On Savile Row, that fabled London street where change is often measured out in milimetres of fabric; 38-year-old bespoke tailor Kathryn Sargent may be its clearest sign of the changing times. With her softly spoken Yorkshire lilt and elegant trouser suit, she makes an unlikely revolutionary but Sargent has been making her mark in a classically male-dominated trade. While her classmates at Epsom College were dreaming of becoming the next Westwood or McQueen, Sargent sought out a decidedly more traditional route after graduation when she became an apprentice trimmer at the renowned institution of Gieves & Hawkes. “Really I wanted to be a skilled worker rather than just a designer. I wanted to be able to fit something perfectly,” she says. “If you know how things are made and know the potential possibilities, you can be more creative. Where else do you learn that except for Savile Row?” And while she was charmed by the history, exclusivity and intrigue of a street which has seen politicians, film stars, heads of state and fashion icons pass through it, her preconceptions were blown away by the sheer rigour of the work. “I found I really had to persevere and demonstrate my keenness. I used to work around the clock trying to outdo the other trainees. I felt like I’d been given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity here and I wanted to become an asset.” In her 15 years at Gieves & Hawkes, she swiftly ascended up the ranks, first winning a prestigious Golden Shears competition, then becoming the first female head cutter on the Row. “I didn’t want to change the world – I’m just a woman who wanted to do a job normally done by a man. I didn’t see it as a big issue but it’s such a talking point. Hopefully it won’t even be an issue in another 10 years.”
"I wanted to be a skilled worker rather than just a designer. I wanted to be able to fit something perfectly...If you know how things are made and know the potential possibilities, you can be more creative."
After breaking through the herringbone ceiling, Sargent took the even more unprecedented step of setting up her own luxury bespoke business last year. She confides, “I probably could have stayed at Gieves & Hawkes and had a very comfortable life but I wanted to go out on my own. It was always something of a secret dream.” She now shuttles between London and the US on private appointments, collaborating with clients on the bespoke process, creating exquisitely cut clothes out of the finest British wool. And while she dreams of someday owning an atelier to rival Norman Hartnell (and to dress Jarvis Cocker in something better than his standard charity shop duds), for now she’s concentrating on growing her nascent business and enjoying the unique status as the first female boss of a Savile Row tailoring firm. “Savile Row has changed so much – I was lucky to come in at a time when it was changing. Now I just want to concentrate on doing really good bespoke work and on making my own contribution to the history of the Row.”
Text by Kin Woo