At Alexander Boyd’s Tailoring Workshop
Marek Tadeusz Markowski, Tailor
Within living memory, the rag trade was the primary industry in the East End and it was once said you could walk the entire length of the Whitechapel Rd going from one clothing factory to the next, but today it has all gone – apart from the tailoring workshop of Alexander Boyd in Bow. Yet this is no sweatshop, here – beneath a high ceiling with ample space and light – fourteen people work to the exacting standards of Marek Tadeusz Markowski, the Master Tailor, producing fine bespoke garments.
If you walk into the shop in Artillery Lane and order a suit from Clive Phythian, the Master Cutter, this is where it will be made, just few miles East of Spitalfields. To the uninitiated, it might appear that Clive is the tailor, but in fact he is the conductor of an orchestra comprising many different skills and of which Marek is the leader. And although I thought I had met tailors before, when I was introduced to Marek -a purist in the art of fine tailoring who presides with benign yet scrupulous authority over his minions – I discovered that I was meeting a tailor for the first time.
“Those people up in the West End may call themselves tailors but in fact they are coat makers, waistcoat makers or trouser makers – they are specialists. So if you ask them to make something else, they will say, “It’s not my cup of tea.” I call myself a tailor because I can do everything. If you want a suit, a shirt, breeches, a velvet smoking jacket, a pair of curtains or even your underwear darned, I can do it all because the training I had in Poland was magnificent.
My grandmother was a tailor and my grandfather was a shoemaker. I come from a family of shoemakers in Elblag, we are an old skills family. At fifteen years old, I finished school and trained as a tailor for three years. We had to learn to make everything, in three days a week of tailoring and three days at school. My teacher said to me, “You may learn this now but in the next three days you will forget,” so I worked twelve hours every day, working at tailoring before and after school, from six o’clock in the morning before classes and until eight o’clock afterwards. The system in Poland then was that the government took money off the tailor’s taxes for each apprentice, so it didn’t cost him anything. He was only paying me pocket money and the quicker I learnt, the quicker I could make money by making clothes for my friends and having my own customers.
At eighteen, I went to do an A level in tailoring and cutting at an evening college, and during the day I was opening my own business, after just three years of training. Then, in 1981, I came to visit my uncle in Bristol for a couple of months and found I couldn’t go back to Poland because the borders were closed when martial law was imposed. So I asked the Home Office to extend my visa for a few months and thought, “I’ll go back then,” but it didn’t happen. After four years, I learnt English and opened my own shop in Reigate, Surrey. I ran this until 1997, when I returned to Poland to open a tailoring shop with my brother but I discovered there was no demand there any more, those with money wanted mass-produced designer clothes like Versace.
When I returned to London in 2001, I started working for Huntsman’s in Savile Rowe and I stayed there a year and a half. Then I went to Maurice Sedwell, Gieves & Hawkes and Henry Poole, moving from one place to the next – by observing how other tailors work, you pick up little things that you can adapt to your own system. And that way you move forward because if you don’t move forward you start going back. Boyd of Alexander Boyd approached me when I was working for Wilkinson in St George St. It was Clive Phythian, Head Cutter who introduced me.“He’s a true tailor,” Clive said,“he’s got the knowledge of cutting and everything to do with tailoring.”
I am not a designer, I am a constructor. If you draw me a garment, then I can cut the pattern and make it. Sometimes I simply do a drawing from a customer’s description and then make it. I would say I am at the top of my profession. There is no secret for me as far as tailoring is concerned.
I have been in this job since July and have fourteen people working under me. We advertised in papers and on the internet, and they are from Poland, Lithuania, Slovakia and England. I can say that at the moment I have an “A team.” It’s not a big factory, it’s a small workshop. It gives me pleasure that I can pass on my knowledge and we can produce garments here that compete with the best companies in the world.”
While I was there, the skills of the workshop were focussed upon a few bespoke pieces – some fine linen jackets and a long tweed overcoat – as well as making new staff uniforms for the Boundary Hotel. A peaceful atmosphere of concentrated application presided, with the tailors constantly bringing things to refer to Marek who hovered around to offer support – in between returning to his stool that permitted him to oversee the entire workshop, as he sat with his long needle between his dexterous fingers, forming the living fabric to his will.
Marek Tadeusz Markowski
You may like to read my profile of Clive Phythian, Master Cutter at Alexander Boyd
and also take a look