"I'm living the dream" says the Huntsman prodigy, Ralph Fitzgerald
Ralph Fitzgerald has one of the most prestigious tailoring jobs in the world, and he is only 23-years old. Savile Row-trained, he is now working as the Cutter-in-Residence at the newly opened Huntsman store in New York. Huntsman has been hallmarked one of the most prestigious tailors, dressing actors such as Gregory Peck and Katherine Hepburn and politicians including Ronald Reagan and Winston Churchill since 1849. Here to speak about how the he is living every tailor's dream, is Ralph.
How did you get into tailoring in the first place?
I started a vocational course in fashion design but soon felt that I wasn't learning enough. At the time, I was also doing an internship for a designer and he said if you are not enjoying your course, you should go try your hand at tailoring. So I tapped on a few doors and ended up working for Doug Hayward's on Mount Street. That was where my love for tailoring all began.
How did you get to Huntsman?
Campbell Carey. When he moved to Kilgour from Doug Hayward's, he took me with him. We worked at Kilgour for 2 years before finally coming to Huntsman nearly 3 years ago. Huntsman had always been the dream, it's the pinnacle of tailoring. And so when the opportunity arose, I was obviously delighted.
Why did Huntsman open a flagship store in New York?
Huntsman has actually been traveling to New York and other parts of the States since the start of the 20th century. But historically Huntsman would visit the customer around 3 times a year on trunk shows and the process of making a suit start to finish could take over a year. And that's not really a service parallel to the one of which our London customers were receiving. So we wanted to take Savile Row to New York to properly cater to our US-based customers.
How do you feel about living in New York?
I love it! I was the first one to put my hand up when Huntsman unveiled their plans.
How was the experience of opening Huntsman Tailors in New York?
It's definitely becoming a proper Home from Home. Our Pied-a-Terre is situated on the 9th floor of this magnificent historic building on 57th; at one time it was Tony Bennett's old studio. On display, as you walk in we have some of Gregory Peck's personal wardrobe that Huntsman made for him over the years, including his dinner suit that he wore to collect his Oscar. The location on 57th street is New York's equivalent of London's Savile Row and a lot of the 11 Savile Row elements are present here too, such as our cutting tables which we've had imported from London, identical to the ones in London. It's truly worth a visit.
How would you say an American customer differs form an English one?
They are very different. The customer in New York tends to commission a wardrobe at a time, whereas a London customer is more likely to commission a garment per season. However, in terms of age and profession the customers are quite similar.
In a Bloomberg interview, you mention that you could have been a doctor for the amount of time it has taken to rise to the position of a cutter. Why does it take so long to become a cutter?
It's such a traditional study. It's one of those things you can't learn fully from a textbook. It's all through experience, trial and error. People who I look up to in the trade and who are quite a bit older than me all say that they're still learning! There are so many techniques for drafting and altering patterns and garments. No form or figure are alike.
How does the whole process of tailoring go from start to finish?
When a customer first walks into our store, they will be greeted by the client managers who will assist the customer in selecting their preferred cloth and styling details. From then on, I'm their point of contact and take up to 35 of their measurements. From those measure and notations, I draft the pattern and cut the cloth and send it to our Savile Row shop. From London, they will make the garment onsite and send them back to New York for a first fitting. We repeat this process until the customer and myself are happy with the fit and shape of the garment, and then it is sent a final time for finishing.
Would it not be much easier to have the whole process done in New York?
Well you would think so, rather than running a garment bundle down a flight of stairs into the workshop, I'm now sending garments across the Atlantic. But the beauty of this day and age is that it arrives first thing the next morning. I believe it's integral that our Bespoke is made on Savile Row. It's almost like Champagne; it's years and generations of heritage and expertise, concentrated in one area. The way a Bespoke Savile Row suit is constructed is completely unique and can’t be replicated.
Do you get many female customers at Huntsman?
Huntswoman is now the term, Elizabeth Taylor and Katherine Hepburn amongst the names. We have a cutter dedicated to all our womenswear garments specifically.
Who do you look up to?
Since I was 16/17, I've been surrounded by incredibly talented people in the workshops; Coat-makers, Trouser-makers, Cutters alike. I've been in complete awe of these people. I suppose I also look up to lots of the past tailoring legends too such as Colin Hammick, Bill Fioravanti, Louis Stanbury, Douglas Hayward etc. I'm always researching.
Do you think the growing fast fashion industry has impacted bespoke tailoring?
No, it's like chalk and cheese. Having the opportunity to enlighten a customer and show them the handwork and craft behind a bespoke suit is just not comparable to anything else.
What has been the most exciting part of working at Huntsman?
Cutting Huntsman suits in New York.
Want to see more of Ralph? Check out his Ocotur