Tailoring Comes Home
by Matt Callard
A Leeds-based bespoke tailor has recently gained a place in the ﬁnal of the illustrious ‘Golden Shears’ competition – the Oscars for the tailoring world. Matt Callard talked to MD James Michelsberg about suits, Savile Row and surﬁng…
Some people fall into success. They’ll discover a natural aptitude for something and, quite by chance, make a go of it. Others are certain of their calling and pursue their goals with a steely determination and assurance. And there are some others who tiptoe about on the margins, dipping their toe in here, trying their hand in there.
When James Michelsberg found ‘the duvet was getting heavier every morning’ during a successful stint as a headhunter for a Harrogate-based technology company, he knew the time had come to stop dipping that toe and finally take the plunge.
He was 31 at the time and had already succeeded in business development, without ever feeling totally satisfied. He’d splashed about in Australia for a year where he “went out to work but didn’t – just had a year of surfing. I still say it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.” When his father, owner of a traditional Bradford textiles company, advised him that he should ‘try and do something he loved,’ the penny finally dropped.
“At first I didn’t even know how to hold a tape measure”
James had always maintained a love for clothes: “One of my loves, my passions, the thing I adored more than anything, was clothes. It’s always been that way from when I was younger and going to Harvey Nics, going to Manchester and spending £400 in Hugo Boss.”
With strong initial contacts on his doorstep, James took a deep interest in the proud Yorkshire art and heritage of bespoke tailoring. “My first taste of bespoke was a friend who worked for Heal Brothers and they used to supply Savile Row with the best cloth in the world. He introduced me to the guy who ran the factory there.”
It was the first step on a journey that would see James examine the tailoring scene with a forensic intensity – the merchants, the cutters, the retailers – simultaneously building up a portfolio of worthy contacts and learning the trade from the bottom up: “At first I didn’t even know how to hold a tape measure. But I met a wonderful man, who’s my honorary grandpa, but who is sadly no longer with us, called Graham Rigby and he trained me how to measure.”
Armed with a list of key companies and confident he could offer a truly English-made bespoke service (most companies, even on Savile Row, outsource their manufacturing overseas) James approached local tailors: “There is a large community – there’ll be a trouser maker, a waistcoat maker, little pockets all over. It took me a while, through trial and error, to find the right people but I had to in order to do the various things I needed – pressers, trimmers – eventually I did it.” With the key elements in place, James founded Michelsberg Tailoring in 2004.
“It’s the most prestigious tailoring competition in the UK”
His instincts are good. The first year turnover was £30k, year two £90k and he’s on target for £150k this year. Plus, the recent news that Michelsberg has made it to the final of The Golden Shears is icing on the cake. “It’s a dream. It’s the most prestigious tailoring competition in the UK, arguably the world because predominantly it’s Savile Row apprentices who submit garments – so it’s Gieves, Anderson & Shepard, French & Stanbury – all their young guns and it’s a showcase for them.”
James makes no secret that he doesn’t ever want to be “sweating in front of a sewing machine”. But that doesn’t mean he’s content with merely being the personable face of Michelsberg Tailoring – he’s recently completed a course at Batley School of Art and Fashion and now, crucially, understands how to make a garment from scratch. “I did that course and passed it and in doing it I’ve made my own pattern. I’ve drafted it and cut it and I’ve put everything together myself. I want to understand if a tailor hasn’t done a seam right – if something’s not right I can now spot it – the course gives me credibility.”
“That’s what I love – the people”
It was certainly something of a crash course. Typical tailor training is four years and it’s a further three years training in order to learn to cut. Despite this mastery of needle of thread, James admits his real joy lies in the social side of his business: “The thing I love most about this business is the kind of people I talk to. Prominent business people, titled people. It’s always interesting to go round a country estate! My customer base is so broad. That’s what I love – the people. And at the end, when they’re delighted with our product then that is fabulous too.”
So is the proud West Yorkshire heritage of tailoring making a return? “Well I love the fact that my brand is made here. Everything has to be the best quality and made in England. I use Worsted cloth. All my cloth is from Huddersfield, apart from one bunch of Italian. Everything is woven right here.”
However, there’s one thing the joys of the West Riding can’t supply James Michelsbergg. That’s his dream of a house on the beach and a decent place to surf. Maybe he didn’t quite get everything out of his system in Australia. But if Michelsberg Tailoring continues its journey to a tailoring paradise – one day, James, one day.
The Root to a Suit – The Process
- Client is measured and consulted
- suit is cut by a cutter
- basted together
- the ‘try-on’ where you can see the bare bones of the garment
- pinned accordingly where needed
- re-ripped apart
- re-cut to perfection
- fitted and handed over
- total time approx 10 days – approx cost £600 for a two-piece