To most of us, the word “bespoke” will conjure up the image of a tailor carefully measuring, cutting, and stitching together a suit from the finest cloth. Indeed the word bespoke actually originates from London’s world famous Saville Row where tailors would often refer to garments as being spoken for by their well-heeled clientele. Yet the term bespoke is also closely associated with another English industry involving fine garments and exceptional technical expertise – that of the Upholsterer.
At first glance, it might not seem like there is a great deal in common between the two professions. Fashion and home furniture are after all too very different industries, and it is clear that sofas and suits are two entirely different products to purchase for a typical shopper. However, if we make a historical comparison between the two, we find a much closer semblance than meets the eye.
Both bespoke upholstery and bespoke tailoring trace their roots back to the Renaissance era of European history. Previously clothing and furniture had been regarded purely in functional terms, as a means of clothing and seating the human body. However, as urban societies became more prosperous during the Renaissance, a new demand arose for designer products which served to decorate and emphasise both the human form and the home environment. The twin arts of tailoring and upholstery were born. custom tuxedo NJ
Beginning with the Italian city states, followed by the Spanish and French royal courts, the art of bespoke tailoring emerged slowly with technical expertise passed from generation to generation before gradually developing a series of more formal structures. During the 17th century, Paris developed into the centre for fashion and furnishing as ostentatious Parisian dress and home décor grew in popularity across the continent. As tailors cut and sewed ever more flamboyant costumes, upholsterers crafted spectacular furnishings gilded with flowing lines and ornate detailing. Each profession developed under the inspiration of the other.
Yet it wasn’t until the 18th century that English styles came to dominate the scene as restraint, sobriety and understated elegance became the new aesthetic informing bespoke attire and home furniture. Subtly blending gentile, sporting and bourgeois clothing, English tailors established a new form of fashion emphasising fit and discreet detailing over gaudy displays of wealth. In a similar fashion, English upholsterers developed new techniques to advance comfort, elegance and technical expertise as the central principles guiding bespoke sofa manufacture – moving away from the elaborate, decadent style espoused by the French upholstery tradition at the time.
To this day, English bespoke tailoring and bespoke sofa upholstery remain at the forefront of global fashion and interior design. From Saville Row to Chelsea Harbour, modern cosmopolitan London remains the shop window for bespoke craftsmanship of the finest quality and artistic flair. Behind each handcrafted item lies the accumulated knowledge, expertise and technical specialism of a rich and illustrious design heritage. In addition, there is also the energy, creativity and eccentricity of England’s modern day tailors and upholsterers, who continue to push the boundaries of the possible in their pursuit of excellence in their field.