Darren Tiernan, one of Budd Shirtmakers’ three bespoke cutters, is a reassuringly old school figure. But then, most things about Budd are reassuringly old school. In an age where thoroughbred British brands are few and far between, this cosy three-storey shop on London’s Piccadilly Arcade, with its mullioned windows lined with printed silk and cashmere scarves, is the menswear equivalent of a Dickensian picture postcard.
“I came straight into shirtmaking out of school,” says Tiernan, leaning on his cutting board, nestled away on the top floor of Budd’s store. He’s a tall man with a soft south London accent, well-cut double-breasted suit and a kindly manner. “Back then, we used to have a half-hour sit-down with a teacher to talk ‘careers advice’ in our last year, and I was told ‘oh, you go and do something creative – there’s an apprenticeship going on Savile Row.’ I’d never heard of the place, but I took a punt on it and that was that.”
Said apprenticeship happened to be at Bowring & Arundel, a legendary store in its day and the only shirtmaker on Savile Row. Sadly, it closed in the late ‘80s, but much like Budd is today, in the 100-odd years it was alive and kicking, Bowring was a one-of-a-kind shop. “It had a lovely fireplace,” says Tiernan. “The walls were mahogany panelled and filled with displays of the all Club Ties that we used to make. There was a floor-to-ceiling glass cabinet containing shirting cloths in the middle of the room, and rails filled with ancient madder gowns. I was an apprentice there under Bob Whittaker, who’s now retired, then moved to New & Lingwood and learned under Sean O’Flynn, so I had two good teachers.”
You get the picture. Tiernan cut his teeth at some of the most rarefied shirtmakers in London – and this experience typifies Budd’s approach to the trade today. “Bob used to say, ‘if you aim to be the very best shirtmaker you can be, even if you fall a little bit short, you’ll still be doing all right.’ I’ve always followed that advice.”
Today, the Budd shirt is as classic a ‘West End’ shirt as you’ll find anywhere, available in either a generous, tailored or slim fit. The house’s signature look is distinctly roomy – true to the shirts that built the house’s reputation for quality and elegance in the early 20th century. “At Budd, we say our shirts are cut for men, not for boys,” quips Tiernan. “Today, slim fit shirts are all the rage, but if you want a shirt to look clean; with the right drops on the shoulders, a lovely natural fall through the chest and a flattering waist, you need a little bit of room to let it drape. Traditional London shirtmaking dictates that a shirt won’t be cut slim – it’ll be cut to give you a smooth silhouette.” It’s a similar story with Budd’s collars; which are angular and pointed – not cut-away – constructed with two layers of floating brushed cotton interlining for a firm, polished look.
To know that there are still shops out there upholding London’s long tradition of making classic dress shirts is heartwarming, but it would be a mistake to write-off Budd as reactionary. This year, thanks in large part to the work of Tiernan’s colleague, cutter and product designer, James MacAuslan, Budd is introducing all manner of new, intriguing ready-to-wear pieces; from ecologically-sourced organic cotton shirts, to short sleeve resort shirts and even ready-to-wear raglan sleeve denim shirts, which Darren has cut for bespoke clients for a number of years now. Thomas Mason’s Victoria Denim, in particular, is a house favourite.
“We’re getting more casual cloths coming through, for sure,” says Tiernan. “I’ve got four different shirts in different Thomas Mason denims, and a lot of our clients are wearing it too. I cut my newest denim shirt with a semi-cutaway collar and single cuffs, and I wear it with a navy double-breasted suit and a dark knitted tie. It’s a real winner. I wore it on our most recent US trunk show, and lots of customers wanted to try the same thing.”
“The relationship we have with our customers is another thing that makes Budd special. The client comes in, sees me, James, or our Head Cutter, Mr Butcher, and he’ll always see us – without exception. We draft our patterns and cut every shirt upstairs, measure customers in the lower ground floor fitting room, look at cloth options on the ground floor. Everything happens at this address – we don’t outsource anything.”
— Darren Tiernan
The same applies to the making process at Budd. Once a client’s been measured up and his pattern cut on the Arcade, his shirts will be made in Budd’s workshop in Andover, just outside of London, which employs around 15 dedicated seamstresses. “As a cutter, I’m constantly in dialogue with the workshop – I go down there a couple of times a week,” explains Tiernan. “If there are any problems, the girls will call me up and we’ll get them sorted. Owning the workshop allows us to have complete control over the quality of our shirts and I think that’s what people expect from proper bespoke.”
Certainly, if Budd stands for one thing today, it’s “proper bespoke” shirtmaking. Tiernan and his colleagues aren’t just master craftsmen, they’re keeping an English tradition alive.