The Interview: Timothy Everest, tailor, designer and founder, MbE
Timothy Everest honed his tailoring skills at Tommy Nutter on Savile Row in the 1980’s before going his own way and starting his own bespoke business in East London in 1989. He quickly became one the leaders of what was then termed the "New Bespoke Movement", bringing designer attitudes to the traditional skills of Savile Row tailoring.
In more recent times, elegant casual pieces have been added to his offer and, after exiting the Timothy Everest business three years ago, he has moved onto create a new business and a new shop, at number 1 Fashion Street in East London, aptly named MbE. That stands for Made by Everyone, though it’s perhaps no coincidence that Everest also happens to be an MBE. With the coronavirus currently causing disruption, and giving many a chance to reflect, we caught up with him to talk about his recent past and how he’s moving forward.
What your take on what’s happening now?
These are very peculiar times. I was in New York working on new projects and seeing some bespoke customers at the end of February and the beginning of March, as I’ve just started that side of my business up again, and coronavirus wasn’t really a conversation at the time.
People were talking more about the death of Madison Avenue, Barneys closing and how bad traditional retail was. I was told that there’s something like 60 empty units between 60th and 82nd Street, and it was very obvious just walking around. So, the industry was generally already having a tough time anyway, though there are a lot of businesses doing well online.
Then two weeks ago, all of sudden New York was in lockdown – it’s just unbelievable how quickly this has all happened. My trip went really well and I had some good things set up, but obviously everything is now on hold. I planned to go out there four or five times this year, but now I’m looking more towards the end of this year to go out there again. There is some good things to be done there if people still want to buy some clothing. We measured up some customers, but the thing is we now can’t see them.
To be fair, those customers have been pretty cool about it and are willing to wait it out, so I’m very lucky. We also had a lot of wedding suits business going on and now they’ve all been postponed, but thankfully I haven’t had any cancelled orders, and all of them have paid which is good, but it just puts everything on hold.
How and when did you cease to be involved in the Timothy Everest business?
I’ve not been part of the Timothy Everest business for the last three years. I got into partnership when it was our 25th anniversary, which was about five years ago, to help to build the business and take it to the next level. Unfortunately, this did not work out as planned, which led to me reluctantly exiting my own company. The Timothy Everest business still exists now, but is not me! Although frustrating in that I can’t use my own name, it has given me the opportunity to think creatively and pursue new avenues.
How do you view the Timothy Everest business now?
Observing the current business is very different in that it is just a named brand, established in Spitafields in the 90’s. I actually started out in September 1989 as a bespoke tailor in what was a derelict house on Princelet Street, off Brick Lane. I created a "living brand" that had personality and a story to tell, in what was the beginning of a wonderful journey that made a difference. In this day and age, narrative is key, and if you’ve got some heritage, then that is gold. So, it’s a shame that has been lost, but I wish the new owner every success. I am very proud to have created Timothy Everest and been part of the business for over two decades.
So, what is your new business?
I started a business two years ago called MbE – standing for Made by Everyone. That was an evolution of my previous business, offering a bespoke and made to measure service, along with some ready to wear. I opened a shop at number 1 Fashion Street, just off Commercial Street in East London, just over a year ago.
I had a call from an old "garmento" friend of mine who used to make a million shirts for the high street. His properties were factories and warehouses which were undergoing development. The corner unit, which goes back on to the old factory which is now office space, is now my shop which he let me have a good deal on.
The unit actually used to be an old pub, where one of Jack the Ripper’s victims once drank, and we’ve renovated it to look like the original pub fascia. It’s a really nice building and we’ve got a little coffee shop in the front, and my head cutter, Lloyd, in the window cutting away. We share the building with an architect, Chris Dyson of CDA Architects, so we’ve got retail downstairs and offices we share on the first floor, as well as a small roof terrace which looks back to the City, which is great.
The meeting/fitting room on the first floor is not only good for our bespoke business, but good for our Elder Street creative consultancy business too. I set that up with my partner, Danny Kellard. Elder Street is an evolution of my past work with the likes of Marks & Spencer, DAKS, Rapha, Rolls Royce and Superdry to name but a few. Elder Street has been working on MbE, along with La Martina and McLaren Automotive, and has several projects in play, though on hold just now with the current situation.
On leaving Timothy Everest, I had to get on with something new, and we’ve been very quietly building the business before we start to make a noise. We’ve just started to pick up from what was left behind, and that’s why I was in New York so recently.
What about online and ready-to-wear?
We have a small online presence, but had planned to build a more complete offer from this autumn. That was something we were addressing going forward, as we were actually in the process of getting some new stock in, which we have held off for now. So, with the shop also being temporarily closed, we can’t sell anything. Having said that, I wouldn’t think many people will have clothes as a priority at the moment, although we will be hosting some online experiences exploring the new "Zoom wardrobe".
How is the tailoring business in general?
Tailoring is still relevant, you’ve just got to cut your cloth accordingly, no pun intended. In my previous incarnation in the Timothy Everest business, we had started to explore the future of tailoring, which we’d always talked about. Reacting to our customers, we started making more casual pieces over the last five years or more. We’d noticed that in the City, which had been a great area for business for us, things were getting more relaxed.
We did what we called "shaken and stirred" suits whereby customers could wear them to work, but if they went out for a drink after they didn’t feel like they were still in a work suit. That market was changing, because a lot of people who were in the traditional areas of finance or insurance didn’t want to wear a suit, because they didn’t have to and they also didn’t want to be seen to be selling anything. So, separates and more casual pieces had become more important and, in fact, made to measure has grown dramatically for us because that gives them something they can customise, and also have more immediate wear at a good price point.
Also, the creative industries had moved in to the area where we’ve always been in the East End. They wouldn’t come to a traditional tailor because they only make suits, so we started making chore jackets, work shirts and all sorts of other more casual products, which led to our ready to wear offer. It’s where smart meets casual.
So, you saw more casual pieces as the way forward?
Well, we were looking at a working title and I was basically consulting myself for the first time! I set myself and my team a task – under the working title of Mr Tim – looking at what that wardrobe would be like. We researched the market and looked at a lot of brands and, in particularly why certain British brands get to a certain size and then don’t move forward.
We were also looking at what the newer brands were doing, and that kind of relaxed elegance appearing on social media and so on. We also looked at what the better corporate brands were up to, and the growth of such brands such as Suitsupply. We formulated this idea which has basically now become MbE.
We’d been making a lot of casual pieces, so the whole idea of the shop and "Made by Everyone" is that everything that’s in there has come from a bespoke piece, or something that is similar to what we’ve made for somebody before.
If we think it’s got traction then we make it into a piece that goes in to the collection, like one of the early chore jackets that we originally made for the actor, Ralph Fiennes, using some Japanese Kendo fabric. We’ve got many derivatives of that including one in a Prince of Wales check, and another in a Japanese indigo yarn mixed with a Shetland Tweed yard to make something different. So, we’ve got more casual utilitarian pieces that you can dress up or down. Things like our chore jacket and our "Harrington Deluxe" have become almost like the new blazer.
What’s the "Harrington Deluxe"?
We’ve worked with friends who have historically made for Baracuta. We did this whole "Icon" collection, taking classic shapes and pieces that most people know, but we re-worked and elevated them. We did a little book explaining where the Harrington derives, and then we explained how we owned it, as in our version. The one we made was in a very dark blue flannel which had a sculped facing on the inside – like a tailored suit, but with a very lightweight flannel lining.
Everything has a history and there’s no point playing around with the shapes too much, because they’ve always worked. It’s more about how we own an existing piece as a tailor, so the touch of the fabric, the details on the inside and perhaps a working cuff on the sleeve. Then we show people how to wear it.
How have you done that?
We did a shoot with a guy who’s changing a wheel on a vintage Jensen Interceptor, and styled him up wearing the navy blue Harrington, a Bengal stripe collarless shirt with a little Japanese cotton print neckerchief, a British military pant with one single pocket in a chino colour that we’ve done and some "Playboy" style shoes by Marcus De. It’s to show people how you can be casual but elegant at the same time. That’s exciting and it’s going to become increasingly relevant now.
How do you see the future of menswear?
We’re trying to explore the future and the fact that we are all now going to be working more remotely. You can wear pretty much anything at home within reason, though you may sometimes have meetings via Zoom where people will see you, but ultimately you want to be comfortable. However, there are still going to be the points where you are going to meet people, and I was planning to get back on my soapbox and start to talk about what that modern wardrobe is.
I think the biggest thing that has changed is that people do want to be more comfortable, but it’s how do you stay casual yet elegant. I think that’s the interesting angle. From my point of view, if we stop talking to people about how to dress up, and that doesn’t necessarily mean how to wear black tie, then we’ll all basically just give up and be in jersey for the rest of our lives! So, I think there’s an opportunity there.
Then, on the tailoring side, it’s become less about someone having to wear a suit for work, and more about wanting to wear one. We’ve managed to pick up some new business from young guys who enjoy dressing up more to go out. One guy, in his late 20’s, has a very successful heating engineering company in Guildford. I was being a bit facetious when I asked him why he wanted me to make him a suit. He said he was in combat pants all week, with a tool belt round his waist and a polo shirt with his company name on it. He said it felt really good to get dressed up and take his then girlfriend – and now wife – out for dinner. I’ve made him a few things now.
There are still those special occasions too, not just weddings, but just feeling good and going out. This will become even more relevant after the current crisis. I am positive there will be life after Covid-19 with some creative thinking.
What positives can be taken from your new direction?
The positive thing is we don’t have the overheads we had. We’ve only got four staff at the moment, so that’s all okay – we’re managing to keep them going. I guess we also have more flexibility. Doing something else, and not being "Timothy Everest", means we don’t necessarily have to be associated with what is now the old New Bespoke Movement. I do see a very bright future.
What else might the future hold?
We were negotiating to acquire a small retail business in Mayfair. In principle we’ve agreed terms, but that is all on hold. We planned to do it in September, and some weeks ago that kind of looked realistic, but let’s see what happens.
Our next reinvention is to have a place where we can create the environment that we feel that we need for what we are trying to do. Someone is retiring from an old established menswear business who’ve I’ve known for over 30 years, so we’re looking at merging and creating a new legacy.
Spitafields is in my blood, and where we are located is really cool and trendy, but there we are going to sell more in the way of cut-and-sew T-shirts, polo shirts and some outerwear pieces, like the Harrington. However, for the pure bespoke, you need to be near where all the action is, with the gentlemen’s clubs, bars and hotels. So that’s our next phase, getting back in Mayfair. Watch this space as they say.