Tailor-made at the heart of Soho
He has made suits for Johnny Depp, Tom Hanks, Mat Lucas, Nick Cave as well as famous films and TV series; Casino Royal, Sherlock Holmes 2, Dr Who.... The list of Chris Kerr bespoke tailor's clients reads like a Who's Who in the entertainment world, and yet just like his father, he makes suits for a modern man. As I am about to learn, you will need to have about £1,600 or £1,700, if you'd like to have your suit made by Chris Kerr. This indeed sounds affordable, if you make a comparison with Saville Row bespoke tailors.
"Chris Kerr is a bespoke tailor in the Strictest Saville Row tradition – the only things that separate him from that famous street are a relaxed attitude and a Soho address." Says the text on the website.
I arrive at Berwick Street much too early and take a stroll around soaking in the sunshine. I walk past Cotton Café with just one table on the pavement outside and one customer, and stop in front of what used to be Chris' and his father Eddie's tailor's shop at No 52. Then I walk back and end up hanging out outside the Reckless Records shop studying the image of Berwick Street in the photo which was used on the cover of Oasis' album "(What's the Story) Morning Glory". Finally, after another look at the purple façade next door and gorgeous suits as well as a bizarre dog's head on top of one of the mannequins in the window display, I take up my courage and walk in.... You see, I have never interviewed anyone before.
I recognise Chris, straightaway. I know what to expect thanks to this being an age of internet... We both settle into a comfy armchair with the view onto the street and one of the first things I notice on the coffee table in front of me is one of my favourite books: "Soho and Theatreland Through Time".
It is about Soho that I ask first. Chris said once that he loves Soho and he can't imagine working anywhere else and though I'm guessing the answers, my first question is: "Why Soho?"
"Soho is such a diverse place. You can see movie stars walking down the street and then you can see the homeless... It hasn't been sanitised like other areas in London, Mayfair for example. I spend a lot of time in Soho and I like to support local businesses."
I ask him about his favourite places: "I like la Tosca and Flat White, both are here at Berwick Street. I like pizza at Melati, but that's off Oxford Street and the pubs; The Blue Posts round the corner and the Star and Garter. I sometimes get something from Berwick Street and I wish it was bigger, the way it used to be."
Obviously, Chris remembers the area from the days when he was as a child. He used to hang out in his father's shop and observe him at work and this is where he really learned how to be the cutter. Eddie Kerr established his tailor's shop in Soho in 1960 and at that time he had to compete with as many as 20 or 30 tailors.
"At some point dad made suits for many snooker players. Also for the singer Matt Monroe and Procol Harum. One day in the 80s dad said that there was a bunch of scruffy looking Irish guys in his shop. That scruffy looking bunch were in fact the U2 band."
"You have an impressive list of clients" I state the obvious. "Do you remember what you talked with Johnny Depp about, for example?" I have a feeling the question is a bit banal, but it is too late...
"They are absolutely normal people. We talk about normal things; wives and kids... People often think they know them, but they don't. They only assume they do..."
"Anyone well-known you are working for now?" I ask
It turns out that Chris has just made suits for the cast playing in a new show "I can't sing" at The Palladium Theatre.
I decide to change the topic slightly; "You've once said you wish you could have made a suit for Frank Sinatra. Anyone else?"
Chris ponders for a while and then mentions one of my favourite actors: "Jack Nicholson" Then we try to think together what Jack would be happy with. Would he still like to wear something flashy like in the old days...
I have no idea by now, how long we have been here sitting in the comfy armchairs and whether I'm already on borrowed time. I ask Chris about the unusual window display with the dog's head.
"When we were creating the website and they needed some photos we came up with this idea. The three of us; the two guys working on the website and me are wearing the animal heads that you can see on the website."
"And which one is you? One of the dogs or the zebra?" After a while Chris decides it must be a dog's head he is wearing. I am happy to read some story into the whole thing but it turns out that the idea was to match the heads with the suits!
I decide to ask a final question; "You have recently made a TV debut in the famous series Mr Selfridge. How did it happen?"
"They needed a tailor to do the measuring in one of the scenes. Someone who won't make a silly mistake that someone else could spot while watching the episode. I wasn't even supposed to have a line at first but then I did"
"Do you still remember your line"?
"Of course... I had to say "Yes, Sir"
"My dad appeared as a tailor as well, in the movie with Daniel Craig "Love is the Devil" and then in TV Series "The Long Firm"
Chris had promised to show me his workshop but before we leave the shop I ask if his daughters are going to follow him in his footsteps. He is not sure but reveals that his 20-year-old nephew has been working for him. I'm glad to hear that the future for this unique, traditional family business looks promising.
As we leave the shop and step onto the sun flooded street Chris points out the windows above nearby shops and adds; "They work for Saville Row" I knew that traditionally a lot of work for Saville Row was done in Soho workshops, but find it extraordinary that it is still the way things are often done...
Just round the corner and up the steep steps we walk into the workshop where George and George are just in the middle of the work. They are nice and happy to pose to the photos and explain what exactly they are doing. One of the Georges is from Cyprus and started to work as a tailor at the age of 13. The other George was born here but his parents are from Cyprus as well.
There is a nice relaxed atmosphere and I take a cheeky snap of Chris and one of the Georges together. As we are about to leave he takes a lovely looking jacket, obviously ready for a lucky client who is going to try it on. I wonder who it could be for.... We say goodbye in the middle of the street.
Then I go to La Tosca (first time ever) have a delicious panini and cappuccino, and go through my hardly decipherable notes from the interview. As I'm about to leave I ask the lovely couple running the cafe where they are from; "la Tosca is a village in Northern Italy. That is where we are from. The village was first and not the opera". I compliment them on lovely food, coffee and homely atmosphere and say it was Chris Kerr who recommended the place."
"Yes, Chris comes twice or three times a day" says the amicable Italian man. It has been a fabulous day; I have just met a few real Sohoities; from Chris Kerr and the two Georges to that lovely Italian couple.
Chris Kerr Bespoke tailor
31 Berwick Street, London, W1F 8RJ.