"It's nice to meet and chat with customers," Charlie Casely-Hayford begins simply as he warmly welcomes me through the threshold of Hostem's emporium of menswear treasures and curiosities before leading me its wooden staircase to enter The Chalk Room. Periodically stepping out of the House's Dalston based studio, the designer navigates his way through the sensory kaleidoscope that is Kingsland Road and immerses himself in this mesmerising microcosm of made-to-measure. He revels in it. Dimly lit adding to a sense of intimacy to the occasion whilst encouraging daydreams of discovery, The Chalk Room shines it's spotlight on cherished craftsmanship, housing an array of handpicked artisans that have the store's signature spirit bubbling in their veins. Alongside Sebastian Tarek, Fleet Ilya, Globe-Trotter, Casely-Hayford's sartorial offering shines bright. Created by British design studio JamesPlumb, Charlie's home-from-home is filled with antique furniture, intrigue and possibilities.
Since the House's inception, Casely-Hayford have forged an eloquent handwriting of modern English style that has left the collective pulse racing. The father and son design duo have carefully crafted a signature style of relaxed masculine proportions and exquisite tailoring, whilst fusing it with an injection of the raw energy of London's dynamic under belly that constantly inspires them. With each season whilst cementing the House's ethos of 'Innovation through Tradition', they explore, play and experiment with the duality of English Sartorialism and British Anarchy like no other label could. They delight in the unique design dynamic. It has created the perfect environment in which an intriguing interplay between old and new, familiar and fresh, traditional and radical. As Charlie Casely-Hayford converses, measures, pins and makes notes, it is clear that The Chalk Room is an exciting extension of everything they have built. The whims and fancies of all manner of customer are now seamlessly stitched into their own signatures.
"When most men think about buying a tailored suit, they think of the stuffiness of Savile Row. With our space here, we wanted to create an antidote to those concerns. We wanted it to be a clean, modern, streamlined alternative that was true to our vision whilst allowing men to be more experimental with the traditional boundaries of a suit.
Ultimately we create suits for men that don’t need to wear suits but choose to. There’s a real freedom in that choice. They wear Casely-Hayford suits in the way that they want to, without the constraints of convention or tradition. Everybody we've had so far have been so different, from business directors to set designers, actors and a plethora of creatives. The set designer went for a classic suit with a stunning, rare, 400g Loro Piana fabric matched with a pinball machine lining."
Exploring The Chalk Room
As he recounts previous encounters, Charlie Casely-Hayford's face lights up the dark basement space. This is an endeavour close to the heart of the House. It builds upon all of their shared experiences, takes the hand of the secretive world of bespoke and made-to-measure and leads it into an alluring advanced area.
"We wanted to retain the price of a made-to-measure service but bring it as close to Bespoke as possible. We have spent the best part of the last year handpicking suiting fabrics from all of the best mills in the UK and Italy, same with the linings. We can provide the customer with over two thousand fabric options. It’s an utterly immersive experience. It can be daunting for some but we're here to guide the customer through everything. We can do almost anything. You can get made-to-measure suiting from various corners of London and we were keen to offer something different and therefore we partnered with a couple of English mills and part of our process, if asked to do so, is develop fabric that is tailored to your whims and fancies. That's obviously at the higher end of the pricing structure but it just shows that we can go that bit further. We're working on a swatch at the moment that has silhouettes of characters from The Simpsons, same with the lining. We're having quite a few requests for using football shirts and we can do that. I like the variety. Each suit should reflect each customers identity.
Rather than follow the structure of a formal consultation, I like to keep it more like a conversation in which I jot down a few notes. After the initial chat I take measurements, ask a few more questions, pair the customer with an existing suit silhouette from the range that works with their shape and preferences, shoot images to see how it fits them and pin as we go. I find it easier to work with images rather than just text and measurements and it also means I can discuss everything with my Dad throughout the process. We go through the details of each order at every step. His experience is such a useful asset and I'm learning every day."
Decisions, decisions, decisions... The conversation between consumer and creator.
It is the perfect collaborative contract between consumer and creator. Despite not being physically in The Chalk Room, Joe Casely-Hayford is still present. He sees through Charlie's eyes. The informal yet inquisitive designer delves deep with his questioning asking about the use of the suit, weight preferences, silhouettes and what if anything irritates the customer about suits already hanging in their wardrobes. Throughout the process his ears are pricked, gaze focused and mind filled with insight. What were my requirements? It soon became clear that I longed for a sartorial chameleon. A suit that could be moulded to my needs over the course of a full year and beyond. For me, it had to be single breasted, slim fit jacket and trousers cropped at boot level in a medium cloth that danced the line between utilitarianism in black and navy with a lining that captured my imagination. Once this outline took its shape, Charlie talked me through each stage of modification and detail personalisation. From lapels to pockets, buttons to vents, linings to inscriptions, the opportunities to mould the suit to your preferences and needs are vast with Charlie, reassuringly as guide at every step.
After a further fitting, a few more photos, adjustments and tweaks to ensure that it falls correctly, the suit was realised. The entire process lasted no more that ten weeks (including a holiday). Last weekend I slipped it on for a friend's wedding. It felt like an old friend itself.
Casely-Hayford made-to-measure suit worn with...
shirt and boots by Casely-Hayford, pocket square by Muji and kilt pin by RTH.
With prices from £1,250 the service isn't cheap but it is remarkably competitive. Continuing to delight in the duality between the realms of the tradition and innovation, Casely-Hayford are blurring the tailor's chalk line between made-to-measure and bespoke. This is an investment. An experience. A dream realised.