For those who cannot get to Savile Row, then Savile Row will go to them. There is a long history of tailors travelling overseas to Europe, Asia and North America. Read more about this, and Meyer & Mortimer’s footnote in this story, in our blog Visiting Our Customers Overseas. With North American business, at one time, accounting for nearly 60% of Savile Row’s income, one begins to understand the special relationship that exists between ourselves and our North American cousins.
Taking Savile Row Tailoring Overseas
Meyer & Mortimer, and its associated businesses Jones, Chalk & Dawson and Ward Kruger, have a long history of travelling out West to see our customers. That role mainly falls to the director, Paul Munday, who visits New York, Washington and Toronto at least three times a year - as well as trips to Europe and Asia. However, this September, Paul is joined by fellow director, Brian Lewis, who after a ten-year absence is returning to the USA and visiting Canada for the first time.
Brian Lewis has been with Meyer & Mortimer since 1963. After 56 years, Brian recently reduced his working week at the showroom down to three days a week (Wednesday through Friday). With customers making it notoriously hard for tailors to retire, there is no firm date when Mr Lewis will down shears, tape measure and chalk for good.
But will this be Brian’s last trip overseas?
Mr Lewis in the M&M showroom
We return to this later. For now, we join Brian Lewis in the Meyer & Mortimer office on a warm summer morning in mid-August to find out more about his career and his experiences of travelling overseas to see our valued customers.
In The Beginning…
Good morning Brian, you’ve been with Meyer & Mortimer a staggering 56 years; how did it all start?
I had been accepted on an engineering apprentice scheme, but there was a six-week wait until it started. I had an existing appointment; however, with the careers office, so I went along anyway. As I was smartly turned out, they suggested I might try tailoring. I attended Shoreditch College of Garment Trade [now University of the Arts, London College of Fashion]. I liked it, so I cancelled my engineering apprenticeship, and stayed for the two-year course. It was through the college I got the opportunity to join the then Jones, Chalk & Dawson (Meyer & Mortimer).
I started downstairs making (the garments) until about 1971. I was then invited ‘upstairs’ by Alan Kruger to work as a cutter. At Meyer & Mortimer, a cutter is very much a customer-facing role, so I was now meeting them daily, taking their measurements and drafting their patterns. I think I made a good impression in this new role because, in 1973, I was asked to go on my first overseas trip.
Brian & his shears
Where did you take your first overseas trip for Meyer & Mortimer?
Northern Germany, north of the Rhine visiting the British Army based there. I was there to make uniforms for the officers and would stay with them at the mess.
Did you go on your own or with someone?
I went on my own by car. I often got lost. The British Army camps were not signposted and situated outside the main town. I would get there eventually. I’ve been lost all over Europe actually [laughs].
Do you remember the car you drove?
It was a terrible car: a Morris Marina. It was the company’s.
The Morris Marina: Not Mr Lewis’ favourite drive
Did you go anywhere in Europe?
After a few years of going to Germany, I was asked to go to Paris and Brussels. It would’ve been the late 1970s. It was much more agreeable as I was able to take the train so less chance of getting lost. It still had its challenges, though. As a tailor travelling overseas, you often had to carry around four to five cases filled with suits. It was before wheels made their way on to luggage, so you had to rely on porters and taxis for help.
What kind of customers did you work with in Paris & Brussels?
Just like today, most of our bespoke suit customers are in the financial industry.
Pablo Picasso, was a Meyer & Mortimer customer was he not?
Yes, he was. That was before my time (travelling overseas).
Paris in the 1970s courtesy of Alan Burnett via Flickr
They're coming to America
When did you start travelling to North America?
By the early 1990s, I became a director of Meyer & Mortimer, so I was able to make my own decisions on where I went. By then, I handed Europe to someone else and started travelling to the States in the mid to late 1990s.
What prompted the decision?
We were, at that time, relying on a third party to represent us in North America: a tailor who worked out of Meyer & Mortimer on a self-employed basis who would go to the US on our behalf. No disrespect to the individual in question, but we just felt our customers would benefit more by having someone from Meyer & Mortimer over there. So, I started flying over there in the late 1990s.
North America is arguably the best place for tailors to travel. We speak the same language. They appreciate fine tailoring, and they had the funds to pay for it.
Boston, New York & Washington
Where did you travel?
At first, I started going to Boston as we had a few customers there. Then I would fly down to Washington DC, then New York City before flying back home to London.
How long would you go over there?
About a week, give or take a day. Although, after a while, we decided to drop Boston as a few of our customers retired. We concentrated on Washington and New York instead, and we did very well in both cities.
You had a trip planned to New York shortly after 9/11.
Yes, I was planning on being there a couple of days after. I didn’t cancel the trip. I think our customers appreciated that.
Where did you stay in New York?
I stayed at the InterContinental New York Barclay on East 48th.
And in Washington DC?
The InterContinental NYC & The Willard in DC
You do love your history, Mr Lewis.
So how many times were you flying out to the States?
I’d go out there two or three times a year.
Once you arrived at your hotel and checked in, do you see customers right away?
I don’t as a rule. I tend to relax on the day of arrival and see my customers first thing the next day. That way, I feel settled, and there’s no rush should there be any delays. Paul is different. He likes to see customers as soon as he checked in.
Brian’s travel companion Paul Munday
What does your average day look like?
We see customers from 8 am till 6 pm and will, of course, make concessions (earlier or later) if needed. We could be seeing a customer for the first time so that will mean discussing what they are looking for in a suit. I then take their measurements, and we discuss cloth.
For our regular customers, it could be a first or second fitting or delivering the finishing product. It’s very mixed. It is an excellent opportunity to see customers we’ve known for many years, and on occasion, we’d be invited to their residence for dinner.
What does one’s tailor do in the evening?
What else do you tend to do after a day of meeting customers?
Go out to a nice restaurant where they do those superb steaks. Sometimes my wife would fly out with me. I have some fond memories of enjoying the evenings out there [New York] together.
Did you have any favourite places to eat?
Oh yes, a number of them: Maloney & Porcelli on 37 East 50th Street (between Park and Madison Avenues); The Cite Restaurant (120 W. 51st St. (Sixth & Seventh Aves) which I believe has now sadly closed, and Smith & Wollensky on 49th Street & 3rd Avenue.
A favourite: Smith & Wollensky NYC
At one time, didn’t tailors from different houses go overseas at the same time?
Yes, often staying at the same hotel too. I won’t say too much, but it did tend to get a little boozy. We’re a close industry and have more often than not worked together at some point in our careers. It’s a good time to catch up, talk shop and put the world to rights over a drink or two.
You’re known as a lover of the Suffolk brewery Adman’s, particularly their ale Broadside; did you manage to find a suitable alternative when over there?
Yes. Samual Adams do good ale. I forget which one I liked, but it was a good drink to relax with at the end of the day.
Samuel Adams: take your pick
So why did you stop travelling so much?
I wasn’t getting any younger. By my mid-sixties, I thought someone younger can do this now. Paul and I had been travelling together to the USA a fair bit. He’d got to know my customers well, so it made sense for him to take on my customers, as well as to see his own.
Did you miss it?
Yes and no. New York City has a real buzz about it, I miss that and seeing my old customers, but I was glad to the end to the long haul flights.
So what was the thinking behind joining Paul on this trip in September?
A customer of mine in New York wanted me to come out, plus Paul needed a bit of help. He does all the travelling for Meyer & Mortimer, flying out to America, Europe and Asia, so I decided to join him.
Given where you are in your career, could this be the last time you fly out West for Meyer & Mortimer; a swan song or sorts - a last lap of honour?
It may well be, but with business doing well overseas I could end up going out again, you know, to help out.
Are you looking forward to it?
Yes, I am.
Brian & Paul discussing the trip
Is Mr Munday a good travelling companion?
[Laughs] We’ve travelled a lot together. We get on. We work differently, but we understand each other. We’ve been business partners for a long time — we both like a drink. I remember one occasion we were staying near the Waldorf when the then President of the United States, Bill Clinton, was staying. It was late, we’d had a good few drinks, and we were heading back. However, the Secret Service had sealed off a street around the Waldorf, blocking our path to our hotel, and they informed us we had to go a long way around. Well, Paul was having none of this and got quite animated with them at which point I had to drag him away. [Laughs].
Lordy! So you averted a potential major international incident then?
Yes, something like that.
Sadly, not a Stetson
Did you ever go to any clubs?
We also frequented a club called Denim & Diamonds, which was a country music nightclub.
With Mr Munday? [Astounded]
Yes. It was a lot of fun. We’d be there with everyone dressed up in Stetsons and cowboy boots, in our Savile Row suits line dancing until 3am.
I would pay good money to see any photos of that.
Editor’s note: This is corroborated by Paul Munday, who confirms they did and it was a good night out. After researching online, it appears this club, wherever it was, closed its doors in 1999. If any of readers remember this or have photo evidence of Mr's Munday and Lewis frequenting this club, we ask you to get in touch here.
So can we expect any wild night’s out in New York, Washington or Toronto this September Brian?
No, we’re older now. I suspect it will be low key.
Thank you, Mr Lewis, for your time and sharing your experiences with us. We look forward to hearing how the trip goes.
If you would like to make an appointment with either Brian Lewis or Paul Munday please email us here: