Words Kirk Truman
Photography Joseph Lynn
“Back home, there was a big punk scene with a lot of people customising their own clothes, so I think thats where the seed was planted…”
Tom Baker and I are talking music, clothes, Soho and everything in-between. We’re on D’Arblay Street, mid-afternoon, as he shows me around his studio space. He’s strikingly tall and cooler than cool, and his voice has a Northern twang that’s music to my ears. “You know, I’m quite philosophical,” he says, looking over my shoulder. “That fitting room behind you is like a barber’s chair. I’ve been called the mid-life crisis tailor who gets men back on the saddle. I guess you could say I provide a service. Clothing is half the job – the other half is purely psychological,” he laughs.Tom grew up as a young punk in a small Scottish town, developing a passion for music and clothing, which has helped him build his eponymous label. Today, he’s a familiar face in Soho, known for providing his own individual take on tailoring.
Each of the great Soho tailors has distinct stylistic differences. You might describe Tom as the gentleman-punk – as well as the tallest tailor in the neighbourhood. He specialises in both traditional and avant-garde bespoke tailoring. Tom began his training quite late, aged 25, spending five years at Hardy Amies, Savile Row in the early 90s. It was on Savile Row that he was taught to cut and fit in the classical English style. After completing his training, he started his own label, Sir Tom Baker, in Soho. His traditional skills combined with his own natural flair put him at the forefront of bespoke tailoring today. “I was completely self-taught until I began training on Savile Row. I didn’t really think I was going to make a career out it… aspiring to be a tailor wasn’t what people did in the Scottish town I grew up in. It was all rugby and that shite,” he says. “Back home, there was a big punk scene with a lot of people customising their own clothes, so I think that’s where the seed was planted and my influences were born.”
Tom’s relationship with Soho started when he moved to London in his early 20s, where he landed himself a job in the home section of famed department store Liberty of London. Soho quickly became his stomping ground, and it was here that he explored the changing music and fashion scenes while training as a tailor in his spare time. After qualifying as a tailor, Tom started working from a small studio on Berwick Street, just around the corner from his current D’Arblay Street studio and shop. “Training on Savile Row was a big chunk of my time… five years in total! I got to know a lot of the different tailors around. I knew if I was going to make a go of it, I had to get on with it as young as I could do, otherwise I always thought I’d just be seen as an apprentice,” he says. “I didn’t want to be seen as the guy with zero experience; I wanted to be taken seriously to the point where I was fully fledged. In tailoring, you don’t get to properly flex your muscles until you really start to do it yourself. You’ve gotta jump in, go out there and do it.”
Tom built his business up from scratch to the success it enjoys today on D’Arblay Street. “What tends to happen, when you’re not an established tailor, is that you decide to go it alone and end up poaching customers from existing tailors. That wasn’t the route I wanted to take,” says Tom. “I completely went it alone on Berwick Street. I literally stepped out with a set of keys, looked left and looked right, and thought: shit, I need to get out there and get some customers.” Tom’s ability to work closely with his customers helped him build a reputable client base and loyal following with time. He has worked with television personalities, musicians, actors, artists, industry professionals and politicians. Tom’s punk twist on tailoring has seen him dress gents from Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant to actor Rhys Ifans, from Noel Fielding and Jonathan Ross to the Sex Pistols’ Glen Matlock, to name a few.
In the beginning, Tom started socialising in Soho bars such as The Colony Room to meet new clients, all of whom wanted to add a distinctive rock ‘n’ roll edge to their wardrobe. “The building of a celebrity clientele was a cornerstone, yes, but for me its always been about providing the best service, and offering the best look to whoever walks through the door,” says Tom. “Everyone is first, and you’re never bigger than your customer. The most important thing is enjoying it and having pursued what I love and believe in.” Tom’s store opened in 2008, having outgrown his Berwick Street studio, giving the brand a visible presence on the Soho high street. Working strictly in the traditional British bespoke manner, Tom takes pride in all of his designs and the clientele which he has worked tirelessly to build up. All Tom’s pieces are cut, sewn and finished by hand on site, under his personal supervision. He is a man with an obsession for detail who strives for perfection… with a twist. He is as much as an innovator as he is a tailor, the punk tailor of Soho; or, if you will: Sir Tom Baker.