We chatted to head cutter Dario Carnera about inspiration, history and eccentric suiting requests
Where does one begin with Huntsman? 1809 is perhaps the logical place, the year the breech-makers was founded, before being taken over by the taylor, Henry Huntsman, in 1849. From thereon the Huntsman brand was known for its hunting and riding wear quickly picking up royal warrants into the 20th century. The tailoring brand moved to Savile Row in 1919, just in time for the roaring 20s where the shop would acquire a roster of famous clients including Cecil Beaton, Laurence Olivier and Bill Blass. It was also during this time that the shop acquired a pair of stags’ heads, after a customer left them and never returned to pick them up.
It was in the 30s that the shop went from tailors to iconic bespoke British institution thanks to the transforming influence of Richard Anderson. Huntsman has remained high-profile ever since, dressing everyone from Gregory Peck to Ronald Reagan, and of course Matthew Vaughn – the director of Kingsman: The Secret Service the action comedy inspired by Vaughn’s experiences in the shop where he was measured for his first suit at the age of 18. We caught up with head cutter Dario Carnera to see what has changed over the years one of the world’s foremost taylor.
Did you always know you wanted to work in tailoring?
My father was a bespoke shoe maker so I have taken in Savile Row since I was a kid and I have always looked at it from afar. I was quite intimidated by it as a kid actually. It was always intimidating going into the shops. My father knew a lot of the tailors, but he said if I wanted to do it, I would have to find a job by myself, so I literally went knocking on doors asking for an apprenticeship and I was lucky enough to get one in the end.
Has Savile Row changed a lot?
In some ways yes, in some ways no. It’s a lot more open, I would say, and accessible now. It was always a pretty close world and it was always very exclusive, it still is to a degree. The way the suits are cut and made hasn’t changed at all and it hasn’t changed for about a hundred years or so really. They’re all still made by hand. The shears I cut the fabric with are probably about a hundred years old, I’m about the fourth generation of cutter to be using the same shears. They get passed down. I don’t think you would be intimidated walking in a shop anymore. In those days you would walk in a shop and all you could hear is the clock ticking.
Any there any characters that stick out from your early days on Savile Row?
It was always a very stern environment. We had a head cutter here, Mr Hammick, I wouldn’t say he was a tyrant, but he was very strict. He had a very strict regime, you had to work and not talk and things had to be perfect. We don’t talk to the youngsters so much like that any more, but I will come down on the guys if something’s not right. We’ve got to be perfectionists. People are paying a lot of money for these suits, so we’ve got to make sure it’s right, and we do.
What inspired you to join the industry?
I saw what my father was doing and it was something I was always interested in. I was interested in clothes and the practical side of it and seeing it all come together is so rewarding and to know you’ve made something that good. I still get a buzz from it, every suit I cut and inspect. It’s a great feeling.
Do you think that Savile Row has become more competitive? Have the same amount of people always been going for these jobs?
More so now than when I started. There’s probably not a massive pool of tailors on Savile Row of my generation. It’s probably a bit easier in that respect for me. Especially over the last few years it has become more popular and there’s a lot of youngsters trying to get in and unfortunately we’re at a stage where we’re running out of space for people. Otherwise, we’d happily take more people in.
What do you think that uptake is down to?
A lot of things. I think you had the generation where everyone wanted to go to university and I think now, they’re becoming a bit more vocational. People are realising you can have a rewarding career without a degree. You get qualifications from this. You can make a good living from it, you’ll probably never get rich, but you can get a rewarding career from it and a sense of achievement. It’s a great atmosphere around here too. A real sense of community.
What’s a typical day like at Huntsman?
We all get in pretty early, behind the scenes getting things ready for the day, making sure the shop is as it should be, fitting rooms all ready with chalk and pins. Generally, we’ll then have meetings about what’s going to happen through the day and what customers we are expecting, then we’ll open the door and see who comes in. We probably have an average of ten to twenty fittings per day. We never rush people, so however much time is needed, we’ll spend it with them. We try to look after people, get them a coffee. The main thing is to make people feel comfortable here, especially in the fitting room. When we’re fitting somebody, we want them relaxed.
What does the role of Head Cutter involve?
My job is to oversee all the making and fitting around here. We’ve got the other cutters that are more than capable of doing everything, but we’ve got a house style and there’s standards we’ve got to keep and it’s my job to maintain those standards.
What attracted you to the Huntsman brand?
I came here firstly, about ten years ago. To me, Hunstman was always the top shop on the row, which makes it one of the top places in the world to work. It was a great ambition of mine to come and be a cutter here and it’s great to have achieved that.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
A lot of my predecessors really. I watched from afar and these guys were always high in my estimations and their level of skill and perfection was always something I wanted to emulate. That’s the thing, you are always learning in this. I never really call myself an expert because I’m learning every day, trying to be the best I can be and I’ll try pass on what I can before I retire off.
Are there any suits you’ve made recently that have stood out?
Yeah, we did one recently, something we’ve never done before where we’ve chosen a cloth and made a tie dye suit. We got a natural white linen and we did the tie dying, a bit experimental really, we didn’t necessarily know how it would come out and actually it came out really well, we were really pleased with it. Something that’s going to get noticed.
Was that controversial?
Some would say, but ultimately we’re a bespoke tailors and we’re here to make people what they want. We will draw a line somewhere, but it was an interesting project and it came out really well.
Have you had many other eccentric requests and styles?
Nothing too crazy, we do draw the line somewhere because we’ve got to remember our label’s in it. It is bespoke tailoring so people come in and they can get what they want, we’ve got a house style that we try and encourage people to have, but ultimately it’s not going to fit everybody. Most people come in for advice really, there are some people that come in with a specific idea of what they like but a lot of people come in for advice as much as anything, what will suit their shape, colours etc. We’ll go through a lot of question with somebody when they’re placing their first order as to where they live, do they travel a lot?
What do you think the future of tailoring looks like?
I think at the moment, very healthy. We’ve got quite a few youngsters that want to learn this which is great and we’re doing what we can do bring as many through, there’s a lot of talented youngsters out there and we’re going to do our best to nurture that.
Finally, if you could live in any era for its tailoring. Which one would you choose?
Personally, most of the patents and designs I go back to are Victorian or early 20th century. I think they had some great clothes they were wearing then. My personal tastes has always been simple elegance.