Emma Willis featured in Essence Lifestyle

By emmawillis

Style, substance and sympathy

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There’s something about a dark, crisp winter afternoon that bolsters the cosy charm of London’s noted accessories strip. On the day of ESSENCE Lifestyle’s visit, viewed from across the street, Emma Willis’s emporium at Jermyn Street’s western extremity – the end renowned for bespoke shirt-making – appears to have a beacon-like glow within, shrouding the multi-hued dabs of Egyptian and West Indian Sea Island cotton lining the walls.

For this writer, it’s the most enticing retail establishment in London: and there’s more to its draw than cosy luminescence and shelter from today’s biting gusts outside. The flagstone floors of 66 Jermyn Street are hallowed ground to those among us with a passion for meticulously crafted shirts. All the hallmarks of excellence will be found on every garment that leaves this premises: from single needle stitching to mother of pearl buttons, via exemplary pattern matching at the seams.

Raw material is key to luxury products of any nature: just as Steinway pianos would not have their rich, warm timbre were it not for the close-grained Sitka spruce used to make the soundboards, the drape, comfort and durability of a shirt is dictated entirely by the material from which it is made. Hence, the aforementioned fabrics are dyed, woven and finished by Switzerland’s most dedicated and wily artisans before being passed on to Emma and her dedicated artisans.

The breath-taking quality that exudes from every warp, weft and stitch found within these walls can be attributed to Emma’s long-standing love affair with a garment whose origins that can be traced back to the 4th Century. “The design of a good shirt has developed to be comfortable but functional,” Emma says when we settle down in the bustling wine bar opposite her boutique for a winter warmer and a chat. “This is thanks to factors such as split-back yokes with the cotton cut on the diagonal for easy shoulder movement, collar linings also on the cross to lie flat on the curve. When someone buys one of our shirts they know they will be able to wear it for years, and it will only get softer. I find a beautifully made man’s shirt in fine cotton a very wholesome product, in its simple elegance.”

Emma’s vocational narrative begins shortly after her leaving art school. “I was about 19, singing in a band and drawing portraits, but had to find a way of making a living,” she explains. “So I started working for a company that was selling clothes door-to-door in Soho, and they had some quite nice men’s shirts. I had friends starting work in the city, so I decided to try and sell to them by making appointments, which also avoided the annoying humiliation of knocking on doors.” Spotting a gap in the market, Emma began bringing affordable Jermyn Street style shirts to the offices of those late-80s city slickers who had been desk-tethered by the onset of electronic trading.

Various factors conspired to make Emma’s venture flourish – her borderline obsessive attitude towards quality; her attention to detail; her congenial character, instinctive understanding of how to flatter the male form and her knack for blending ancient artisanal values with contemporary styling – and before long, to cope with demand, she leased an 18th century Gloucester townhouse to convert into an elegant factory and took her venture to the next level.

Since becoming the first woman to open a shirt shop in Jermyn Street 15 years ago, Emma has expanded her repertoire and now provides a range of men’s accessories – ties, cufflinks, silk and brushed cotton pyjamas, dressing gowns, handkerchiefs, socks – and has shown a consistent knack for moving with the times. “The demographic of our visitors changed very quickly and noticeably when the hedge fund scene sprung up here,” she says. “Suddenly there were younger, much less conventional men in St. James’s, with the money to buy beautiful bespoke clothing, and a lot of them the taste to do that too – but they want a more contemporary fit. There’s a growing passion for craft and heritage amongst young people. I see it in really young men who aren’t even necessarily working yet – there’s a huge interest in quality, tailoring and bespoke.”

Of course, seasoned sartorialists with the means to fulfil every passing stylistic whim relish top-grade craftsmanship more than most, and it’s unsurprising that Emma’s clientele list dazzles (Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Craig and HRH The Prince of Wales are regularly spotted in her designs, while President Obama’s imposing, don’t-filibuster-with-me demeanour was elevated to all new levels when he opted to pair his navy wool suit with an Emma Willis white slim-fit piece in Swiss poplin and organic pique with a cutaway collar).

Meanwhile, Emma’s bespoke online offering is fraught with agonising choice but exceptionally simple to use, with drop-down menus offering nine types of collar (Savile, Albany and Button Down among them), several types of cuff (Squared, Rounded, Cocktail or Mitred) and so on and so forth. Her off-the-shelf offerings, meanwhile, are genuinely unique in that they offer the same quality hallmarks that you’ll only find with bespoke elsewhere. “Most shirt manufacturers only make with details such as single-needle stitched seams in bespoke,” Emma explains. “They’re smaller, neater seams, sewn once, turned and sewn down again, which therefore take twice as long to do as twin needle stitching. Our ready-to-wear shirts are also pattern matched at the seam, like the bespoke.“

A conversation with Emma reveals regular flashes of benevolence – her decision to waive her made-to-measure programme’s three-shirts-minimum clause for bridegrooms, for example. Her altruistic yen has really come fruition, though, with her charitable initiative which provides beautiful formal clothing for injured ex-servicemen. “Style For Soldiers began when I heard a program on radio four interviewing injured servicemen inside the defence medical rehabilitation unit at Headley Court in Surrey,” she explains. “It moved me so much. They were so young and their lives had been so severely affected by the enormity of their injuries – dedicated servicemen whose careers were ended at 18 or 19 years old. I’ve been visiting about every eight weeks since 2008 and have discovered other needs apart from shirts and ties – so now we provide elegant bespoke walking sticks, made in black ebony with a buffalo horn handle, and a silver band with their initials and regiments engraved on it – they don’t look like a medical aid at all.”

Since conceiving the programme seven years ago, Emma’s passion for the project has proved infectious, with Marks & Spencer now supplying suits and shoes for many of the more than 600 servicemen Emma has met at the hospital. Savile Tow tailor Huntsman (of the movie Kingsman: the Secret Service fame) has also given 10 bespoke suits and their end of season ready-to-wear collections; The London Sock Company give their socks as well as proceeds from their recently launched Limited Edition Collection designed by David Gandy; Lock & Co make bespoke hats; Mappin & Webb have designed, and are making, 100 commemorative cufflinks; Mr Porter has supported the Style For Soldiers Christmas events financially; and this issue’s cover star David Gandy is the charity’s Ambassador. “David is a very genuine person and extremely generous with his time,” says Emma. “The servicemen and women and their families love talking to him at our parties as it’s apparent to them how much he enjoys their company, and cares. We’re very lucky to have him as our ambassador.”

For Emma the project is about more – much more – than simply providing luxury items to those who have been injured in the line of duty. “It began as a gift of a bespoke shirt which I could easily do, as a token of gratitude for their courage and sacrifice – but as they have to find new careers I realised they need a new and different uniform, and a smart suit, shirt, tie and shoes is crucial for confidence in interviews and new jobs. So that’s what I’m working on now and into the future. You’ve got to feel right in what you’re wearing to feel confident.”

As for the future of this extraordinary enterprise – a genuine jewel in the crown of the British capital’s menswear scene – Emma employed eight additional talented fashion graduates in her Gloucester headquarters last year, as cutters, pattern makers and designers who help her create the new season’s shirt collections, and the firm’s commercial impetus continues to snowball (discerning American consumers can buy her wares now, thanks to their availability on Mr Porter across The Pond). Huntsman stock her Emma Willis for Huntsman shirts (as will their New York outlet opening in February), and she also makes and designs a collection for Fenwick of Bond Street (Fortnum & Mason will soon be added to the list).

St James’s folklore has it that a postcard addressed simply to “the kind lady on Jermyn Street who makes shirts for toffs” once arrived through her letterbox without even the slightest delay: such is Emma’s glowing status in this neighbourhood and, increasingly, beyond. She was awarded an MBE in last year’s Queen’s Honours List for her services to business. Her reputation will surely never dwindle, as long as the revival of craft, heritage and excellence continues to ride the crest of the menswear zeitgeist.

CREDITS

Words by: Nick Scott

http://essencelondon.com/films/style-substance-and-sympathy/

Style for Soldiers Newsletter Spring 2016

By emmawillis

THANKS TO YOUR SUPPORT OVER THE YEARS WE HAVE BEEN ABLE TO CONTINUE PROVIDING SMART SHIRTS AND WALKING STICKS TO THE PATIENTS I MEET AT HEADLEY COURT MILITARY REHABILITATION HOSPITAL, AND GIVE THE CHRISTMAS PARTIES WHICH HAVE BECOME THE LARGEST REUNON FOR INJURED SERVICE PERSONNEL AND THEIR FAMILIES IN THE UK.

AS SO MANY ARE NOW FACING MEDICAL DISCHARGE FROM THE FORCES DUE TO THEIR LIFE CHANGING INJURIES, THE IMPORTANCE OF A NEW CAREER AND PURPOSE TO LIFE BECOMES PARAMOUNT FOR A FINANCIALLY SECURE FUTURE AND SELF ESTEEM.

THE PARTIES HAVE BEEN A HELP, INTRODUCING SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS FRIENDS AND CUSTOMERS IN A RELAXED, SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT, AND THE NEED FOR THE FULL WORK ‘ UNIFORM ‘ BECAME APPARENT TO HELP WITH CONFIDENCE AT INTERVIEW AND FOR NEW JOBS.

MARKS AND SPENCER HAVE BEEN INCREDIBLE, GIVING STYLE FOR SOLDIERS 250 VOUCHERS WORTH £400 EACH TO SEND OUT TO THE SOLDIERS, WHICH HAVE ENABLED THEM TO BUY A SUIT AND SHOES TO FULLY CLOTHE THEM. LAST WEEK THEY ISSUED ANOTHER 250 VOUCHERS, HAVING ASKED ME TO ALERT THEM AS SOON AS WE CAME TO THE END, THAT NO ONE GOES WITHOUT. THEY HAVE SORT NO PUBLICITY, FORWARDING THE EMAILS AND LETTERS I RECEIVE IN THANKS FOR THEIR VOUCHERS TO THEIR STAFF WHO HAVE HELPED THE SERVICEMEN AND THEIR PARTNERS IN THE REGIONAL STORES.

HUNTSMAN HAVE GIVEN 10 BESPOKE SUITS WHICH HAS GIVEN THE EXPERIENCE OF A LIFETIME AT THE MEASURES AND FITTINGS, AND THEIR STAFF ALSO HAVE BEEN EXCEPTIONAL, ESPECIALLY ANNETTE WHO HAS MADE ALL THEIR SUITS WITH EXTRAORDINARY ABILITY.

OUR PATRONS LISA ARMSTRONG AND DAVID GANDY HAVE RAISED THOUSANDS OF POUNDS, LISA AMONGST HER COLLEAGUES AT THE TELEGRAPH, AND DAVID BY AN ONLINE AUCTION OF 3 ‘ SOCK MONKEYS’ , MADE BY THE GREAT LONDON SOCK COMPANY HE CO OWNS. THE IMAGE OF DAVID GANDY ON SOCIAL MEDIA OUT AT A CAFE WITH THE MONKEYS RESULTED IN A BUSINESS WOMAN FAN IN LA BIDDING £3000 WHICH HAS PAID FOR ONE OF THE SERVICEMEN DAVID HAS GOT TO KNOW WELL TO GO TO MAURITIUS FOR HIS HONEYMOON THIS SUMMER ( SEE PICTURES OF SHAUN AND DAVID BELOW), BY VERY HAPPY AGREEMENT OF THE GENEROUS LADY.

HIS GRACE THE DUKE OF BEDFORD IS KINDLY HOSTING A STYLE FOR SOLDIERS FAMILY DAY AT WOBURN SAFARI PARK THIS SUMMER; 220 FREE TICKETS FOR THE PARK, AND A BARBECUE LUNCH. WE SENT OUT THE EMAIL TODAY AND HAVE ALREADY HAD MANY EXCITED REPLIES. AS SO MANY OF THE SERVICEMEN AND WOMEN HAVE NEW BORNS AND YOUNG CHILDREN WE THOUGHT IT WOULD BE LOVELY FOR THE FAMILIES AND CHILDREN TO MEET, AS WELL AS TO SEE OLD FRIENDS AGAIN.

AFTER THE LAST PARTY I HAD A LETTER FROM A FORMER SOLDIERS WHO CAME WITH HIS DAUGHTER SAYING IT WAS THE FIRST TIME HE HAD BEEN OUT SOCIALLY FOR 4 YEARS, SINCE HE LEFT THE FORCES, AND MIXING WITH FELLOW MILITARY HAD GIVEN HIM THE CONFIDENCE TO START GOING OUT AGAIN. THIS WAS SO GREAT TO HEAR AND ENCOURAGED ME TO TRY AND GIVE THE PARTIES IN OTHER PARTS OF THE UK, TO REACH THE MANY WHO COULDN’T OR WOULD NOT FEEL COMFORTABLE COMING TO LONDON. OUR NEW PATRON FRANCIE CLARKSON AND I WILL PLANNING THESE FROM THIS YEAR ONWARDS.

MAPPIN & WEBB HAVE ASKED STYLE FOR SOLDIERS TO BE THEIR CHARITABLE PARTNER, PLEDGING FINANCIAL SUPPORT GIFTING 5 OF THEIR NEWLY LAUNCHED CAMPAIGN WATCHES AND 100 PAIRS OF ENAMEL CUFFLINKS DESIGNED BY THER CREATIVE DIRECTOR ELIZABETH GALTON. I HAD WANTED TO PRODUCE A COMMEMORATIVE CUFFLINK AS SO MANY CHOOSE DOUBLE CUFFS FOR THEIR SHIRTS, TO REMEMBER THE TWO RECENT OPERATIONS IN IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN WHERE SO MANY OF TERRIBLE CASUALTIES HAVE OCCURRED, AND THESE WILL NOW BE ON SALE AT M&W WITH 7% OF PROCEEDS GOING TO S4S. LE CAPRICE HAVE CLOSED THEIR DOORS VERY RARELY IN SUPPORT OF STYLE FOR SOLDIERS, AS MAPPIN AND WEBB ARE GIVING A DINNER TO LAUNCH THE WATCH AND CUFFLINKS, AND TO RAISE AWARENESS FOR THE CHARITY.

WE HAVE TWO NEW AMBASSADORS TO JOIN DAVID, FORMER BOMB DISPOSAL ROYAL ENGINEER SAPPER MATT WESTON, NOW PLAYING A FUNDEMANTAL PART IN THE VETS PROGRAMME AT BARCLAYS, AND LT. ALEX HORSFALL  ( SEE BELOW ). MATT IS IN A WHEELCHAIR AND NOW WORKS IN THE CITY. I REALISED HE COULDN’T CARRY A BRIEF CASE AND HE WAS NOT FOND OF HIS BACK PACK ON THE BACK OF HIS CHAIR. I APPROACHED MULBERRY AS MATT RESEARCHED AND ADVISED ME THAT THEIRS WERE THE MOST DESIRABLE OF ALL, AND THIS MORNING THEIR FORMER MILITARY CEO PLEDGED 5 BEAUTIFUL LEATHER BACK PACKS. I SHALL CONTINUE TO PROVIDE BACK PACKS IN THE FUTURE AS I ALSO GATHER THEY ARE THE ONLY OPTION EITHER IN A CHAIR OR WITH PROSTHETIC LEGS AS BALANCE CAN BE A GREAT CHALLENGE.

MARIA WITCHELL, WHO JOINED US AS A PATRON LAST YEAR, GAVE ME INESTIMABLE HELP IN HER CAPACITY AS A FINANCIAL LAWYER ( SHE IS ALSO FORMER SPECIAL FORCES AND MI5 ) IN APPLYING FOR LIBOR FUNDING FROM THE CHANCELLOR, THE FINES IMPOSED ON BANKS FOR FIXING THE INTEREST RATES. THE FUTURE OF STYLE FOR SOLDIERS IS SECURED FOR THE NEXT FEW YEARS AS WE WERE THRILLED TO BE AWARDED £1.5 MILLION. MY THANKS TO MARIA FOR HER HOURS OF GIVEN TIME AND WORK.

WE HAVE 650 INJURED SERVICEMEN AND WOMEN ON OUR DATABASE NOW WHO WE HAVE MADE SHIRTS AND WALKING STICKS FOR ON MY VISITS TO THE HOSPITAL SINCE 2008. WE ARE IN REGULAR CONTACT WITH MANY,  BUT THERE ARE ALSO MANY WHO ARE LAYING LOW.  WE WILL DO WHAT WE CAN, THROUGH SMART, MORALE BOOSTING CLOTHING AND HAPPY, SOCIAL EVENTS PUT ON ALL AROUND THE UK ,TO RE UNITE THEM AND THEIR FAMILIES TOGETHER ON A REGULAR BASIS WELL INTO THE FUTURE AS I HAVE SEEN HOW GREAT A HELP THAT CAN BE.

THANK YOU AGAIN FOR ALL YOUR SUPPORT AND ENCOURAGEMENT.

EMMA

THANK YOU LETTERS, EMAILS AND PHOTOGRAPHS SENT TO US.

I will be forever in your debt, at one of the bleakest times in my life that literally cost me everything, You and your Team were there to take my measurements for one of your amazing shirts. From the outside what seemed like a small gesture of good will provided me with the shirt and confidence to succeed at interview and propelled me to where I am now. Dan Richards

Hi just to let you know my M&S suit arrived yesterday ,tried on everything and my wife said I looked a different person. She will be adding a thank you to style for soldiers web site thank you Kristal and Emma and everyone at the charity for helping me in this darker time in my life

Yours. Keith

Just a note to say thank you very much for the walking stick you kindly made and sent me from Style for Soldiers. It will be very well looked after and used frequently with pride. Karen

I just wanted to say Thank you.  My stick is awesome and is already helping me out and helping my rehab. It is great to know there are still loads of people out there still helping out injured service personnel.

Once again many thanks. Dave

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MATT AND ALEX

 

Style for Soldiers News

By emmawillis

My main aim this year has been the provision of suits and shoes for the 600 servicemen and women I have met at Headley Court Military Rehabilitation Hospital over the last 6 years , in addition to our shirts, ties and walking sticks, to help them dress properly for their transition into civilian life and new careers following medical or voluntary discharge due to life changing injuries. Style for Soldiers has been buying the suits from Marks & Spencer for those needing them for interviews and have received letters and emails saying how much it has helped their confidence. It also seems to lift spirits at such an important time.

Over the last month ten injured servicemen have visited Huntsman for bespoke suits which their owner Pierre Lagrange has kindly donated, as well as donating all their ready to wear end of season collections, the first of which we have been sending out over the last few weeks. They are all Kingsman fans so to walk into the Kingsman set and be measured in the very mirrored room at Huntsman has caused great excitement.

Also this month, following a meeting with chairman Robert Swannell thanks to the inimitable address book of supporter Heather Macgregor, Marks and Spencer have donated 250 £400 gift vouchers for suits and shoes. We will provide the injured servicemen and women on our Style for Soldiers database with their own code for this shopping experience, to give them the complete, smart work attire. This is the most significant step forward for our charity, and I am absolutely thrilled to have their committed and ongoing support.

In the next few months Jermyn Street shoemakers Foster and Sons will kindly be providing Style for Soldiers with cost price shoes, including different size feet in many cases for those with prosthetics and leg braces. Sue Simpson from Lock & Co will be accompanying me again in November on my visit to Headley Court Military Rehabilitation Hospital to measure for hats while I measure for shirts and walking sticks, and Bond Street’s head barber of Dolce & Gabana Stefan attends to beauty matters! Stefan will also be returning on the day before the party to groom the attendees.

Last week Lt. Alex Horsfall, former servicemen Matt weston and Garth Banks, my patrons Lisa Armstrong and Maria Witchell and I were invited to the Mappin and Webb Household Division dinner in The Grocers Hall where Alex and I spoke about Style for Soldiers as they have chosen us as their partner charity. I had been trying to find cufflinks and watches to give and suggested they design a commemorative cufflink for the two Operations Iraq and Afghanistan. This is going ahead, as well as their giving S4S donations from their sales from the re launched WW1 Campaign watch launching next April.

Our Ambassador David Gandy is designing a sock collection for The London Sock Company and 50% of the profits are kindly being donated to Style for soldiers by the founder Ryan Palmer, as well as giving socks for our Christmas party gift bags.

I am so grateful to Huntsman, Marks and Spencer, James Lock Hats, Foster and Sons, Stefan, The London Sock Company and our new charity partners Mappin and Webb for all their support in helping us to provide our injured servicemen and women with beautiful clothes and accessories to take them into their new lives and careers.

In December, with financial support from the Crown Estate and Mr. Porter, we host our 6th Christmas Style for Soldiers reunion party where no doubt many of these beautiful gifts will be on show.

We continue to have no administration costs as we run the charity within my business, but as we registered last year with the Charities Commission and are expanding what we do including additional reunion and networking events around the country, I would like to employ an injured serviceman I know to help me run the charity, with an office as a permanent base and meeting place for Style for Soldiers. I am very grateful to have received two £10,000 a year pledges, and would be very grateful for any further pledges or donations to help take Style for Soldiers in to the future, when the many injured former servicemen and women dispersed around the country will most need the reminder of our memory and gratitude.

Best wishes,

Emma