Shop Tactics with John Williams

Photo: Elodie Nixon With thanks to The Ritz London / 150 Piccadilly / London W1J 9BR / United Kingdom / +44 (0)20 7493 8181 / www.theritzlondon.com

Photo: Elodie Nixon / Foxall Studio
(with thanks to The Ritz London – theritzlondon.com)

 

John Williams is executive chef at The Ritz London. The son of a Tyneside fisherman, he developed his passion for food at an early age. Initially taught by his mother, he then went on to study at South Shields College and then at Westminster College.

John’s culinary career began as a commis chef at the Percy Arms Hotel in Otterburn in 1974. Later he worked at the Royal Garden Hotel and the Restaurant Le Crocodile, both in Kensington. Then, in 1986, he joined the distinguished Savoy Group of Hotels and Restaurants. During John’s impressive 18-year tenure with the Savoy Group, he served as maître chef des cuisines at The Berkeley, before his move to head up Claridge’s kitchens in 1995.

As a tireless supporter of the industry, John is behind numerous charity initiatives and continues to work to promote the education and training of young chefs. He has an MBE and a CMA from the French Government for services to French cuisine, the first British chef to receive such an honour.

Today at The Ritz, he oversees a kitchen brigade of over 60 chefs and is responsible for the mouth-watering menus in The Ritz Restaurant, The Palm Court, and the Rivoli Bar. When he is not whipping up a partridge souvaroff or a caramelised pear Williams gateaux, the amiable chef likes to kick back with a fine Cuban cigar and a pungent slice of Stinking Bishop cheese. He shares more of his favourite Mayfair finds below:

 

Davidoff Cigars, 35 St James’s Street

I love the friendly, knowledgeable team at Davidoff. They provide excellent service. I very much enjoy having a cigar tasting in its fumoir/tasting room and I get very excited about the different cigars available – they are always kept in excellent condition. But mostly, I love the feeling of going to Davidoff because it means I have an appropriate event to go to – one that I will be looking forward to! Davidoff also has some excellent whiskeys.

 

Ralph Lauren, 1 New Bond Street

I’ve worn Ralph Lauren for over thirty years. I am a big fan of the brand because it offers timeless, classic men’s tailoring. Its clothes are made to a great quality and are both elegant and comfortable.

 

Paxton & Whitfield, 93 Jermyn Street

I use Paxton & Whitfield both at The Ritz and at my home – that has to tell you everything! It definitely has my stamp of approval. Paxton’s sells top quality British cheese (as well as continental) and has been doing so for over two hundred years. There is a great history to the brand and it has numerous Royal Warrants. Some of my favourite varieties are Stinking Bishop and Celtic Promise. The team here are always active in promoting different cheeses to me with their tastings, which I like. There is a great education process and it’s great to experience different or new cheeses.

 

Alyn Williams at The Westbury, 37 Conduit Street

I think Alyn Williams in a fantastic, modern, classic British cook. His restaurant offers serious food with a smile.

 

Harvie & Hudson, 96-97 Jermyn Street

Harvie & Hudson can dress you for any occasion – from a day at the races at Royal Ascot to a dinner in town. It is a great British heritage brand. I go in there every season. At the moment I have got my eye on a cream/fawn cotton jacket in their window. I would like to wear it to this summer’s Glorious Goodwood in July, an event I go to every year.

 

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Art of Glass – Louis Vuitton Windows

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From Maison Assouline, the French publishing house behind many a beautiful fashion/art tome, comes Louis Vuitton Windows.  This hand-bound, oversize ‘Ultimate Collection’ edition showcases the 35 façades created by Vuitton’s visual image director Faye McLeod, since 2009.

Today, Glasgow-born McLeod’s whimsical set designs continue to appear in Louis Vuitton’s windows worldwide. Together with senior designer Ansel Thompson, Faye and her team hatch magical stories from a design studio in New York.

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Prior to her Louis Vuitton sets causing shoppers to stop dead in their tracks on the shopping streets of Tokyo, Milan, Paris… Faye cut her teeth at Liberty department store. It is also where she met Ansel. Her first major production for Louis Vuitton was the opening of its New Bond Street flagship in 2010, for which she created a ‘Cabinet Curiosite’ filled with creatures in glass jars.

Since then, her artistic creations have included stuffed ostriches with elongated necks, a huge toy panda standing on its head and sculptural aluminium sails designed by Frank Gehry. Then there are the 3-D polka-dot octopus tentacles, courtesy of the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. And let’s not forget the gilt-covered dinosaur skeletons, which looked as if they had escaped from the National History Museum.

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These and many more of the storied French luxury brand’s celebrated vitrines are presented as works of art over the book’s 168-pages. The hand-bound edition also features sketches and mood boards, which give a unique peek into the creative process. New York Times fashion director, Vanessa Friedman, has written the book’s fascinating intro.

A stroll down Bond Street shows that creativity is flourishing behind the glass panes of its famous emporiums. For many, the shop front is an ever-evolving blank canvas – a place where designers can have fun as well as be challenging and experimental. It has the power to captivate an ever more discerning group of pedestrians. I for one will be waiting for the curtains to go up on Louis Vuitton’s latest collections.

 

Maison Assouline, 196a Piccadilly
Assouline London Claridge’s, 49 Brook Street

The Q&A: Kathryn Sargent on becoming the first female master tailor to open her own store on historic Savile Row

Over the past few weeks, master tailor Kathryn Sargent has barely had time to catch her breath. As the first female tailor to open a store on Savile Row this month, I’m fortunate to catch her on the hop between non-stop interviews with the fashion press.

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Until now, women have for centuries been present in the back rooms of the tailoring profession as finishers and assistant tailors but not Kathryn. She has never been one to let her gender hold her back in a predominantly male-led industry. “I am thrilled to be making history, although for me being a woman is incidental, I am a tailor first and foremost,” she says.

This month’s store opening is yet another major achievement for the scissor-happy tailor. In 2000 she was awarded the coveted Golden Shears award – the Oscars of the tailoring world for fledgling suit makers. Before setting up her own business in 2012, she was the first woman in the history of Savile Row to rise to the esteemed position of head cutter at Gieves & Hawkes, one of the Row’s oldest and most prestigious bespoke tailors.  This was the culmination of 15 years’ hard graft at the firm where she worked alongside many skilled craftsmen, including Robert Gieve, one of the last members of the founding family to work in the firm.

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In 2014, Kathryn opened her first atelier on Brook Street, creating tailor-made garments for both men and women. A staunch supporter of the British textile industry, 95 per cent of the cloth Kathryn works with, from classic tweeds to superfine wools, is spun in the U.K. She likes to collect books on English tailoring and old pattern cutting manuals, some of which date back over a 150 years. Since I’m curious to know what else makes her tick, I decide to quiz her some more:

 

When did you first pick up a pair of cutting shears and know that you wanted to become a tailor?

K.S: The first time I picked up a pair of shears was whilst studying for my fashion degree at Epsom School of Art and Design. It was also during this time that my interest in menswear and men’s tailoring grew. I did some work experience during my studies with one of the houses on Savile Row and that got me completely hooked – I knew that tailoring was where I wanted to be.

 

What is the biggest lesson you learnt from Robert Gieve at Gieves & Hawkes?

K.S: The most important lesson I learnt from Mr Robert Gieve was to work closely with the customer to understand their needs and what they want to achieve from the garment they are commissioning. In addition to this, I learnt the importance of discretion and hence I do have some good stories but I prefer not to share them.

 

Will visitors to Savile Row be able to see you creating a suit in full view of the window just as the other tailors do?

K.S: My team and I will be working in view of the windows. I really wanted 37 Savile Row to be a celebration of the craftsmanship of bespoke tailoring. Being visible in store working on garments is for me part of that celebration and showcasing the art of bespoke tailoring. For almost two hundred years, the cutters have been visible in the windows of some the shops on Savile Row, demonstrating their skills. The tailors tend to be in the basements but if you look down as you stroll up Savile Row you can often see these master craftsmen and women busy at work.

 

You are also based on Brook Street with an atelier. Together with Savile Row, what makes this part of London so unique?

K.S: I think that the magic of Mayfair and the Bond Street, Brook Street, Savile Row area, is that here, in this relatively small neighbourhood, you have a great mix of large international brands and their flagship stores as well as the adjacent streets of smaller more artisanal brands and crafts such as Savile Row. Here, you can find truly personal service and still have luxury handmade products made to order.  This, layered with the history of the area and its vibrant bars, hotels and restaurants, is what attracts people from around the globe.

 

It must be very satisfying to cut cloth on a daily basis – what is your favourite part of the suit making process?

K.S: I am hugely detailed and organised, in bespoke tailoring you have to be. Attention to detail, and the ability to organise each part of the process, is essential. I enjoy each part of the making process for different reasons and get different things out of each stage. I love working with the client to understand what they are looking for and how they are going to use the garment they are commissioning. There is nothing more satisfying than transferring that design onto a piece of cloth, and making the first cut with the shears.

 

What advice would you give to other women tailors and what is the secret of your own success?

K.S: I love coming to work, I love working with clients and I love creating beautiful bespoke garments – this, I think, is the key to my success. Working in this craft really gives me energy and personal enjoyment.  To other women tailors and cutters I would say there is a growing industry and space for both men and women in the world of Savile Row. The opportunity is there so seize it.

 

BOND’S BEST – Corneliani Wingtip Suede Brogues

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Springtime beckons, with blossom swirling underfoot. What fits the look better than a pair of new season brogues? This coveted pair by Italian men’s luxury tailoring brand Corneliani (£320) is foot tapping good. Made in Italy from the plushest suede, the shoe features an almond toe, wingtip detail and a contrasting rubber sole. The soft taupe colour pairs well with chinos, a crisp white shirt and a lightweight blazer. Gentlemen, it’s time to channel your inner Jay Gatsby!

 

Corneliani, 131-132 New Bond Street