Women wear the trousers as tailors search out trade: In hard times for men's tailoring, female clients offer a new market. Roger Tredre reports

IN HARD TIMES, London's tailors are cutting their cloth accordingly. Both in tradition- bound Savile Row and the fashion-forward workshops of Soho, tailors are reaching out to a new clientele - women.

Mark Powell, a tailor with an eclectic group of customers including Vic Reeves, Yazz, and Ronnie Biggs, said: 'A lot of men's tailors are frightened of doing women, but I'm getting more and more coming to me.'

Mr Powell, 32, was running an experienced eye over his latest creation: a pounds 450 brown Venetian wool double-breasted suit with a panelled riding back and flared cuffs. The suit, which fitted like a glove, was made for Sophie Schreiber, a hairdresser. She was pleased with the final product: 'I know it's expensive, but I hope it'll last me forever.' In Savile Row, where Mr Powell's suits are considered a touch outre, Bernard Weatherill has opened its first department for women, called Lady Weatherill. The company has been making clothing for women informally for years, and Hugh Holland, managing director, admitted: 'It's idiotic that we haven't launched the department sooner.'

In the Sixties, Savile Row's avant-garde, led by Tommy Nutter and Edward Sexton, pioneered the idea of putting women in the Row's suits. Now the pressures of the recession have encouraged more traditional names to look for women customers.

Mr Holland said: 'The men's trade continues to be pretty poor, but the ladies' couture market is still strong. Last year, we noticed a lot of customers were coming in and asking us to copy couture house styles.'

In fashion terms, the timing is appropriate because the masculine suit for women is currently making a strong comeback both at designer and high street level.

Burberrys has also reported an increase in orders for made-to- measure tailoring from women customers at the hand tailoring department in its Regent Street store and through its nation-wide visiting tailoring service.

A spokesman said, somewhat mysteriously: 'The principles of tailoring are not so different, but we do train our tailors to understand the special requirements of the woman's gender.'

At Bernard Weatherill, a team of consultant designers have put together a portfolio of styles to answer these special requirements. It includes sketches of silhouettes, cuffs, pockets and lapels. Giuseppe Grasso, the ladies' department cutter, expects to take at least 100 orders a year, with prices starting at pounds 750 for a blazer and pounds 1,100 for a suit. Women do, however, pres ent problems. In Soho, Mr Powell said: 'They're more difficult to fit.' He prodded Ms Schreiber's back. 'A lot of them have hollow backs. Look at this one.'

Mr Powell admitted they were fussier than men. 'They've got a better perception of shape and style. They certainly make you work for your money.'

In Savile Row, Mr Holland preferred to be discreet about his customers. 'Well, they can be a little choosey,' he volunteered. 'Difficult? No, they just want to look right.'

(Photograph omitted)

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