Phoebe Gormley dropped out of university to launch the street’s first-ever women-only tailor.
Why did no one think of this sooner? Phoebe Gormley is asked that question all the time and still doesn’t have a good answer as to why she, aged 23, is running the first-ever women-only tailor on Savile Row. All she can offer is the theory, perhaps perpetuated by previous generations of men working at fashion’s most famous address, that “women are too hard to please and they’re not interested in investment pieces.” The growing list of clients at Gormley & Gamble disproves that theory.
Gormley has a history of overcoming obstacles. In her early teens, she asked her parents to buy her a dressmaker’s dummy. They balked at the cost, so she made her own, encasing herself in chicken wire and papier-mâché. “I remember sitting on the grass on a summer’s day,” Gormley says, “waiting until it set, then getting some pliers and cutting myself out.”
After dressmaking experiments of varying success, she altered one of her father’s unwanted suits and became fixated with the art and skill of tailoring. She wore the suit for most of that summer. “I was this 13-year-old swanning around the countryside, looking like a complete dingbat but really enjoying it.” Within a decade, this sort of unconventional thinking and resourceful behaviour would see Gormley established at the spiritual home of British fashion.
One Savile Row tailor sent me a note saying, “You are going to keep this street alive. Thank you”
Aged 15, Gormley went to tailors on Savile Row and Jermyn Street, armed only with a cover letter – “I didn’t have enough experience to put on a CV” – and landed the work experience that would help turn her new passion into a career. School holidays and then breaks from a costume design degree were spent on the Row, learning the traditions. Bored with studying and keen to speed up her entry into the fashion business, she made a deal with her parents at the end of her second year of university. They would lend her the equivalent to the final year’s tuition fees as a start-up loan for a clothing business, on the condition that if she didn’t get traction within a year she had to go out and get a job.
So, on a Friday in June 2014, Gormley had her last day of uni in Nottingham, packed her stuff on Saturday, moved to London on Sunday and Monday was working in an office at a City incubator, effectively the first day of the firm of Gormley & Gamble. (After designing a logo of scissors with Gs as the handles, Gormley chose a word that reflected her year-or-bust situation.)
After being talked out of her first idea to make a range of off-the-peg clothes, Gormley spent four months refining a made-to-measure business proposition for women at a certain stage in their careers who, in the words of one client, are “too high up to wear Zara polyester suits.” During her work experience, Gormley was struck by the lack of choice in fittings for female customers. “For every size we have as women,” she says, “men have nine and they don’t even have boobs to contend with!”
In October 2015, a year after getting her first client, Gormley was invited to shop-share with Cad and the Dandy, at 13 Savile Row, becoming the street’s first-ever women-only tailor. “It’s something I’d dreamed about since I was 15. To think that was seven years ago: mind-boggling.”
Gormley & Gamble focuses on details and lasting quality rather than high-fashion finishes, although flourishes such as customisable silk linings (from tropical orchids to the salmon-pink pages of the Financial Times) allow clients to express a flash of personality in an otherwise sensible outfit.
“Our customers usually aren’t mega-fashionistas,” says Gormley. “They want something they can feel good in and forget about.” She estimates that only 40 per cent of Savile Row tailors cater to women, with clothes that are often derivative of men’s formal and boxy tailored suits, rather than following more classically feminine cuts. They’re also considerably more expensive, with prices starting around £3,000, versus Gormley & Gamble’s £800.
Gormley loves Savile Row so much that she sometimes ventures out with a bowl of warm soapy water to scrub stickers off the hallowed walls of nearby Burlington Gardens. But how do the old boys of the Row feel about the newcomer and her maverick ideas? Gormley says she’s had no negativity whatsoever; the opposite, in fact. “When we had a really big piece in The Times, one of the tailors sent me a note saying, ‘It’s young elite tailors like you that are going to keep this street alive. Thank you.’ I was really pleased with that.”
Debbi Evans is a journalist and cultural insights researcher who has written for Wired, Stylus and Google.