A Cut Above | St James's London


A Cut Above

Oliver Cross, Head Cutter at distinguished tailors Benson & Clegg, shares his unusual route into the trade

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We caught up with Oliver Cross, Head Cutter at Benson & Clegg on his journey into learning his craft and how he came to work for such a reputable tailor. Benson & Clegg, located on Jermyn Street’s Piccadilly Arcade, has held a Royal Warrant since 1944, thanks to their services as the official tailor to His Majesty King George VI. In 1992, HRH The Prince Of Wales bestowed a further Royal Warrant for the supply of military neckwear, badges and buttons.

How it all started

I followed my passion late, having previously worked in financial services. I studied at London College of Fashion, and constantly canvassed Savile Row and the surrounding tailors, but started to feel deflated. I was 26 and had a young daughter; most tailors start around 16.

Finally Meyer & Mortimer took me on to work two days a week for free and I worked in a hat shop too. Six months later they employed me fulltime as a trainee cutter and I trained under Malcolm Plews, Prince Charles’ military tailor. It was a dream come true.

I’d knocked on the door at Benson & Clegg early on in my career, but they didn’t have a position. The trade’s small, it’s like a village. If someone’s leaving, word gets around. When the role of head cutter at Benson & Clegg came up, it felt like a big jump, but one I could manage. I love my job, I hope to work in this trade until the day I drop.

Behind Our Doors at Benson & Clegg

Harry Benson and Thomas Clegg were cutters from Hawes & Curtis. They broke away to set up a tailoring lounge boutique, like a gentlemen’s club. The Benson & Clegg house style is very West End - it’s flattering, waisted with a slight skirt to it, something I’ve helped to evolve.

Is tailoring today a more casual affair?

Men aren’t wearing structured suits to the office anymore, thanks to dress down Friday. Sartorially speaking a sports jacket is the way forward. Historically it would have been sports attire, but I just mean an occasional jacket with softer tailoring. We’re seeing more double- pleated, high-waisted trousers. That comes from the tailoring trade.

How long does it take to make a bespoke suit?

It takes a long time to make a bespoke suit. We’re talking 40 hours to make the jacket alone, a full week’s-worth of work. You don’t get in and start on Monday morning and finish on Friday, there are stages. Everything’s diarised, you work on a bit, put it to one side. For a three-piece suit, you’re looking at about two weeks.

What’s a common misconception you hear as a tailor?

You don’t have to wear a close-fitting, uncomfortable suit to look good. That’s what’s amazing about a fully bespoke suit, it’s made to the contours of your body and you feel comfortable whether it’s buttoned up or unbuttoned. The first bespoke suit I ever put on I remember thinking, “This is more comfy than a tracksuit.”

Who is the typical Benson & Clegg customer?

I see the world through my customers. There’s not one typical customer. You’ve got your traditional British family, where it would go that the father would buy the son his first bespoke suit, the son would forge a relationship with that tailor, he would grow old with his tailor, generation after generation. Young guys now also find us online and we get overseas customers coming in wanting the quintessential British look.