The Rag Trade: H Coleman, Tailor
In turbulent times for the High Street, we're continuing to look at Liverpool's longest standing traders. This week, it's the city's go-to tailor for the past seventy years. Feature: Ryan Lee.
Whether any, or all of them had just been for a fitting with Ken Ellis, the sole remaining tailor at the 24 Newington address, we’ll never know. One thing we do know is that he could comfortably clothe all of them, and they’d all be smarter for it.
Ellis’s cramped studio is sandwiched between Max Spielman and the old Deli Mamma pizza house on one of those tiny mid 19th century lanes which burrow between streets Bold and Renshaw. As Liverpool ONE and Central Village have grown around it, Coleman’s seemed to retreat ever inwards. But, in the week its ex-neighbour Rapid and clothing upstart Republic shut up shop, Colemans’ is still here, Dickensian aesthetic or not.
Dark wood panelling covers the claustrophobic reception area complete with a kitchen hatch style window: your first point of contact with Ken. Within, you can peek teetering racks of tweed, worsted and Yorkshire wool lining a studio scattered with ancient Singer sewing machines and spectrums of cloth samples. Tables are piled high with severe-looking sheers, chalk and tape measures.
Two knocks on the door summons Ken, like some latter day Mr Benn shop assistant, shaking hands with a middle aged man; another customer Ken’s got the measure of. “Good fella him y’know, cheap as well,” the customer offers us, as he bounds down the stairs. Chances are his new year diet’s resulted in a little nip and tuck of his kecks. That’ll be £6, thanks.
Two vintage red leather Chesterfield chairs, obviously here as long as Ken, form the studio’s compact consultation area. We make a mental note of all the inside legs that tape around his neck must have ferreted out. Classic Dormeuil and original Burton menswear posters line the walls. Weak rays of winter light sneak in through the dust and dirt of the windows.
“Cup of tea, lad?” Ken enquires whilst pottering around. While we wait, we idly tell him about a review we’ve just read on modculture.com, citing him as ‘the best priced and friendliest tailor in Liverpool’.
Evidently, Ken doesn’t take much notice of the online world.
“Facebook an’ that, I take no interest in it really, my business is made by word of mouth. I’ve got customers who have been coming to me for years, as well as younger clients like you who find me and then hopefully grow into loyal customers.”
It’s clear that, while tradition is the driving force behind Ken’s business, he’s had to move with the times. But, if pressed, he admits to leaving his heart, if not his shears, in the 70s.
“I loved the big flares and flamboyance,” he chuckles. “None of these drainpipes you see everywhere,” he adds, looking askance at SevenStreets’ ‘skinny’ leg wear, just altered by his own fair thread. We blush, and stuff them into our rucksack thinking we must tell Ken to get down to the Glam exhibition at the Tate. He’d be in bell-bottomed heaven there.
Ah, the whims of forty years of fashion. We ask Ken for his take on ‘Skirt Theory’ (short skirts indicating markets going up, longer skirts markets declining): “Well it’s common sense isn’t it?,” he muses, “People start to keep hold of what they’ve got if a recession hits don’t they? And it’s the same for clothes, more people keep clothes and get them altered, which is fine by me.
“Im not saying the recession has been a gift but you can sort of tell the state of the country by working in a job like mine,” he says.
So, is Ken saying setting up shop wouldn’t be a bad career path for budding tailors and ateliers?
“Don’t get me wrong, it takes years to perfect,” he explains, drawing out his tape measure and chalk in precise motions, as if measuring up for an invisible client. “Even the way in which you build rapport with customers develops over time, I was lucky enough to have an apprenticeship under H.Coleman (the studio’s original owner/tailor), and he taught me everything.”
As we talk, Ken’s next appointment knocks on the door, a twenty-something women with her son. On our way out the little boy is asked: “So yours was the pink uniform then?”, to be met with laughs from the mother and a “euuggghh no way!” by the little boy.
Yeah, Ken will be here long after our fashionable drainpipes receive the same disgusted response from the cool kids of the future.
H Coleman Tailors
Liverpool L1 4ED
Tel: 01517 094998