Flying in the face of fast fashion, in favour of slow, timeless style, father-son duo Territo Tailoring on Park Street is one of the city’s most enduring stalwart businesses. Here the master craftsmen talk tricks of the trade. Photography by James Beck
The first Italian tailors to start their own business in the city, Giacchino Territo and his brother opened Territo Tailoring in 1967. Born in Sicily, in a village called Ribera, when Giacchino was six years old he was sent to watch his uncle working – principally to keep him and his brother out of trouble, but life in post-war Italy was very tough for the working class, so youngsters would start working as much as they could early on, to help support the family. Moving away from Sicily to find more work, Giacchino – Jack, for short – spent a brief time in Germany before following his siblings to Bristol where they worked for local firms before striking out on their own. The first Territo Tailoring shop was on Union Street, where it stayed until 1980 when the council redeveloped the area and the business moved over to Park Street which has been its home ever since; the place where its fully bespoke suits are so painstakingly crafted.
…Dressing up is the statement it’s always been but there are so many ways to scratch that sartorial itch…
“The word ‘bespoke’ is a bit meaningless these days,” says Jack’s son Michael, who joined his father in tailoring full-time 10 years ago. “But our definition of our working really is fully bespoke because we do everything ourselves and don’t outsource anything to factories.”
You only have to pop your head into the workshop to witness for yourself how digilently the duo work on the making of both men’s and ladies’ garments – recently, they have seen a surge in the popularity of ladies’ suiting – and legitimising their claim of being the city’s real master tailors. Well-versed in the A-to-Z of the trade, they might be mid-way through measuring up a customer, drafting and cutting unique paper patterns for commissioned garments, or getting down to the nitty gritty of making a jacket predominantly by hand, occasionally enlisting the help of a 50-year-old vintage sewing machine, before finishing and hand-pressing. We mined their wardrobe-load of expertise to get the lowdown on life as a Bristol tailor.
TBM: How long did it take to learn the tailoring ropes? Mike Territo: Being a tailor is a lifetime’s work – I think if you asked anyone in our trade if they have seen it all, they’d be lying if they said they had. We are always seeing new styles and ways of doing things that we always try and inject into the way we work. Giacchino has been tailoring for over 60 years, having started his training as a small boy in his village in Sicily, where both his uncles were tailors, so we’re part of a long tradition of tailoring going back many generations.
What fabrics do you like to work with? We work with a wide variety of fabrics, and the choice for the customer can be overwhelming. So it is our job to find them something that realises their vision for how they want to look. This is especially the case when we produce garments to be worn at a customer’s wedding, when there are often many colour and style considerations to be taken into account. So, we find ourselves working with a number of mills both in the UK and in Italy, and we can usually find exactly what our customer is looking for. We also have upwards of 1,500 suit lengths on site, which the customer can choose from, some of which date back to the 1960s when the business was founded. So really we enjoy working with a fabric that both inspires us and the customer and the variety of different colours and patterns we work on really keeps things fresh for us. At the moment there is a real shift towards people wanting pinstripe suits – this could be, in part, thanks to the popularity of shows such as Peaky Blinders which has helped people rediscover sartorial trends from the early part of the 20th century.
What are your views on fast fashion? It really flies in the face of our business model. Obviously buying bespoke is a more expensive means of getting a suit when compared to the high street, but what our customers soon realise is that they are buying a product of which great care has been taken to produce something that is both unique and personalised to both their figure and their taste. We are creating something that is not only to be worn a couple of times but can be passed down to their children, and their children’s children. In essence we are the complete opposite of fast fashion; we are slow, timeless fashion. Environmentally, one of our favourite mills produces its fabric in Somerset so, for the clothing industry, our carbon footprint for manufacturing is very small.
…There is a real shift towards pinstripe suits – this could be thanks to shows such as Peaky Blinders helping people rediscover sartorial trends from the early part of the 20th century…
Do you have any fitting advice or tips for those buying their first suit? Most people that come to us have an idea of the kind of fit they are looking for in a suit; it is our job to work with them to create something that, above all, complements their figure. For us as tailors, the most important thing is the lapels and the collar fit. Buying your first suit can be a real challenge for some; there is a lot of talk among the sartorial community about building a wardrobe, with different colours and styles of garment. This can be an overwhelming, let alone expensive concept for those starting out in the suit world. Our advice is to begin with a navy suit that can be used for all sorts of occasions and tends to go with a multitude of different accessories, such as ties, shirts and shoes. As we always say, the most important thing is that the suit makes you feel more confident, not self-conscious. When you put on your suit you need to wear it, not let it wear you!
How long does it take to make a suit and what’s the trickiest bit? Typically one of our jackets takes upwards of 60 hours to produce, and I wouldn’t even like to hazard a guess as to how many hand stitches go into each garment but it’s in the thousands. Our main challenges come when a customer’s figure requires lots of figuration to the garment; for example, often people who work at a desk have what we call a ‘drop shoulder’. This is when one shoulder is a little lower than the other and something that only really shows itself when you put on a suit jacket. We assess the customer’s singularities and alter the item accordingly.
…Styles have merged, especially on Savile Row. Traditionally British tailoring features a more formal cut and is stronger in look with pronounced shoulders, made in classic English worsted fabric…
What’s your favourite part of the process? The best thing for us is building a genuine relationship with our customers over the course of the process; typically we do around three or four fittings over the course of the manufacture. Also many of the methods of working have remained unchanged for hundreds of years, so we really feel we are keeping a rich heritage alive in the city. When my father started the business there were bespoke tailors on every high street in Bristol. There is still the Merchant Hall facade on Small Street in the Old City called Tailors’ Court (now serviced apartments) where the many tailors used to meet in the 18th and 19th centuries.
What are your observations on Sicilian and British styles? This is a very difficult subject to really (excuse the pun) pin down, as styles have merged somewhat in recent years, especially on Savile Row. In essence, traditionally British tailoring features a more formal cut and is stronger in look with pronounced shoulders, made in classic English worsted fabric. Italian style, in contrast, is more relaxed, with softer shoulders, and colours can be a lot more vibrant. This is born out of the fact that Italians tend to be more comfortable wearing suits and jackets as an everyday thing. We are, however, finding that this trend is proliferating itself into British culture; dressing up is still the statement it’s always been but there are so many ways to scratch that sartorial itch. We always advise our customer to create a Pinterest of garments that inspire them as a reference for current and future commissions.
Is the father-son set-up usually one of peace and harmony? The first thing to say about our working relationship is that we are best friends; that said there are moments in any collaborative relationship when things get tough, especially when deadlines are looming. However we always end each day positively and really enjoy all the time we get to spend together.