No Frills, Just Frew

Sunday, September 16, 2012

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An article in last week's New York Times under the headline 'What's A $4,000 Suit Worth?' brought Peter Frew, a 33-year-old Jamaican immigrant to our attention. Naturally, we had to track him down...

If one is to go by Peter Frew's unassuming nature, it's hard to fathom that this 33-year-old Jamaican constructs bespoke suits for a cluster of New York's social and corporate elite.

"They're all millionaires, presidents of banks, CEOs of construction companies...not celebs yet, but they're coming," said a confident Frew, describing his clientele as he sits down with SO for an exclusive interview.

"Many of my clients are more surprised at my age than my nationality, as tailors I know, and I guess the ones they've come across, too, are usually well over 60!"

Eschew all thoughts of a Madison Avenue atelier or even a studio that's part of the Manhattan skyline, but rather, a modest Brooklyn apartment — near Flatbush Avenue — from which Frew creates his sartorial pieces.

The young Jamaican's world is far from the buzz and frenzy of the Lincoln Centre, where the Spring 2013 collections were being unveiled at New York Fashion Week, and he doesn't seem to mind.

"I've never considered myself a designer; I'm a tailor," Frew says matter-of-factly, pointing out that his self-run company, Archangelo Sartorial, offers a boutique experience, where after 10-12 weeks clients will have had an exquisite hand-cut garment -- the most basic of which starts at US$4,000.

"I carry over 4,000 fabric selections for shirts and a myriad of books imported from England featuring choice suiting fabric," Frew tells SO, adding that the idea of the 'bespoke' suit dates back to a time when menswear meant consulting with a tailor.

"Men would meet their tailors to choose what fabric they wanted their suit to be made essence the fabric was 'spoken for'," Frew notes, "and over time that became known as bespoke."

Frew's skill, which the New York Times Magazine recently positioned as a dying art form in the face of an aggressive prêt-à-porter retail industry, started nearly 20 years ago in his native parish of Westmoreland.

A graduate of Manning's School, Frew moved to Kingston to attend sixth form at Wolmer's Boys, but dropped out of the programme after just one week.

"I was proving to be a bit troubled and my mum said, 'You like sewing, so see if you can go be a tailor's apprentice," Frew recalls, "and she gave me a link to Norris Parchment's tailor shop in Savanna-la-Mar."

It was there that he was introduced to the cut and concept of the bespoke suit.

"Mr Norris had a friend from England and he worked on Savile Row," Frew shares, adding that his work ethic and knowledge earned this older gentleman's attention, and he eventually became something of a mentor to the young tailor.

Dropping names like the Hidalgo Brothers and Trinidad-born Andrew Ramroop, Frew hopes to emulate if not better the legacy of these celebrated Savile Row tailors.

He believes that Jamaica's fashion industry isn't short on talent. Rather, many designers fail to educate themselves on international standards.

"Many really consider themselves designers without any real understanding of fit and functionality," Frew says.

"It's important that Jamaican designers educate themselves, not just in terms of improving skill set but also increasing their knowledge of the market, having a true understanding of how it works from end to end," he notes.

At this point, our conversation is interrupted by a call. It's a prospect-the vice — president of a popular New York establishment who requests a consultation. Frew ends the call after about two minutes having discussed only timelines but no cost.

It's now clear that if you have to ask, then you can't afford it.

"That was...he wants me to construct him an entire wardrobe," he smiles, noting that consultation is followed by the first fitting, two weeks after, then the second, four weeks after that.

Don't for a nanosecond think that catering to this niche means Frew's got lots of time on his hands. In fact, he's fully booked until December with intermittent orders going up to May 2013.

Our conversation meanders through Jamaican politics and current affairs, before stopping at popular culture, most appropriate since Vbyz Kartel's Bend Over sounds from his docked iPhone.

"I like what Kartel does with words, but locally, I admire Assassin's performances and styling; he always manages to create a clean look, classy, and so if I were to sew for any local celebrity it would be him," Frew says.

Of his business model, Frew currently says he has a small showroom in Manhattan called Dormeuil, where he sees his clients and stores his fabric, but has aspirations of one day owning a bigger space with an annexed studio.

There are plans afoot, too, to introduce Made To Measure, a mid-end facility that would feature less customisation and cheaper fabric.

"I really want this investment to be something that I can look to open in Jamaica with the effect of denting the number of outsourced garment contracts that go to places like China," Frew posits.

Admittedly, he's not where he'd like to be in his career, but rejects the idea that the kind of magnitude of success he's hoping for won't come if he isn't catapulted into the realm of star-studded designer.

"The naysayers always tell me, 'You need a lot of capital to begin,' but my mum didn't raise us to fear limits," Frew says, "You don't need to be a celebrity designer, you only have to be known within your niche."





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