Few men in the world these days hold the title of Master Tailor. As there’s no central governing body for tailoring, being a Master Tailor is an ambiguous term and up to the individual to give to themselves. For most of us, it’s expected that most “Master Tailors” are men who have dedicated a significant part of their lives to the pursuit of perfection in turning cloth into art. To me, and to most others with a knowledge of bespoke tailoring, a Master Tailor is someone consistently and reliably makes bespoke suits to a very high standard, with an expert ability to fit (as this is the primary purpose of bespoke). Many tailors who call themselves “Master Tailors” are far from this level of expertise. Having had the opportunity to know and have clothes made for me by some of the worlds leading tailors, I can say that Bijan Sheikhlary is legitimately among the very best I’ve worked with.
I met with Bijan recently, in his atelier on O’Connell Street in Sydney, to commission a new coat (more on that in the next few weeks) and he was kind enough to put aside some time to tell me a bit about himself and his story so far.
Born in Tehran, he found a talent and love for tailoring at a young age and he would be acknowledged as a Master Tailor by the age of 21. It’s seems to be a little known fact that Irani men care a great deal about how they dress and this gave Bijan the opportunity to hone his skills to a high level as he grew up.
For the last couple of hundred years there has been one place on earth that almost every tailor hopes to experience first hand, Savile Row. Bijan worked for H. Huntsman and Sons and over the next several years with Huntsman he went about cementing his reputation and became the youngest cutter there in recent history.
Eventually all good things must come to an end and it was thanks to the lure of his wife, an Australian girl, that Bijan left the Row and came to Australian well over 30 years ago, in 1980.
It may be fair to think that after a lifetime spent at a cutting bench, that his enthusiasm could justifiably be waning, but he’s among the most enthusiastic and passionate tailors I know. Each morning he walks a few blocks from his home in the CBD, to get back to his bench for another day. He tells me with a great deal of pride of a customer who still wears a Bijan suit 29 years after walking out of his shop with it for the first time. This highlights how a bespoke suit, if properly cared for, can genuinely last a lifetime. Not to mention becoming the cheaper option in the long run. If you ever need to justify a certain bespoke purchase see this article on why quality costs less.
I asked Bijan what it was that he still loves about tailoring and his response was immediate; “the finished product, seeing a customer put on a new suit and knowing that it’s just right.” As with many other older tailors, he’s sad that tailoring as a craft appears to be dying, with so few young people showing any interest in learning about tailoring anymore. For several years he taught bespoke tailoring at Sydney’s University of Technology, but a recent change to the course program would have seen the hours reduced significantly, so he chose to stop teaching as there would be too little he could pass on to students before the end of a semester. He would love to see more support from Government in helping people into crafts like tailoring, but it is, at best, an uphill battle.