The Yorkshire Tailor – Business Profile
From Savile Row to South Leeds
By Caroline Cook
There can’t be too many people who have shaken Nelson Mandela’s hand shortly after his release from prison, been called to a world-famous hotel to alter a £20,000 Valentino dress for Halle Berry, or been invited into the bedroom of Hollywood actress Kiera Knightley.
But for West Yorkshire-based master tailor Darren Beaman, these ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ experiences were all in a day’s work.
The 49-year-old, whose mum moved from Leeds to the East End of London in the 1960s to work as a machinist for shirt-maker Turnbull and Asser, left school at 16 with no qualifications after struggling with dyslexia as a child. Darren found work in a leather factory where he was enchanted by stories of London’s tailoring capital, Savile Row, regaled to him by one of the cutters on the factory floor.
“Johnny had worked in the factory most of his life and he loved to tell me all these romantic tales about Savile Row,” said Darren, who has moved to Yorkshire to start his own tailoring business in the city where his mum was born and grew up.
“Love affair with tailoring”
“He spoke about Savile Row with such affection, it was as if the streets were paved with gold. So one day I got on a train, wearing my best, and only pair, of smart trousers, and thought, I’m going to give this my best shot,” said Darren.
Arriving at the highly-revered Savile Row, Darren knocked on each and every one of the prestigious tailoring companies that owned premises on the eminent street – Hardy Amies, Tommy Nutter, Harry Herman – only to be moved on to the next door in his quest for an apprenticeship.
Finally he came to the front door of number 30 Savile Row – ‘a dirty old door, I didn’t really want to knock on’ – laughed Darren.
Inside, the teenage Darren met master tailor Dennis Horbury, who looked him up and down, took a £5 note out of the till, and told him to come back to start work at world-famous suit-maker Anderson and Sheppard the following day.
“The £5 was for my fare to work – and that was the beginning of my love affair with tailoring,” said Darren, whose business, The Yorkshire Tailor, is now based in a workshop just south of the city centre.
His apprenticeship with Anderson and Sheppard lasted three years – and he stayed with the company for a decade before moving on to set up his own business as a ‘journey-man tailor’, working for a wide range of different companies and individual clients.
It was during this exciting time that Darren met some of his more famous clients.
“I was sitting at home on a Sunday afternoon when I got a call asking me to come to a central London hotel to do an alteration for some up-and-coming actress,” said Darren.
“I’d never heard of her – but my contact told me to open the newspaper, and there was my client, Halle Berry. I was there within the hour,” laughed Darren, whose famous clientele include Phil Collins, Hugh Jackman, Drew Barrymore, as well as members of the Royal family.]
He even got to shake the hand of Nelson Mandela when he was on his way to visit a celebrity client staying in the same hotel!
“That was incredible, what an honour – but I did have a bit of a panic, I thought he was my client! That would have been nerve-wracking,” he laughed.
Now based in Leeds, Darren and his team of highly skilled staff work to exacting standards to create bespoke clothing for clients from across the UK and further afield. Using techniques that have not changed since the turn of the century, Darren still uses the original pair of shears he was given when he first started work more than three decades ago.
He is keen to dispel the idea that ‘bespoke’ has to mean expensive – and being based in Yorkshire is his idea of heaven.
“Some of the world’s best cloth is produced in Yorkshire – and our workshop is within 10 to 15 miles of many of the UK’s leading mills, which is wonderful.
“We don’t have to pay the extortionate London rents and everything we do is produced in our workshop,” said Darren, who not only hand-draws his patterns, but then hand cuts them on brown paper before ‘striking’ the cloth and preparing the suit for first fitting.
“Teach people your trade”
Much of the garment is sewed by hand to ensure a perfect finish and a perfect fit – and the average time to create a bespoke suit is between six and eight weeks.
Married to fellow tailor Eva, Darren’s roots are firmly planted in Yorkshire and he is keen to give back to an industry he feels passionate about. As well as creating bespoke clothing, he works closely with many of the leading universities in the region, including Sheffield Hallam and Leeds Beckett, to share his tailoring skills with students and give them an insight into the clothing industry.
His training takes him further afield too – travelling across Europe, Africa, the Far East and America to pass on his skills to others.
“I think it is really important that when you become a tailor that it is your duty to teach people your trade – it is vitally important to engage with young people. If you have a skill or a knowledge you need to pass it on,” said Darren.
“I feel incredibly lucky in doing the job I do – I work with the most beautiful fabrics in the world and work in one of the most historic businesses in the world – there really is nothing more that I could ask for,” he said.
To find out more about Darren’s business or to enquire about workshops and training, the Yorkshire Tailor, visit his website at theyorkshiretailor.com