A New Bespoke Project, Part II: Nino’s Bespoke Tailoring

Tailor Franco Santoro sewing a suit jacket in his London work rooms

In part one I introduced you to Nino’s bespoke tailoring service. In this instalment we actually get to meet the craftsman who is going to make my bespoke suit, Franco Santoro -Nino's father.

Franco works from a tiny room on Kingly Street, just behind London department store Liberties. It’s a functional space, a space for working in and working quickly and efficiently. It’s certainly a far cry from the image portrayed in the magazines of celebrity tailors who waft around Savile Row without breaking sweat, or performing a stitch. Franco is a proper working tailor and well used to the harsh demands of such a life.

Franco Santoro: “At the age of seven I went to school until one o’clock then I would got to work at the tailors. I would sit under the table sewing by hand. That was Italy at that time. You had to stand and watch your mentor to learn. I was good, I could see it and make it, I had friends who couldn’t and left. That’s how it started. You start sewing a year later and at the age of 12 or 13 you started making trousers, then waistcoats and then jackets. You worked your way up slowly but by the age of 20 you knew everything. You could make jackets, waistcoats and trousers and eventually you were ready to fit customers”.

Franco Santoro fingers at work

While we are talking Franco’s fingers move at lightning speed as he works at the latest bespoke commission for an eager customer.

FS: “The pay was poor; it was chocolate money. When you finished a suit we had to take it to the customers and you’d get tips, often they’d give fruit! I learned to do a proper job and correctly and to do it for little money. Everything was by hand, no machines. Satisfaction came when your boss said; “you’ve done well”, and that was good.

It was a factory of tailors, there’s nothing like it, and it was very competitive. In those days [in Italy] there were so many tailors, if customers left you they were lost. You couldn’t talk or laugh in the shop and for my boss the customer was god. And if you lost one [customer] you lost 5 because they were all friends. If you failed you didn’t work again. That was Italy in the 1950s. It was such a hard life that it prompted me to leave”. 

Having learnt his trade and completed his national service Franco left Italy and moved to England where he worked in the Simon Ackman factory, which he describes as “like a university of tailoring”. Then in 1968 Franco moved to London working with various Italian tailors until he gained his work permit, whereupon he set up his first shop in Soho.

FS: “Customers came from all over the world to get a handmade Italian suit made by an actual Italian tailor. London had Savile Row but my expertise was better, but I [still] had to copy that [Savile Row] if even it was worse than that which I’d learnt. I had to spy and look how pockets were done etc.

Today I can do a proper Italian suit. I can do Neapolitan, and I’m the only one who can make it [in London]. People are happy and they come back. Sometimes you make things but the customer wants other things and I have to make what he wants. The customer is king, he rules us. I can give him suggestions, but that’s it. I have to read their minds for what they’re after and solve the problem of how to give them what they want.

You must feel to be a tailor. It must be in the blood. At seven I knew I wanted to do this. At school they said I should stay on but I wanted to be a tailor. I enjoy my work. Sometimes I hate it when you have something very complicated you say “why do I want to be a tailor?”, but you got to make them [customers] happy even when you lose. I get big satisfaction when they are happy”.

I asked him about some of his past customers. In his time Franco has made suits for Robbie Williams, boxer David Haye and actor John Malkovich:

FS: “I made him several suits which were used in a film. He invited me to watch the filming.

I made a suit for one customer, like one he’d seen Michael Jackson wear, and he was dancing as I fitted him! It was a white suit with blue bands on the sleeves!".

Franco then looks up from his work and with a weary look in his eyes and that quintessentially Italian shrug of the shoulders says:

FS: “Customers dream and sometimes they dream too much, and you have to try to make those dreams happen”.

I then proceeded to tell Franco of my idea for a Donegal Tweed suit in the Neapolitan style with a detachable storm front. He looked away from me shook his head and said; “no, no, no –I’ve never made one of those before”. I’m guessing from his reaction I’m one of those customers that dreams too much. A genuinely nice guy it was a great pleasure to meet him and hear a little of his background and extraordinary personal history.   

 

For an appointment contact:

Nino's of London: 49 Brewer Street, Soho, London W1F 9UG. Tel: +44 (0)20 7734 3234

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