2, for example, was current. Winter’s Tale had me making clothes styled in 1920. Julie and Julia was Paris 1950. American Gangster was Harlem 1971… That kind of work is challenging and exciting.”

Reflecting on a long and adventurous career, Len shares the simple approach to his success:

“My approach is but a simple one. I keep my head down (quite literally most of the time) and get on with my work and try to produce the best quality garment I can.  I figure that, if I do my job properly, my business will flourish and my income will be steady. I’ve been self-employed for 43 years now, so I guess it’s working.

Should a person now comment on my abilities and ask what my secret is, I tell them that I simply love what I do and consider myself an expert on the nuances of a man’s body.  It’s right there, when you have the body in front of you and your hands on the shoulders as you measure, that you win or lose. What you see and take note of at that time is far more important than the measurements you take…. My job is not only to make the garment, but ensure it represents what the clients wants form it.  If it’s trendy, I’ll do it…but my clothes are expensive and not many of my clients are interested in a suit that will not pass the test of time.”

And the other secret I learned is honesty. Everyone wants to make a sale.  It’s how we live and provide for our loved ones.  But what if a client picks a style or fabric that will not suit him?  Too many people go for the sale and will justify and excuse their actions by stating that it was what the client wanted.  Well, I tell them frankly what my opinion is, good or bad!  They don’t have to take my advice, but they sure have to hear it!”

Thanks, as always, for reading and special thanks to Len for participating!

Yours in style,

Dan Trepanier

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