Our personal journey is full of symbolism, but often—despite the flashing lights telling us to go “here”—life needs to have patience with us until we find our way.
Such is the case for fifth generation, Savile Row trained and award winning Master tailor, Rory Duffy. As one of five siblings, Duffy distinctly remembers, as a child, being disciplined in primary school for opting to sew with the girls rather than play with the boys. His Grandfather Pat McCabe (1896) was an apprentice tailor and member of the Irish Republican Army. He fought in the revolutionary war that founded the Irish Free State. After the civil war, Pat continued work as a Merchant tailor and Postmaster in the picturesque village of Newbliss until his death in 1989. Even being around his grandfather, and knowing the rich history of his ancestors, Duffy expressed little interest in the tailoring or the fashion industry as a potential career. After graduating second level, he applied to study furniture design. In an interesting twist of fate, despite having the most original designs for the interview panel, he somehow missed the entry requirement by only a few points.
Duffy’s next move was to enroll in college studying Industrial Design in Donegal, however he soon found within the year that despite his stellar grades, it wasn’t an industry that appealed to his passions. While preparing for a college formal, Duffy offered to make a costume for his flatmate, a young lady he wished to impress. Since he already knew how to hand sew, and thanks to his mother sew chest, Duffy set about with his mother’s old domestic sewing machine. Duffy found a tailoring book of his Grandfathers, and after locking himself in his room for the weekend, he emerged triumphantly with this new creation that consisted of his mother’s old skirt, now redesigned into a ladies short jacket.The accomplishment was heightened further when his date realized that it fit her nearly perfectly. So impressed by his display of natural talent she encouraged him to look into tailoring. At this point, Duffy felt as though tailoring could be his call to destiny, and he immediately sought out tailors to apprentice under. As chance would have it, one of the last bespoke tailors Ireland had to offer hailed from the same town as Duffy’s new love. Within weeks he was settled into the coastal town of Sligo and beginning his tailoring career.
His first apprenticeship was with a third generation bespoke tailor Joseph Martin, a Civilian & Military Tailor, on Ireland’s west coast. He trained under the shop’s master tailor, Eugene Foley. During his time at Joseph Martin’s, Duffy worked on many military uniforms for both the Irish Air Corps, Irish Defence Force, and Reserve Defence Forces, of which he was a serving member. Duffy fell in love with the style and the various methods of tailoring illusion used in military tailoring and you can often see the effects of this fascination in his work today. The philosophy at Joseph Martins is to, “combine the finest materials with the most experienced tailors to achieve a bespoke garment which lends style, elegance and confidence to those who have the pleasure of wearing it.” This same philosophy has stuck with Duffy ever since he worked there over ten years ago and still influences his mindset today.
After a few years at Joseph Martin’s, Duffy progressed to Anthony McCann’s workshop on Chapel St. to take a position as Head Tailor. McCann was known for servicing Draper stores in Donegal, Sligo Rosscommon and Leitrim. This opportunity took Duffy out if the workshop, and gave him the chance to expand his skills and work directly with the clients. Even though Duffy was already working with the best in the industry, his insatiable appetite for knowledge and his ambitious nature wouldn’t allow him to settle for just what these master tailors could show him. He traveled to Galway bi-monthly to apprentice under Savile Row trained tailor David Young to learn more about the traditional art of hand tailoring. He also traveled to Dublin to train in cutting at Louis Copeland & Sons, under the vigilant guidance of Peter Fletcher, Master Cutter. The experience with Peter Fletcher gave him tools in the art of patternmaking and drafting for trousers that Duffy still uses and teaches today. Duffy found all the old tailors of Ireland eager to show this enthusiast youth the secrets of their trade, and to save the lost skills of tailoring from being laid waste to time.
During the spring of 2005, Duffy took a trip with his father to Savile Row in London. The place has always been synonymous with men’s fashion and bespoke tailoring, and Duffy became determined to join their elite ranks. He first met with Andrew Chan, who was the manager at Norton’s & Sons of Savile Row and informed Andrew of his interest to be a true master tailor by becoming an expert in every aspect of tailoring. Andrew told him about the Golden Shears, which is the tailoring world’s Oscars, and Duffy emphatically stated that he wanted to win that as well. Andrew was impressed with Duffy’s vision and even though he warned him that only Savile Row apprentices ever won the Golden Shears, he still gave Duffy a push in the right direction. He taught Duffy about the fine art of the hand stitched buttonhole, feeding into his love of handwork and fine stitching. Before leaving near three hours after this impromptu meet began, Andrew told Duffy about Christine Barry at London College of Fashion, advising the young Irishman to enroll in the Handcraft Tailoring Course, as he had done.
On a second visit later that year Duffy called by the founders of Savile Row Henry Poole and met with Phillip Parker their then Managing Director. Parker’s advice was similar to Andrew. Duffy was encouraged to enroll in the London College of Fashion’s Handcraft Tailoring program, with the possibility that Henry Poole would have an internship waiting for him when he moved over later that year. In 2006 Duffy graduated top of his class from the much desired program, and throughout that year-long diploma, Duffy took the opportunity to train under Chris Flourenzou, trouser maker to Savile Row and the West End. Once he mastered trouser making and possessed a solid grounding in both pattern cutting and military tailoring, Duffy was now ready to begin his coat making apprenticeship at Henry Poole under the watchful eye of their English Master Coat Maker Paul Frearson.
While apprenticing with these world famous tailors, Duffy never forgot about his desire to win the Golden Shears and so decide to design his winning piece specifically for the competition. On the 16th of March 2009 Rory Duffy became the first of Henry Poole’s apprentices to win first prize of the Golden Shears, and in that same night Duffy finished his third apprenticeship. Accompanied by his family and two of his former Masters, Frearson and Flourenzou, Duffy reeled with excitement of achieving a career long ambition.
After winning the tailoring world’s most coveted prize, Duffy set his sights on becoming a cutter on Savile Row. One aspect about the world of tailoring that makes Duffy’s journey so unique is that most people do not work to become proficient in every area of tailoring. Most will master cutting, or coat making, or trousers for example (there are many more areas to focus on). However, to truly become a Renaissance man in the art of the industry was not only a huge challenge for Duffy, but one that excited him. After all, there is no point in doing anything halfway. However, the structure of the tailoring industry and the uniqueness of Duffy’s ambition gave his superiors at Poole pause at his request. They did not see him in that position, instead they did reward him with a very adept and skilled apprentice by the name of Emily Squires. The young lady was equally matched in talent and made the perfect apprentice for the accomplished Duffy. Duffy trained her for a year at a fast pace, but when New York City called his name he handed the responsibility of her training over to his previous Master Paul Frearson. He encouraged Paul to keep Squires to the same fast paced training. After 2 yearsand 2 months Emily completed her coat apprenticeship. She remained under the guidance of her master for a further year but was assigned her own clients making coats to the highest standard. Her training was the shortest period spent as an apprentice of Paul Frearson as traditionally apprentices take 3-5 years with that specific field of study. Emily later went on to win the Golden Shears in 2013, making all three “coat maker’s apprentices” to Paul Frearson, Golden Shear winners.
In 2010, Duffy moved to New York City and occupied a private work shop at Martin Greenfield’s factory in Brooklyn. Greenfield is a well-known tailor to American Presidents, Hollywood film studios, and is the tailors tailor to classic American brand Brooks Brothers, producing their RTW suits. Greenfield’s factory has the capacity to produce two hundred finely tailored American custom suits per week. It’s floor is a hive of activity filled with working class artisans from all over the Globe.
In 2012 Duffy founded his own company Rory Duffy Handcraft Tailor providing bench made bespoke suits for both men and women from his Williamsburg Atelier. Here he offers the finest in handcrafted Savile Row quality bespoke suits to his clients. Duffy also spends part time hours as a lecturer of Tailoring at the Parson’s School of Design, pouring into future generations of master tailors so that the artisanal craft does not fade. Some of his students will even take the opportunity to apprentice to him at his shop.
Before forming his own company Duffy took two years out to consolidate his knowledge, and research women’s wear tailoring and addressing the challenge of tailoring for women. Seven years of dedicated training combined with two years of field research and aided by a patented measuring device he developed over the same time, Duffy is confident that he can cut, measure, fit and make any bespoke garment for men and women to the same high standards dictated by his former Masters on Savile Row. Duffy’s unique measuring system, when combine with his draft, results in the creation of each client’s individual block pattern accounting for the idiosyncrasy of his or her body.
With the rapid expansion of his business Duffy has partnered with his old mentor turned friend, Andrew Chan, to become the face of the American side of tailor’s tailor to Savile Row, Henry Bailey. Assisted by Andrew’s workshops Duffy is able to service more clients with the security that the final product meets with his high expectations.
Rory Duffy is an award-winning bespoke tailor based in New York City.