Style for Soldiers Story on Channel 4 News, Saturday 11th November

“Jermyn Street shirtmaker Emma Willis is bringing tailored cuts to casual clothing.” – The Gentleman’s Journal

Jermyn Street is changing, casual wear is coming, and Emma Willis is leading the charge

Jonathan Wells

Take a walk down St James’s Jermyn Street and you’ll feel underdressed. The number of bespoke suits, tailored shirts and hand-crafted shoes that you’ll pass showcase the very best in British clothes making. But all of these meticulously-crafted garments and accessories share one thing in common – they are formalwear.

Be it the money involved or the sharp style tailored clothes afford the wearer, bespoke garments have never made the jump from the formal wardrobe to the informal. But one shop upon the country’s most iconic shirt making street is looking to change that. Emma Willis has taken tailoring away from the office, or black tie ball, and applied it to everyday. Because why can’t we look good in day-to-day wear?

Jermyn Street shirtmaker Emma Willis is bringing tailored cuts to casual clothing

“Over the last few years, the average age of a customer on Jermyn Street has fallen dramatically,” says Willis, showing Gentleman’s Journal around her shirt making shop. “It used to be around 50, but now it’s more around 30 or 40. Young men are considerably more aspirational, and they want tailored shirts.”

But, Willis explains, where her older customers may spend much of their time in the boardroom or business meetings – suited and booted for much of the working week – younger men are adopting less formal dress codes. The tie, says the shirtmaker, is increasingly shown the door – putting more focus on the shirt.

“Take off a tie, which is essentially used as distraction or point of focus,” says Willis, “and you’re suddenly looking at your collar much more. And that’s why we put so much effort into making out shirts beautifully. They’re hugely important.”

Jermyn Street shirtmaker Emma Willis is bringing tailored cuts to casual clothing

And this importance transcends the workplace, Willis says. With more and more men keeping things casual at work and on the weekends, the need for crisp, starched shirts may be down – but the want for tailored fits is higher than ever. As a result, Jermyn Street is seeing a rise in the want for fitted, bespoke casual shirting.

“People spend a lot of money on bespoke,” says the shirtmaker. “As such we have so much choice when it comes to formal shirting – books and books of fabrics to choose from. And there really wasn’t these options for customisation with casual fabrics.

Jermyn Street shirtmaker Emma Willis is bringing tailored cuts to casual clothing

“So many men go to the gym these days, they want to show off their bodies,” Willis laughs. “And not just in formalwear – in casual wear too. So our shirts offer the chance for that. You no longer have to hide your physique you’ve trained to achieve in a shirt that feels like a tent. Instead, materials like linen or brushed cotton are now available tailored – so they drape but still show shape.”

And the new AW17 collection from Emma Willis shows just these qualities. Blue ginghams, walnut graph checks and azure brushed cottons are casual, but their cuts show the quality and craftsmanship of a tailored shirt. Jermyn Street is changing, casual wear is coming, and Emma Willis is leading the charge.

“My London: Emma Willis MBE – Shirtmaker.” –

Emma Willis trained at The Slade School of Art before opening her small, elegant London shirt shop on the corner of St. James’ and Jermyn Street in 2000. She is renowned for beautifully made bespoke and ready to wear men’s and women’s shirts all made in their 18th townhouse in Gloucester. Her international clientele include HRH The Prince Wales, David Gandy and Benedict Cumberbatch.

We caught up with Emma for the latest in our ‘My London’ interview series.

Favourite neighbourhood:

I love my own neighbourhood of St. James’, which has stayed as the heart of traditional, historic, elegant London, thanks to its small independent shops, art galleries, barbers, book shops, chemists, clubs and restaurants. With The London Library, Christies Auction House, The Royal Academy, The Royal Palaces, St. James.’s Park on our doorstep, Fortnum and Mason’s pistachio horse drawn carriages, The Magnificent Mounted Police or Household Cavalry trotting past our window, not to mention Arnie Schwarzenegger, Tiger Woods, David Gandy or William and Kate, it is unsurprising we love our neighbourhood so much. I think my most memorable and very St. James’ sight was a mother duck with 12 ducklings on a venture out of the park waddling casually up St. James’s Street, completely stopping the traffic.

Favourite place for breakfast:

Francos in Jermyn Street as the food is fresh and a great chef, best orange juice and coffee as below, it is buzzing with energy and meetings from 8am onwards to inspire me with the excitement of life in the heart of London and you can sit outside almost all year round.

Best coffee in London:

Francos. I have several Middle Eastern customers who definitely know their coffee and I often serve them Francos coffee in a bespoke meeting and they say it is the best coffee in London.

Favourite gallery or museum:

The National Portrait Gallery. I studied figurative and portrait painting and drawing and still love to look at beautiful paintings of people most, and such a captivating way of learning about history of dates and battles aren’t your thing!

Tell us a secret:

I love swimming in the sea, rivers and lakes and preferably leaving my bikini on the beach/bank.

Favourite place to shop:

Markets in the South of France in the Summer, which are so enchanting with the slow pace, locally produced fruit, vegetables, cheese, poultry and bread which makes food shopping a pleasure. I live in platform espadrilles and boots and head excitedly at the beginning of Summer and Winter to family run shoe shop Russell and Bromley in Bond Street and the adorable Penelope Chilvers shoe shop in Ledbury Road, Notting Hill Gate to choose and always love both their collections.

Favourite place to find inspiration:

I walk round the river near my flat in Fulham pretty well every morning, looking at the water, the birds, the rowers, the boats, the sky, the tides and find it a very inspiring start to the day and often have my ideas in this great hour of the day.

Best London destination for a date:

Hiring a small boat from Cathy on a warm evening from Putney Pier with a bottle of champagne and cushions.

Favourite park:

St. James’, as so close to the shop and I love the view up to Buckingham Palace and all the water birds

Favourite food market:

Fulham Palace Farmers Market on Saturday. It has a lovely atmosphere as within the park and next to the river.

Your sanctuary in the city:

My husband Richard and my flat where we have lived since 1985. We brought up all the children there so full of memories of party life before we were married, the children as babies, children and teenagers and now a blissfully quiet place to come back to at the end of the day!

What inspires you?

Kindness, originality, modesty, generosity, humour and courage. My business and charity inspiration is John Timpson, who is the most original, free spirited, deeply kind and extraordinarily successful man who I am lucky enough to have met and is now one of my customers.

This season I’m loving:

Planning the launch of our Women’s Shirt Collection during London Fashion Week. I have been designing the collection with my head cutter Lizandra. We have been making the SS18 samples in pink, blue and white striped, checked, plain linens and cottons over the last few months in our Gloucester workrooms. It will be very exciting to show it to the buyers and editors.

St James’s London – Catherine Hayward

Take a walk through Piccadilly Arcade and you will come across a bronze statue of Regency dandy, Beau Brummell. The inscription reads’ ‘To be truly elegant, one should not be noticed’. I’m afraid I couldn’t agree less. Why? Re-establishing London as a major player on the international fashion collections scene is a big deal and St James’s is a principal player – and noticeably so. Where else can you find such illustrious yet diverse names in the same neighbourhood – Lock and Co hatters and perfumers Floris; Emma Willis shirts next to Longmire cufflinks; shoemakers Tricker’s and Lobb beside Beretta rifles or James J Fox cigar merchants.



Javier Bardem wears our Emma Willis Ivory Silk Scarf in September’s L’uomo Vogue

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Conde Nast Sewing Scholar Lizzie graduates and joins Emma willis full time

Seamstresses with advanced sewing skills are fundamental to our business, to be able to create beautifully stitched shirts. Three years ago we urgently needed to train but found the government apprenticeship schemes onerous and complicated so I spoke to Conde Nast International’s CEO Jonathan Newhouse, knowing him to be a great supporter of British clothes making.

As a result we established our own apprenticeship programme funded by Conde Nast International, paying each student £10,000 a year to earn and learn with us, and this week our second very talented student Lizzy Willet (see below) completes her Sewing Scholarship and as Chloe Phelps last year, joins us in September as a full time employee.

Becky Wakeley and Aysha Randera are in the midst of their Sewing Scholarships, and Aysha is combining this with teaching the skills she is learning with us at the Sewing Club we have set up in one of Gloucester’s most deprived estates where many refugees have been arriving in the the last few years from Syria and Afghanistan.

The Sewing Club acts as a social place to meet people with a similar interest as well as advancing cutting and sewing skills on high quality industrial sewing machines for potential future jobs in the industry, or an independent business.

Thank you for your support which enables us to continue training and employing young people. Our increasingly youthful team of hand cutters, seamstresses, embroiderers and weavers indicates, even if on a small scale, that careers in the technical side of the fashion business are attracting this generation, which looks positive for our high end clothes making industry and the continuation of these valued crafts.

Best wishes,



Angelina Jolie wears Emma Willis White Superior Slimfit Shirt in this month’s Vanity Fair

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Actress Hermione Corfield wears Emma Willis Womenswear launching this LFW for SS18



Emma Willis introduces Bespoke Tailoring at 66 Jermyn Street

We are delighted to welcome former Savile Row cutter Anette Akselberg who joins us this week at our Jermyn Street shop in London.

Anette began her tailoring  career in Savile Row in 1990, cutting and pattern making at Kilgour then Huntsman where she has been for the last 10 years.

Her reputation precedes her and I am sure Anette will have already made suits, coats and trousers for many of my customers. It will be a pleasure to work together as we are both passionate about our different areas, which we can now combine to create a complete Bespoke look.

We will have an extensive Collection of Wools, Cashmeres, Velvets, Linens and Cottons from the very best cloth merchants and Summer,  Winter and Evening Wear collections in different weights and textures to compliment our Linen, Cotton, Brush Cotton and Cashmere Cotton shirts.

Please do contact me if you would like any more information or to book an appointment please email

A suit will take on average 2 months to be finished, so please do allow time for this if you are having something made for a particular occasion.

Anette, Jade and I look forward to welcoming you to the shop.

Best wishes,




anette 2

jade tailoring


Shirtmaking the Emma Willis way – The Rake online


With a delicate hand and unwavering values, Emma Willis has made her mark on the world of men’s shirts. But that’s not all that sets her brand apart from the rest. words JESSICA BERESFORD photography JUSTIN HAST


In a black frame, proudly displayed in the entranceway of an 18th century townhouse in Gloucester, hangs a photograph of the Prince of Wales speaking with Emma Willis. The moment, captured last year at Spencer House in London, is symbolic of the successes Emma has enjoyed as one of the UK’s most prestigious shirtmakers, as well as someone who’s used that acclaim to give back.

It was high profile customers, the likes of whom rub shoulders with Prince Charles, that helped Emma’s business initially grow. Having worked for other menswear companies, she launched her own label in 1989, focusing on bespoke shirts made in England from the finest materials. Personally travelling to homes or places of work, she built up strong relationships with customers, who’d then refer her to their equally high profile friends, quickly developing a client book bursting with reputable names.

It wasn’t until 2000 that Emma opened her store on Jermyn St, where she immediately stood out in an area dominated by male-led brands. She used this as an advantage, adding a delicate flair to menswear, which has become the brand’s signature. “I don’t tend to like the really bold, masculine look at the very traditional end of British shirtmaking,” says Emma, from the cosy basement of her flagship store. “So it’s probably a softer look, slightly less formal. Even if it’s a linen shirt or a brushed cotton shirt, you still make it with equal care. One, it can still be bespoke, and two, you can make it with as much care and trouble as you would with your formal business shirt. So I think that combination is quite characteristic of us too.”

Of course, another value Emma holds in high regard is material, which is sourced from Italy, Switzerland and Ireland. “I’ve used the same mill in Switzerland for 25 years – they’re absolutely superb. It’s called Alumo, and most of our shirts are made from their cottons which are woven using the highest quality Egyptian Giza 45 or West Indian Sea Island raw cotton. And then for the more creative and casual fabric like linen, I would go to Italy, and Irish linens are beautiful too.”

The most important aspect of an Emma Willis shirt, though, is the ‘Made in England’ label, which she championed even when there wasn’t an interest in it from customers. “I came into Jermyn St at a point where a lot of other people were going away from the English make,” says Emma. “There was a big drive to make a much more affordable shirt on Jermyn St – and there are a lot of good things about that – but there were fewer independents with an individual designing the shirts.” Not one to compromise, Emma stood by her values, and eventually the discerning public came back around to wanting pieces made locally. “‘Made in England’ has really come back again and I really hope that we’ve played some part in that, because I do make as much noise as I can about British shirtmaking skills.”

It’s in the heart of historic Gloucester, in grand Bearland House, where those values are turned into a tangible, wearable product. The townhouse has been converted into an intimate factory buzzing with women – and one man – who all play vital roles in the shirt making process: there are bespoke and ready-to-wear cutters, who carefully prepare all the pieces of the shirts; there’s a room of sewers, who meticulously put together those pieces; as well as those who buttonhole, finish and put the final touches on the packaging. “It’s really important, getting to know the people who I work with making the shirts and working as a team,” says Emma. “It’s a symbiotic relationship. If I don’t sell well, they haven’t got shirts to make, if they don’t make beautiful shirts, it’s a lot harder to sell them as well.”

There’s room in the factory for growth, too, which is convenient given Emma’s ambitious plans – in summer this year, she’s expanding into tailoring, launching bespoke and ready-to-wear suits and separates. Naturally, as with her shirts, they’ll have a slightly casual air, with a focus on linen and brushed cottons, transitioning into heavier smoking jackets in winter. She’s also going to be relaunching womenswear, which she’s had a lot of demand for by customers. “I’ve had a lot of encouragement, and I know exactly what I want to do and how I want to do it – I can envisage it so easily. We’ll launch that online and I think by the end of the year, if that goes well, we’ll open a separate shop.”

While business may be thriving for Emma, she’s never rested on her laurels, either. For close to a decade, she’s been running the Style for Soldiers charity, which provides bespoke shirts and donated clothes to wounded serviceman. Emma’s also established a sewing school to encourage new talent into the industry, as a way to further secure the future of British manufacturing. Which above all else, truly proves Emma’s dedication to the craft.

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