Antonia Ede and Deema Abi-Chahine are quietly shaking up London’s tailoring scene from a small room above a Soho street. They speak to Glint about the profession’s gender balance, their varied clientele and tailoring suits with silk-lined gun-holsters
“Well, as one of our very dour clients said as he huffed and puffed his way up the stairs: ‘You’ve just got to make sure you’re good enough for the third floor’,” says Antonia Ede of Montague Ede overlooking the higgledy streets of Soho from her turreted cutting room. She’s as dapper as her clients, wearing Prince of Wales wool trousers beneath burgundy braces; carrying them with a grace that belies a timeless quality and snaps the fetters of ‘menswear’.
Ede shares the room that serves as an office, cutting room and workshop with Deema Abi-Chahine, a shirt maker also seeking space to ply her trade. This space is small and far removed from the emporiums of Savile Row: It is cut in two by the ongoing projects hanging above Ede’s carefully catalogued cloths, behind which is a sewing table and small fridge laden with white wine and cold beer for clients coming from work. In the main space are two battered sofas around which Abi-Chahine and Ede orbit, carrying out their work while conversing over the dappling ragtime on the radio. To say it is charming would be trite but it is perfectly unpretentious and thoroughly homely.
Both Abi-Chahine and Ede set up shop on Brewer Street last year following a hectic move which saw friends, peers and well-wishers turn their space from a shell into the welcome sanctuary it is now. Ede initially started at Hardy Amies, on the shop floor, before moving to Huntsman’s cutting floor where she enjoyed the more chance interactions with clients. However she says such firms can often feel too sterile: “Walking down Savile Row there are one or two companies where, if I were a customer, I would not feel particularly comfortable walking in, they’re so ‘clean’. Tailoring is a job in hand-skill and, for me, part of the joy is knowing who has made it, and where.”
There are a variety of pieces on display in her working shop, all in various stages of creation: multiple sports jackets, double breasted suits, tweeds, heavy coats and the odd dinner suit. “They’re traditionally midnight blue because the light in theatres made black barathea look green, whereas midnight blue looks black.” Perhaps the most remarkable piece she’s worked on was a brief for a green, silk lined suit with an inbuilt gun holster and space for $200,000 cash. It’s her current brief that might well be her most memorable though: her fiancé’s morning suit for their wedding.
Ede explains her making process, from taking measures, to striking the cloth, cutting via the method she inherited from her mentor, Pat Murphy, trimming the sleeve lining, the pockets, the lapels, the undercollar and the shoulder pads which are then sent on to her coat maker. It’s a common misconception that a ‘tailor’ undertakes everything under one roof. As a cutter, Ede passes her work back and forth on to a trouser maker, coat maker, waistcoat maker and presser accordingly. A suit will typically take 82 hours she says.
For shirts there is a similar method, but Abi-Chahine is unusual in that she undertakes all the work herself, having gathered enough tips and tricks from the respective makers on Sackville Street during her time under Sean O’Flynn.
Although young, dynamic and Soho based, the fact that Ede and Abi-Chahine are women is nothing new. “There are a lot of female tailors on Savile Row,” says Ede. “It’s an interesting balance — I don’t know any male finishers, I don’t know any female pressers, trouser-makers probably about 50-50, coat-makers about 50-50 and cutters are mostly men.”
As cutters deal with clients, they are often seen as the face of the industry. Ede says the reason there are still more men than women in her profession is that the cutting apprenticeship is a long one. “Companies were nervous about taking on female cutters, you train them up and then they get pregnant and you can’t get the maternity cover because it’s a highly skilled job.” The fact that the clientele is almost entirely male also has some bearing: “It’s a bit of a boys’ club, but at the same time it’s an incredible situation because there’s no pay gap at all. Which is incredible when there are still ridiculous pay gaps in the City. Tailoring is not sexist, it’s just male orientated.”
Part of the fabric
It’s clear they both have a distinct fondness for their chosen profession, speaking warmly of their peers and crediting the widespread camaraderie around tailoring. “Deema and I have been totally bowled over by the amount of support we’ve received from people in the trade. People take a great pride from supporting each other,” says Ede. “If I can’t take a job I’ll recommend someone. Or if a potential client came in and the price-point was wrong I’d always recommend someone.”
When setting up in late 2016, Ede finished at her previous employer, Huntsman, on a Thursday and had her first client in on the Monday. Seven tailors from four different shops helped them set up from scratch, painting the walls and heaving furniture and machinery up to the third floor.
So, given how they’ve made such a mark above Brewer Street is there any desire for the pair to move back to Savile Row and its Mayfair surrounds? “I love being in Soho,” says Ede. “It’s a really pleasant set-up and an exciting place to be. Our clients are so varied — everything from architects and graphic designers to City boys, army colonels, and 16-year-olds being bought their first suit.” Both seem hopeful that they help represent the vanguard for Soho based tailoring.
Do they do anything different now to a tailor 100 years ago? “That’s a good question, probably not. Accounts maybe?” smiles Ede. And that’s what makes it so special: “The whole point of bespoke tailoring is that we’re combining our technical knowledge, understanding of cloth and make, with our, fairly iffy, mental arithmetic, and bringing all that to how the client wants to be seen. Combine this with their creativity, and it’s like we’re…
“Dreamweavers?” jokes Abi-Chahine.
“Haha, I was going to say hairdressers,” says Ede.
Framed in their almost Dickensian setting they could have been here 100 years ago. Ede’s scissors are at least 120 years old, a gift from her first boss; while her measuring ruler has its own arcane mystery: they stopped making such wooden ones in the 1920s and she knows only that this one came from ‘Prewitt’s of Piccadilly’. Given the quiet erudite merit both Abi-Chahine and Ede grant their clients you’d expect their names to still be around in another hundred years, hopefully without having lost the timeless qualities they’ve sewn into their Soho surrounds.