Pip Howeson makes stylish, elegantly tailored, bespoke coats and jackets, a wonderfully British synthesis of urban chic and traditional country house practicality
30-something Pip Howeson is charming, chatty and completely passionate about old-fashioned tailoring. She bubbles over with enthusiasm, telling me all in one breathe both about the skill involved in making the curved sleeves of a 1930s riding habit as well as the cut of a Russian cavalry officer’s vintage coat. ‘You can do amazing things with seams and panels’ she laughs.
Howeson was always interested in fashion, inspired perhaps by her naval father’s uniforms, although she has no formal training in textiles (she studied agriculture at Cirencester Agricultural College). After leaving college she had a series of different jobs, each one helping build up the practical skills needed as a tailor and a successful entrepreneur. She spent some time working at the fashion brand Jack Wills as well as doing a stint with the interior decorator Nicky Haslam. Next she worked for four years with the fashion designer Selina Blow. ‘It was really hard core, but it was a great experience and I learnt so much from her’ says Howeson. In effect an old-fashioned apprenticeship, it was here that she learnt her all-important cutting skills under the eagle eye of their in-house Savile Row-trained pattern cutter. This was followed by a year at David Feilden, the wedding dress designer. Although Howeson learnt a lot here, she didn’t really enjoy the experience: ‘It was all chiffon and bias cut and not enough about structure and tailoring’, she explains. And so in 2012, with much encouragement from her husband and the flimsy security provided by a short business course, she took the plunge and set up her own bespoke tailoring business.
The early days were extremely hard. ‘It’s hugely tough starting a business’, she says, but three years on the business is thriving and last year Howeson was selected for the prestigious Walpole Crafted Class. She now lives with her husband Robin and Labrador puppy Henny in Islington and works from home, with forays out to visit clients or attend fairs. And although she exchanged her tractor for a sewing machine long ago, she’s still a country girl at heart, and says that trips to her Oxfordshire cottage and her riding (when she has time) keep her sane. In fact, a deep-seated love of the countryside permeates Howeson’s work as she finds inspiration in the colours and traditions of the British landscape and will only work with natural fabrics. Her material of choice is Harris tweed: ‘I love the romance of it and the fact that it’s still made in the crofters’ homes in the Outer Hebrides’ she says. Other materials used are tweeds mixed with cashmere sourced from Ireland, lambswool and silk which she uses for linings.
Howeson’s business is all about using her considerable technical skill as pattern cutter to create clothes that perfectly fit both her clients’ bodies and their lifestyles. Once the initial consultation process is completed, Howeson makes a calico – a cotton version of the coat – to check the fit, and when she and the client are happy with this, it’s taken apart and used as a template for the final piece in their chosen fabric. Specially selected details such as buttons, linings, collars, cuffs and trimmings are all added later. It’s an incredibly labour-intensive process but the results are fantastic and clearly give both Howeson and her clients a great sense of satisfaction. ‘I love being able to take someone’s insecurity away and make them feel special when wearing one of my coats’ she says.
Each client is different – be it a rower with one arm bigger than the other, or a lady recovering from breast cancer who wanted a coat that would draw attention away from her chest – and each one requires a different solution. The sculptor Nic Fiddian Green asked for an overcoat ‘big enough to wrap his wife in’ and with an extra large pocket for his sketch book, while Stephen Fry wanted a jacket with leather patches ‘like a geography teacher’ – requests which Howeson was, of course, delighted to accommodate.
So what does Howeson wear herself? Jeans, a silk shirt, vintage Ferragamo pumps and her own label ‘Alice’ jacket. ‘It’s a lovely box jacket, made out of soft cashmere so super easy to wear and as it’s got ¾ length sleeves I can keep my hands free’ she tells me – a perfect example of her brand’s subtle mix of practicality, tailored elegance and quietly restrained luxury.
Visit website: piphoweson.com
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