David Chambers is a veteran tailor trained on Savile Row and worn by some of the biggest names in fashion, music and film. He now designs for Basic Rights.
We sat down to talk what matters in menswear, the value of experience and what it takes to style some of history's most stylish men.
Tell us who you are and what you do with Basic Rights
I’m a tailor and a craftsman first and a designer second. I’ve been designing and making hand-made suits for decades for all kinds of interesting people. At the moment I'm making suits for Winston Marshall from Mumford & Sons, Harvey Keitel. Quite a few others.
For Basic Rights I create patterns and designs that end up as the final pieces. The stuff you see here.
Can you tell us about your background?
Well I’ve been in the business a long time. I started out at Anderson & Sheppard on Savile Row and did an apprenticeship there. While I was there I was a trouser maker. Somewhere round 1968-69 that was.
The thing about Savile Row though is you only learn one craft but I wanted to learn everything. So I went to night school and learned tailoring. While I was there I did jacket making, overcoat making, waistcost making.
The funny thing was all the teachers were tailors from the business so it was the same bloody people, and the same education as you’d get across the whole lot on Savile Row.
Eventually I left there, went and learned womens, started making for David Hockney and it took off.
Tell us what matters most are when it comes to menswear.
Menswear? Easy! It's details! It’s always about details.
You see, this t-shirt isn’t just made using any old crap. We chose 100% micro French terry cotton, which makes the t-shirt durable but still soft. It gives it structure without it being stiff, and so it complements the body, you see?
The trousers, too. We chose a Japanese cotton for this one which gives it a versatility between formal and casual. With the right amount of tapering below the knee and the pull tabs that feature at the waist you get the effect. Anyone could have a go at these, but I’ve been making handmade suits for decades and that means that I know what those little details are that matter. That inch here, or that button there.
Are the trousers a favourite?
Oh for sure. The boss I worked for when I did my apprenticeship taught me trousers so I’ve always loved making them. He used to cut for Valentino and Fred Astaire and he taught me all the little intricate details about how to make trousers. It’s an art. It’s where I started and I’ve been talioring trousers for almost 50 years now.
It’s about creating something that actually works on the body and works for the person, rather than some shoddy imitation. You can see that a mile off.
Your experience helps you see that?
Exactly. When I work with clients, say they want a black suit. Well there’s a hundred shades of black. But I won’t show them those hundred shades, I’ll show them three knowing that they’re the right shades for them. Because after all that’s what they’re paying me for. For my experience. It’s taught me what looks good and what doesn’t.
Making stuff we’re proud of. For us that’s everything.
What else is important about Basic Rights?
I’m a big believer that great clothing shows the person as an individual, even if it’s two people wearing the same thing. It’s like a canvas for your personality.
I’ll give you an example. A while ago a client of mine that works in the food business found himself sitting next to David Bowie in Japan. This bloke couldn’t look more different from Bowie. Big guy, bald but with a pony tail. Anyway during dinner Bowie turns to him and says “we have the same tailor.”
He recognised the make! He knew they were from the same hand! I thought ‘now that is a compliment’.
Talk to us about dressing Bowie then, what was that like?
It was great! I made for him for over ten years. The first suit was Live Aid, that light blue one he wore. Then there was the Let’s Dance tour, after that I did a lot of personal stuff for him. After Bowie is was Freddie Mercury, Tom Ford, Terence Conran. The list goes on.
Bowie in one of David's creations
What do people like that come to you looking for?
They’re looking for something different. Something of the highest quality that will fit the brief.
And you’re doing that at Basic Rights?
Exactly. It’s about taking a classic idea and realising it.
You know, there’s a million ways to make a plain t-shirt, but if it’s going to be any good you have to know a) why you’re making it in the first place and b) how to make it right.
We’re making these to be those old favourites that you keep going back to. And we realise it with the cut - the way it’s not too revealing on the bicep so it’s not a muscle tee. And the way it falls straight down the side of the body so it’s flattering to every body type. Then there's the fabric we use which is thicker and sturdier than normal cotton but still soft to the touch and there's the finishing, like the stitching around the neck and the way we’ve done it there.
But it’s true for all of our products. We only think they’re worth it because of the quality. The way I look at it is this is a machine-made version of me.
Most top designers will do this you know. If you look at these guys - Tom Ford, Ralph Lauren - most of the collections are just their own clothes. The clothes they want to wear. That’s what this collection is. Mine and Freddie’s version of clothes that we’d want to wear. The stuff we’d want to live in.
Will it always be like that?
David Chambers tailoring for Basic Rights. Refined essentials made for wearing.