In 2009, while working for the world-famous Savile Row tailor Henry Poole, Rory Duffy was awarded the coveted Golden Shears Award, the U.K.’s highest prize for tailoring.
The recent Golden Shears Awards catwalk show provided a spectacle of fun, fashion and amusement that one would not normally associate with Savile Row. Aimed at encouraging young tailoring trainees, this event provides a heady mixture of the skill, talent and eccentricity that has always been part of the Row’s make-up, and indicates that there are plenty of new disciples ready to carry on its traditions.
Rory Duffy can point to a number of defining episodes that set him on the path to emerging victorious in this year’s Golden Shears contest.
As a child, there was the regular sight of his mother, herself the daughter of a tailor, working away on a sewing machine. There was also the time when – as a young man unclear of where his future lay – he made a ‘fancy dress’ garment for a girlfriend, who in turn suggested he consider a tailoring career.
But perhaps the most significant moments arrived one afternoon while working at a west of Ireland tailoring firm where he had taken an apprenticeship in the Spring of 2002. With his employer away visiting customers, Rory had been left to tend the shop. Having attended to the necessary cleaning chores, he was flicking through a 1998 issue of Clothing World when he stumbled on an article about Henry Poole & Co. of Savile Row.
The piece, with input from Poole ’s managing director Philip Parker, made an instant and enduring impression on Rory. Duly inspired, not long afterwards the aspirant tailor visited London and sought out the firm credited with being the founders of Savile Row.
Taking up the story, Rory recalls: “I was in Oxford Circus and knew that Savile Row was quite near. So I went for a walk down the Row, called in at Poole’s and met Philip. I told him that I was interested in doing tailoring in London and he suggested different colleges that I should look at.
“I ended up applying to the London College of Fashion and doing their Handcraft Tailoring course. When I went to LCF, Philip said he’d take me in for some work experience (one day each week). He also said that there was a possibility a position would become available by the time I’d finished the course.”
Sure enough in July 2006, a month after Rory had completed his course, he started as an apprentice coat-maker at Henry Poole. The ensuing years have seen him create a favourable impression with his employers as the 26-year-old’s hunger to succeed has backed up an obvious talent.
“He really has been a great apprentice to have,” says Henry Poole director Simon Cundey. “He is an absolute Trojan when it comes down to work ethic. His energy and search for quality never stop. It’s in his character.”
From Rory’s perspective he couldn’t have been in better hands, learning his profession under Paul Frearson as part of a happy and committed team. “Working for Henry Poole’s means a lot to me,” he says. “There’s a good team spirit and everybody is very willing to help each other.”
The Golden Shears was always going to be a red-letter occasion for Duffy as it rounded off his apprenticeship. Rory went along that night with the reassuring thought that – whatever the outcome – he was to head into work in the future as a qualified Savile Row tailor.
Attending with his parents and brother, he couldn’t see himself winning the £2,000 first prize and the accompanying Golden Shears – which, incidentally, sat proudly on Poole ’s reception desk in the aftermath of the big night.
He says: “I turned up on the day, had a look in, saw the ladies’ wear and thought ‘I can’t beat that’. At that stage I just relaxed.” But his outfit – a frockcoat and kilt in navy and cream window pane check – wowed the judges and both the glory and spoils were his.
Rory Duffy is an award-winning bespoke tailor based in New York City.