Daniel Evans catches up with Riki Brockman, the Gieves & Hawkes apprentice who triumphed at the Golden Shears.
Five years ago, Riki Brockman was spending his lunch break on a building site in Redruth researching how to become a tailor. Today, he is showing me his award-winning designs, displayed for all to see, in the windows of one of London’s most fashionable shops.
It has been quite a journey for Brockman, one which has taken him from the small fishing village of Mousehole in Cornwall where he grew up to Gieves & Hawkes, No 1 Savile Row where, in pride of place, is his winning entry for the Golden Shears, a competition held every two years to find the best young tailors in the land.
We meet a few weeks after the contest and Brockman is still coming to terms with his victory. “It was a shock to win,” he says. “I just did not expect to hear my name called. I was shocked but delighted. My parents came up from Cornwall to watch so that was extra special.
“The interesting thing about the competition is that because a lot of the finalists came from Savile Row you are competing against your friends. We help each other out and we drink together so there’s almost an element of guilt to win. The standard and quality of work was just incredible.”
Brockman’s interest in fashion began in his schooldays although there was an ulterior motive for his enthusiasm. “When I was at school I took food technology as an option for GCSE but there was a girl I quite fancied in the textiles class so I asked to move so I could sit next to her,” he says. “I did switch and I found I enjoyed designing and making clothes. The girl and I are still great friends and I actually went to her wedding last year.
“When I was young I just wanted to make cool clothes that skateboarders wore – things like that. I was a big lad growing up, quite a lot chubbier than my friends, but I still liked fashion but you couldn’t often buy stylish clothes in bigger sizes so I would buy jeans and make them narrower on my sewing machine. I made a few garments for myself copying clothes I had bought in the past, using the skills I’d learnt from school.”
Brockman went on to take a first-class degree in drama and film at the University of the West of England.
After that, though, and without any clear idea what he wanted to do, he returned home to a succession of short-term jobs. “I moved back to Cornwall and got stuck in a bit of a rut,” he says. “I did a few jobs – I was assistant manager of a boutique hotel, I worked in Topman and some other retail jobs. I then went to help a friend build a cinema in Falmouth and, after a bit, I just figured I’d got to get out of there. I was 25 and thought if I don’t leave now I’ll be on this building site for a long time and I didn’t want to do that.
“So one lunchtime I Googled How to Become a Tailor and the results came up with a course at Newham College in London. I sent them an email that day and asked if I could come. They said yes and so, a few weeks later, I moved to London, kipped on somebody’s sofa, and started my course. From working on the building site to starting at Newham College was about six weeks. And within a year I was working on Savile Row.”
Brockman enjoyed Newham College but, quite quickly, thought he might be better off working in the real world so he headed to Brick Lane where he met and worked with Marek Markowski. He recalls: “Marek was a bespoke tailor and he let me hang out with him for a couple of days a week. He showed me more industrial techniques – more old school tailoring. It was some basic stuff but it helped me get a better grasp of using a thimble.
“I then applied to be an apprentice here at Gieves. I showed them a waistcoat and a pair of shorts that I had made at Newham – me and every other kid on the course, probably – and they asked me to come back for a trial day. I cobbled my way through it. There may well have been a lot of people who were more skilful than me but it’s also about how you fit into a team and that’s important. I joined three years ago and I love it. To be an apprentice on Savile Row is amazing but it’s tough as well. You don’t get paid much and you work very hard.
“You have to be passionate. Just doing it for a job isn’t enough. It’s competitive. There are probably 60 to 100 kids coming out of Newham College alone every year. If you think about the nature of an apprenticeship on Savile Row, it’s a minimum three years, up to maybe five, so opportunities don’t happen very often. You have to be so dedicated and want it. You have to work in your spare time and when you come in for an interview you have to prove why they should employ you over somebody else. It’s a tough existence, living in central London and being an apprentice, so you have got to want to be here. Words can’t describe how thrilling it is to see my work on display in Savile Row. To see people walking past and taking pictures is just so cool. ”
After his triumph at the Golden Shears, Brockman, who will be 30 this summer, is unsure what will happen next. “The nature of the business and the industry is that you don’t really know where it is going. In five years’ time I could be a fully-fledged cutter seeing customers or I could still be trying to complete my apprenticeship. Hopefully not but you just don’t know. You have to take it as it comes; try to absorb all the knowledge you can and enjoy the journey because you are lucky to be here. Look at this building we are in. It’s 200 years of history. It’s incredible. To finally realise this is what I want to do is great in itself. I’m just enjoying that.”
But it hasn’t been all work for Brockman and he enjoyed a starring role on the Channel 4 programme, First Dates, which puts people together on a blind date. “If you grow up in a fishing village in Cornwall the opportunities are minimal,” explains Brockman. “So if you then find yourself in a great city like London which is full of opportunities, then personally I am going to grab every single one with both hands. I was watching the show and thought I’d give it a go. I sent in an application, one thing led to another and I found myself in a restaurant with a pretty girl. It was good.” And how did the date go? “We’re still friends,” he says.
“My appearance generated a lot of interest on Twitter with one person writing: ‘Riki’s a tailor? Did he get dressed in a charity shop, in a bin, in the dark?’ Which is great. I loved it because I just won the Golden Shears. I’m definitely a tailor.” Indeed he is, definitely.
Photos by Dan Angel