Interview – Ivory Boutique & Room Ten
Husband and wife team David Groves and Sarah Grieves, Managing Directors of Farnham?s The Ivory Boutique and Room Ten discuss their love of tailoring and the increasing popularity of male grooming.
D: It all started because Sarah is a tailor by trade, and she was making alterations to wedding dresses.
S: I started thinking that I?d like to apply my expertise directly and create my choice of dresses, rather than just making alterations to other people?s. The alterations side of the business has kept going and is constantly busy, but Ivory Boutique, wedding dress shop, is really where I gain most fulfilment. I?ve been a dressmaker for 26 years, and David?s been in the industry for 10 years. It just seemed natural for him to get involved. To get a male perspective is unusual, and it helps ? I like that.
D: Room Ten started in the dingy basement of my House, launching officially once Sarah had taken the jump into weddings with The Ivory Boutique. Again we started with alterations, but making the move into our own made to measure suits. I am fascinated by men?s tailoring and I love it that we can now produce everything from suits and shirts to ties and blazers, even dresses and coats. We now have a fitting service in Savile Row, and Sarah opened the second Ivory Boutique store in Winchester last year.
S: I love working with unusual designers and looking for those dresses that are a little outside the box. It has taken 3 or 4 years to be able to stock some of the brands that we wanted, as many of the leading designers will only allow their stock to be in one store within a specific radius, but I?m really proud that we are now the biggest stockist of Pronovias gowns outside London, and we have some great new brands. Lusan Mandongus is another favourite of mine ? it was a very young company when we first came across them, but they are now very high profile and on the covers of lots of magazines – it?s a very romantic, vintage style. Lace is still popular, and girls don?t seem to want strapless gowns anymore. Lace was around before the Royal Wedding but I think that really made it take off. Pronovias and Lusan are probably our most popular gowns today.
D: I would say half of the grooms we dress are choosing Morning suits, but the rest are choosing a 3 piece suit, using the occasion as an excuse to have something made to measure and they are spending as much as the girls these days! The groom and probably the best man will have made to measure, spending about £1000 with the rest of the party hiring something similar.
Following Mary Portas? crusade it will all be made fully bespoke in the UK.
D: We do make a lot of suits for weddings, but we also make a lot of work suits. A lot of men get suits made for Ascot and Henley, and whilst Sarah?s business may be a little seasonal, ours can run throughout the year.
S: I have noticed many girls travelling a long way to track down a particular dress that they want ? I have had some brides coming to us from Ireland and Scotland. We also see a lot travelling from London too ? some girls come to see our Pronovias collection, and others come on from Harrods. They love going to London and having the experience of trying on a dress in Harrods, but then they come and buy from us.
D: I love looking at what the designers are doing ? my particular favourite is Vivienne Westwood, and I would always look at what she is doing in both the ladies and the men?s design. A lot of tailors don?t want to get involved in women?s designs because their figures fluctuate ? but we are excited to be launching a new range of ladies suits, jackets, skirts and dresses. Following Mary Portas? crusade it will all be made fully bespoke in the UK. We are trying to make more of our stock in the UK, and we try to use British fabrics as much as possible. I think they are still the best fabrics in the world, and I think it is great that we British are beginning to want to buy more British products now.
A wedding dress is the most expensive item a girl will buy ? and for me it is not just about buying that one item, but about the whole experience.
D: We are proud to tell everybody that all our suits are made by us, and they are made to our own block, using our own fabric and cut. I may choose to finish the suit in Portugal, Italy, Germany or even the Czech Republic, but it is all made to our specification. Not all the Savile Row tailors make on site any more, but there are some good manufacturers in the north of England, Huddersfield and Scotland as well. All our hire wear is kept in Scotland, and delivered to us when we need it.
D: I love classic British tailoring, and we like to do a very fitted, waisted cut on a suit. Italian and German suits are cut looser than ours. The Italians like a loose jacket, whereas we tend to use a heavier fabric and tighter fit.
A lot of people around the world will copy British tailoring. In the USA they like big suits, the Germans like a boxy and square fit, but the British style is very fitted ? but then again they are more casual in Europe, tending to wear chinos and shirts more than we do. Things don?t change much in suits ? thin lapels are in at the moment but wider will come back. If we can make designs that are a little bit different it really gets noticed. When we put a new suit in the window it tends to sell straight away. Vivienne Westwood?s style is far more edgy than ours – Farnham can?t go too edgy, but I still think it filters down.
S: On the bridal side we try to be a little bit different and choose unusual dresses. We have a bridal shop close to us but I don?t feel we are in competition because our brides choose differently. Word of mouth is our biggest source of business and we love it when people come back to us ? admittedly a wedding dress in a once in a lifetime buy, but we get bridesmaids coming back to us for their wedding dress. A wedding dress is the most expensive item a girl will buy ? and for me it is not just about buying that one item, but about the whole experience. I want the girls to enjoy coming back, and not feel that it is a stuffy or formal environment. I would rather suggest to a bride that if it is her first appointment that she looks around and if this dress sticks in her mind then come back and look again. You build a relationship with a bride because she may order her dress a year before her wedding. We have brides who come back after they have had babies – and I love it that they still pop in and see us!
I think every man should have a blue suit.
D: Roger Black wears Room 10, and we designed for Fulham Football Club, and we?re hoping to dress West Ham FC next season. Sarah didn?t dress Kate Middleton but The Ivory Boutique does sell the Bridesmaids dresses that the little girls wore at the Royal Wedding.
S: I love the excitement of finding a new designer at the start of their career, and I make sure I attend the trade shows at Harrogate, London, Barcelona and Madrid to keep a look out. I also scour the trade magazines to see who is new out there. We have started travelling more with the business, and we are taking the whole team to Barcelona to see the new collections for next year.
D: At Room Ten, we have started printing our own fabrics which is really exciting as it means we can produce our own ties and linings as well as shirts. We make sure that everything has a Room Ten label, and that is the same for The Ivory Boutique ? a bride isn?t just having a Pronovias dress, she is having an ivory Boutique Dress. Sarah hopes to be able to produce her own capsule collection of dresses soon ? just a few very elegant, very simple gowns in exquisite fabrics, in a rather Audrey Hepburn style. A simple cut shows off a beautiful fabric- there is much more room to hide poor workmanship in a showy dress, and she likes the precise attention that a simple dress commands.
S: A Wedding dress takes a long time to produce and I think girls don?t always realise how long it takes ? I spend a long time making patterns and toiles before the real dress is made. All the dresses in my shop are just samples, which I buy at trade price and then a bride will have one made to fit her. That said, I carry up to 120 dresses at a time which represents a huge investment, so if a girl likes a particular dress that is quite unusual and it fits her well I will often suggest that she might like to take that particular dress at a discounted price. About 80% of my sales come from 20% of the dresses, so I can gauge quite quickly which ones are going to be favourites, but I still have to stock a variety.
D: At Room Ten things are much quicker, because styles remain quite similar. We can get a jacket made within a few weeks, although something more drastic like a lapel change will take longer. We still suggest that grooms allow enough time however, as they do tend to lose weight too and will need a last fitting. We had one groom who lost huge amounts of weight and he just didn?t come back in for a new fitting, and that did make things very difficult! And Sarah has spent quite few nights sewing alterations into the small hours.
D: We have very little spare time, and working together we find that any time we do get free we like to spend away for the night, removing ourselves completely from work, otherwise we will talk about it all night. We like staying in Hotel du Vin because they are dog friendly. And we also like eating out ? I like Thai food, so the Rum Wong in Guildford is a definite favourite.
S: Our dog keeps us very busy, and it was she who inspired us to produce some doggy capes! We did a photo shoot for our website with our dog wearing one of our capes sitting on a velvet chair and it looks like an ancestral portrait!
D: I used to ski ? maybe 3 or 4 times a season, and I have an apartment in Chamrousse near Grenoble, but I haven?t skied much recently. It?s not a bad place for skiing although a little man-made, but Sarah is not a skier so we trend to visit there in summer. We are also trying to get back into running as we were both quite good runners when we met.
D: In terms of a capsule wardrobe for guys, I think every man should have a navy suit, a grey suit, and a couple of smart casual jackets. We also do bespoke jeans. Some men will happily spend £500 or £600 on a really nice jacket, and then wear that with a really good pair of jeans. The pocket square has really made a comeback recently, so I?d add a couple of those and some nice shirts. Waistcoats have also made a bit of a comeback.
We think of the whole outfit more than we used to, with belts, socks, cufflinks and shoes. Every now and then Room 10 will offer a ?wardrobe? of capsule pieces for each season. We ran a new business wardrobe in January consisting of 2 suits with extra trousers and 4 shirts and sold that at £1500, which would normally be nearer £2000, so it has been very popular.
S: For girls, I think now you can get married anywhere the options are unlimited. For me quality of fabric is really important because the dress will fall differently in a cheap fabric. Structuring is important and cut is important ? you need to find a dress that suits your body shape. Some brides bring in pictures from magazines that they have seen, but when they try them on it doesn?t suit their body shape and I can show them a dress that will make them look 2 stone lighter. I believe that all our girls leave with the right dress. Feathers are very popular at the moment? they look wow, but they?re not the easiest commercial decision ? it is good to have something in the window to draw people in, but most girls tend not to go for the wackiest designs.
The Ivory Boutique and Room Ten will both be showcasing a few of their latest designs at Aviator?s next wedding showcase, taking place at the hotel on 16 September 2012. For more information contact The Ivory Boutique at www.theivoryboutique.co.uk or visit them at 85 West Street, Farnham, Surrey GU9 7EN. Tel: 01252 821 140.
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