Fashion: Tailor maid

Serena Kelsey tailors suits, but her clients aren't all barristers and businessmen. Rebecca Lowthorpe sits in on a fitting

Rebecca Lowthorpe
Saturday 03 July 1999 23:02

A PETITE blonde woman in a mini-skirt, knee-high boots and a skinny- rib cardigan ushers me in to her shop. She is talking into a mobile phone which is clamped between her shoulder and her chin; with one hand she holds a steaming mug of tea, with the other she beckons me to sit down on an old Chesterfield.

"Dump your bags," she says. "Take your jacket off. Cup of tea?" Serena Kelsey doesn't look or talk like a City tailor. Nor is her client list typical. It includes a clutch of rock stars (Noel Gallagher, Paul Weller, Goldie), a couple of comedians (Harry Enfield, Frank Skinner), actors (among them Jude Law, Ioan Gruffudd and Sadie Frost) and other assorted celebrities (Meg Mathews, Kate Moss.

When Kate Moss and Sadie Frost were asked to be ushers at this summer's most fashionable wedding - the marriage of Jacqui Hamilton-Smith, Lord Colwyn's daughter, to the actor Sean Pertwee - they invited Kelsey to fit them out with bespoke suits for the occasion. Kelsey cannily offered to make their suits for free; in return, the two darlings of the London party scene promised to turn up, in their custom-cut outfits, to Kelsey's womenswear launch party.

As we wait (and wait and wait) for Kate and Sadie to show up, I look around. The room is painted pale lemon and has polished wooden floors; sunlight streams in through two bay windows. A glitter-ball revolves from the ceiling, where a chandelier might once have hung. A glass-topped table is scattered with magazines and fabric swatches. Two pretty young women, dressed, like their boss, in short skirts, are sitting at a rather stately desk, one on the phone, the other tapping at a computer. There's a framed silver disc on the wall, a present from the band Ocean Colour Scene, which reads "Thanks for the sharp kit."

On large gold pegs around the room are great pools of colour: a purple velvet suit; a petrol-blue streamlined two-tone suit; a bright fuchsia silk jacket, nipped in at the waist; and an elegant charcoal wool number woven with a pink window-pane check and flashing a silk magenta lining. We are as far away as you can get from the austere, dark rooms of the venerable old tailors of Savile Row.

Kate and Sadie finally arrive. The former is scrubbed clean of make- up, her hair is scraped back into a scruffy bun. Sadie has dyed her jet hair blond.

All of a sudden, the activity becomes frenetic. Mobile phones ring, pagers bleep, and coffees and cans of Diet Coke are ordered while Kate and Sadie plough through booklets of fabric swatches and try to describe what they're after.

"Kate's idea was a kind of halter-neck all-in-one, like the sort that Charlie's Angels wore," says Sadie.

"How about a halter-neck waistcoat with trousers?" Kelsey suggests.

"You've got to give me some cleavage," chimes in Kate. "Sadie's much bigger than me." She squeezes her nearly flat chest to demonstrate the desired effect. Kelsey lassoes her with the tape measure.

"The trousers can't be too tight on my bum," says Sadie, surveying herself in the mirror.

"It's got to be quite masculine, but feminine too," Kate says with a flourish.

Once Kelsey has managed to take their measurements, which is quite a task since the two seem to find it difficult to stay still, the fabrics are chosen: a lightweight, pale grey cloth and a lilac silk for the lining. Then the style and shape of the waistcoat is sketched out (it will be corseted to suggest a fuller cup-size), along with the shape of the trousers, which will be bottom-hugging after all.

Serena Kelsey was born in Leamington Spa to a publican father and a "beautiful, glamorous mother who was a society model in the Sixties". She worked as a dancer in clubs and in music videos, and then took a job at EMI. "I tried to be a secretary to the A&R manager, but it didn't work out. I was always more of a salesman than a secretary."

After a stint working with Consuela Fraser, who made glamorous made-to- measure outfits for a small private clientele, Kelsey began to make suits for her friends at their request. Some of her first creations ("mad Paisley suits") can be seen on the Blow Monkeys' 1989 album cover. Later that year Paul Weller started to order his suits from Kelsey. "As soon as you get one pop star, the rest flood in," she says. "As long as you do a good job, of course." In the early Nineties, Kelsey came up with the idea of the "on-the-spot-tailor": she would arrive at a merchant banker's desk armed with a tape measure and a batch of swatches, and fit him out for a swanky new suit.

Kelsey now has two shops. This one is on Lambs Conduit Street in Holborn, and services a stream of barristers from the local chambers. These, she says, are "after classic suits with a bit more character than your bog- standard Savile Row". Her other shop is in Byward Street, in the City. "That's where I earn my bread-and-butter money." Kelsey will be selling her off-the-peg menswear and her new womenswear line from both shops. The off-the-peg suits start at pounds 450; the bespoke suits at pounds 550.

A week later, Kate and Sadie are back to try on their outfits. This time they are only 15 minutes late. Kate has undergone a transformation, from porcelain doll to urban Pocahontas, with the help of a mahogany tan and dark-brown hair extensions. "I've been in Thailand, kick-boxing," she explains. "I've lost some weight off my hips. Last week I was a 33 and now I'm a 32." Unfazed by this news, Kelsey hands out the trousers and Sadie and Kate dive into the changing room.

They screech with delight as they pose in front of the enormous gilt mirror. "We're going to be the chic-est bird ushers ever!" Both have had pale-grey satin shoes made by Jimmy Choo, and Kate, who often wears frighteningly high stilettos on the catwalk, has ordered a pair with five-inch heels, which she now slings on. She starts to pirouette about the room. Sadie's shoes have a more manageable kitten heel. Kelsey fixes the trouser hems and explains that the waistcoats have yet to be finished. She promises to come and fit them herself in the afternoon.

Kate is still worried about her cleavage. "I've left my chicken giblets in New York," she says, referring to a pair of "boob enhancers" that she thinks resemble pieces of raw poultry. Sadie reassures her friend that she can borrow one of her many Wonderbras, and stuff it with socks.

Kelsey, 58 Lambs Conduit St, London WC1; 0171 404 1616

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