Craft / May 2017

Wil Whiting: The Bespoke Shirt Evolution

Shirts, even bespoke shirts, are made in roughly the same way as they were half a century ago. But that won’t stop Wil Whiting pushing the boundaries…

Wil Whiting’s background is not what you might expect of a man producing some of the world’s finest bespoke shirts. While it is inevitable that craftsmen, no matter their discipline, are often compared with artists, Whiting invites more parallels with scientists. With degrees in computer science and a C.V. that lists various roles crunching numbers, it’s fair to say he is — perhaps atypically for his craft — a little more left-brained than his fellow artisans. But that’s not to say it’s to his detriment; quite the opposite, in fact.

Poring over patterns in his studio in Clapham, south London, Whiting starts from the beginning. “My father strongly influenced my interest in tailoring, as he always was strict on presentation, thus requiring me to be smart and dressed appropriately for the occasion, but he was also very supportive of personal freedom of expression,” he says. As with everything he does (including spelling his name with one ‘l’), Wil’s decision to study computer science was a careful and calculated one. “I have to know how things work from the ground up, and my work ethic has always been, ‘If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it properly’,” he says. This attitude has manifested itself in the extraordinary attention to detail and determination that characterises his approach to his craft today. “I’m not interested in giving myself any limits. If you want something made, anything, I’ll do it. That’s what I’m trained to do — I’m a pattern maker.” After leaving his job as a management consultant in 2015, Whiting embarked on a personal pilgrimage of sorts, visiting London’s finest shirtmakers and even talking to the shirtmaking legend Frank Foster to find out who could make a shirt the way he wanted. His journey took him to David Gale, of Jermyn Street’s Turnbull & Asser, and he didn’t leave until Gale agreed to train him.

Having learned the ropes under Gale when Gale moved to Hilditch & Key, Whiting always planned to work for himself, and he has spent the last nine months honing what he describes as his “formula”. “David never trained anyone to make patterns, I was the first, so I know I’m the only one who knows this formula, which I’ve adapted and made my own,” Whiting says. “There’s a level of engineering to it.” He takes the technical side of pattern making as seriously as you would expect; to him, “bespoke is all about fit”, and fit begins with the pattern. Simultaneously drawing on his studies of the anatomy and extensive fittings with customers, Wil constructs clean-fitting shirts that flatter and suit even the most challenging of body types, sourcing the highest-quality fabrics and components in order to help him do so. From pattern to finished product, the movement away from a one-style-fits-all attitude echoes the growing demand for more informal shirting; a heavy cotton drill olive coat shirt with hand-finished buttonholes, mitred bellows pockets and the collar and sleeves set in (pictured) makes it evident that Wil is one step ahead, offering an unprecedented level of variety to customers. By challenging people’s assumptions about bespoke and getting people to rethink the misconceptions they didn’t even know they had, whether it’s regarding the superiority of a fused collar, the necessity of darts or the benefits of a split yoke, he’s re-educating his customers, and they’re walking away better dressed as a result.

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Anna Prendergast

Anna is a freelance writer and former staffer at The Rake. She is passionate about travel, well made clothes and homemade chocolate chip cookies.