‘There have been tears in the changing room’ — Daisy Knatchbull on bespoke suits for women
How Savile Row’s The Deck has revolutionised female tailoring. By Anna Murphy
Daisy Knatchbull, the founder of the female-focused Savile Row tailors The Deck, has to cancel at the last minute when we are due to catch up on the phone. She is extremely apologetic at the time, and is still apologising when we eventually speak, a couple of weeks later. “I was with a new client who had flown in from America and just turned up at the store. She turned out to be our biggest client yet. She spent £40,000 in an hour. I just couldn’t leave her.”
That’s one answer to anyone still asking the question as to whether Covid killed the suit. Another is that The Deck’s sales have doubled year-on-year since it was founded in 2019. Knatchbull, 31, now has 2,500 women on her books, ranging in age from 19 to 96, all of whom have bought a made to measure suit — or, as is increasingly the case, suits.
“These are women we know like the back of our hands, not just their measurements but their likes and dislikes, their skin tone, their hair colour. We know what works for them. They learn they can trust us, so then they come back for more.” A first suit is typically navy. After that it can go any which way, from toile de Jouy to a funked up British-made check from the aptly named Dashing Tweeds by way of, well, if you must, more navy.
Knatchbull — who is the great-granddaughter of Louis, 1st Earl Mountbatten — describes herself as “lucky enough to have been around Savile Row tailoring from a young age”. Part of her motivation in founding The Deck was to render the unquestionable specialness of having a suit made to your measurements more widely available, comparatively speaking. She offers a series of core jacket, trouser, skirt and waistcoat styles, and — after your fitting on Savile Row, one of three in total — work on the suit begins by tailors based at an artisanal factory in Porto, Portugal. “That’s what enables us to charge £2,800 rather than £5,000 for a two-piece suit.” There is also a fully bespoke, British-made option available at a higher price.
She has just launched an eponymous ready-to-wear line, Knatchbull, “to deliver all the pieces our clients have been telling us they need to go with their tailoring, a trench coat that sits on top of a suit, the perfect cashmere crew or silk blouse to go underneath it”. The trench (£2,295, thedecklondon.com) is a standout, with its structured cut and its lovely shade of stone. “So much more flattering for many women than the traditional camel,” says Knatchbull, who rightly points out that many so-called neutrals — khaki being another notable example — can be trickier than their nomenclature suggests. “We tested our stone on lots of different clients.”
The Deck isn’t the first Savile Row operation to serve women, but it is the first one to have its own shop front, and — as befits a brand run by someone who previously worked as communications director at Huntsman — to set out its stall in a bigger sense too, not just making suits, but working to change the narrative around female tailoring.
There is the practical aspect to that, with four female fitters working alongside Knatchbull in the store. “Our core customer base is 45 to 65. Lots of our women are dealing with things that are changing their bodies — IVF, menopause, mastectomy. You want to speak to another woman about that. You want someone who understands.”
Some clients worry that they have lost their waist, or fear that because they have a big bust they can’t wear tailoring. Others have never been able to wear trousers before. All these women have been “failed” by off-the-peg fashion, says Knatchbull. When I ask for an example she offers up how a blazer cut to fit a bigger bosom will often then fall straight down from that point, “when a woman with this body type will tend to have a neat waist, which needs to be emphasised”.
She is also adamant that a suit can — and should — be as comfortable as anything else, and that it can also be expressive of who you are. “Men often wear a suit because they feel they have to. For women it’s a choice.” Recent tweaks by The Deck include an embroidered rendering of one client’s horse on a jacket sleeve, and stitching a ring of another client’s grandmother into a seam. Every suit comes with generous inlays so it can be taken in and out, if required, “for the rest of someone’s life”.
“There is this idea that suits are for tall, slim women,” continues Knatchbull, who is well aware that she is that stereotype herself. “I am here to bust that myth. Often women come to us feeling we are their last chance. There have been tears in the changing room.”
Tears? There is something deeper going on than mere tailoring here, it would seem. “Lots of our women, more than half I would say, don’t like to look at themselves in the mirror when they first come to the store,” Knatchbull says. “It doesn’t matter how good your craftsmanship is, people have this idea of themselves. When I get someone to see themselves differently in the mirror, to see their beauty, that gives me the biggest sense of achievement.”