Posted inFashion

Sundry Style with Jake Wigham: on a (collar) roll

Illustration by Daisy Leeson (@daisyleesonart)

For someone with Covid, Jake looks surprisingly chipper through the computer screen. A lick of blonde hair stands atop a friendly, oval face framed by an open-necked shirt. A soft, button-down collar rolls down pleasingly in an S shape. The shirt in question, a classic, oxford-cloth button-down, was made by him. He makes around five a day.

Since Lockdown 1.0, Jake has been crafting beautiful shirts inspired by the Jazz and Ivy League styles of the 50s and 60s. All the details are here: the back collar button; the locker loop; the box pleat; the unlined collar. The cut of the classic, easy breezy fit, would not look out of place in an old American yearbook. 

This is no accident. “I’ve just been looking at a lot of Francis Wolff portraits of all the Blue Note artists,” Jake enthuses, “and there’s a really good account on Instagram, Berkeley Breathes, which is a guy in Boston who is interested in Ivy and he’s going through loads of old yearbooks and finding images of people wearing the clothes in an actual setting.”

It’s this sense of fidelity to period-correct menswear which is getting him noticed.  I speak with Jake on Zoom a month before he launches his eponymous tailoring service. It offers made-to-order shirts, handmade silk repp ties, and some very smart facemasks. He will soon be offering made-to-order trousers, too. With well-deserved pride, Jake observes that he is doing something “relatively unique. I don’t see anyone else offering that kind of thing at the moment.”

Jake’s shirts don’t feel fussy or old-fashioned. In fact, they look entirely at home in 2021. The Ivy League style of mixing and matching, as Permanent Style’s Simon Crompton once pointed out, chimes perfectly with our anything-goes age. Along with an ability to capture the zeitgeist is the punctilious detail Jake puts into his clothes. There is a burgeoning number of people who, given the ethical and environmental shoddiness pervasive in mainstream clothing manufacture, are crying out for a store like Jake’s. Whether it’s showing expert craftsmanship or sourcing materials from small, British-based companies, Jake has it covered – even down to the mother-of-pearl and horn buttons. “I know where everything has come from. It’s all produced to the highest quality possible.”

With an infectious (sorry) enthusiasm, Jake explains that as his shirts are worn, the fibres break down, and the cotton becomes softer. It seems a revelatory statement to make, but it shouldn’t be: quite simply, the shirts improve with age. Jake is making clothes which will last, but he’s also making them to be worn: “I’m really trying to make it as affordable as possible, but also I don’t want you to buy it on a whim, I want you to buy it because you need it, not for it to be sat in the wardrobe. I want them to be worn and enjoyed.”

Jake grew up in Cumbria, a place, he acknowledges, is not exactly the cradle of Ivy Style. He did live in a city, but then again, there is only one city in Cumbria (Carlisle). His teenage years were spent listening to Northern Soul, and subsequently he got into reggae, soul, funk and jazz. Through his family, Jake came to understand the different styles of clothing and subcultures associated with the music he was listening to (his father still scours eBay fastidiously for bargains).  “Our whole lives have revolved around clothing, and style.”

After his GCSEs, Jake found himself directionless, and spent the summer working with his dad at a fabric mill. He decided early on that it wasn’t for him. On his dad’s advice to take up a trade, Jake switch to working as a bricklayer, which he did for seven years. He knew he didn’t fit in with the people he was working with. “I’d always been a bit of a weirdo,” he remarks, “I just got to the point where I started to really hate it.” The tipping point came when he saw that his brother was working as a fashion stylist in London. And so, at the age of 21, Jake decided to follow in his footsteps and go to art school.

He enrolled on a foundation art and design degree in Carlisle. Surrounded by inspiring teachers – something that was lacking at his secondary school – Jake found a mentor-figure. “A really incredible guy; I’m still friends with him now. He introduced me to jazz, lots of art, lots of music, lots of design.” A year later, following his tutor’s advice, he successfully applied to the London College of Fashion for a degree in bespoke tailoring. Jake graduated in 2016, but he couldn’t afford to undertake an unpaid apprenticeship on Savile Row. He was offered a trouser-making apprenticeship with Steeds Bespoke Tailoring up in Cumbria. “Obviously it was the only offer I had, so I took it straight away.”

After an intense, year-long apprenticeship, Jake moved back down to London in 2018. He set up a studio in Bethnal Green, East London, near where he had lived as a student. Steeds, he explains, is dependent on their American clientele, but when international travel was restricted by Covid, Jake’s work began to dwindle. It was during this difficult time that Jake’s came into being. “It just seemed my only option. But it’s also something I really wanted to do. The need for more work made me take the first step and just do it. Fingers crossed people take to it, I hope.”

He sounds anxious about how his new business will be received, but as it turns out he needn’t be. Since our conversation, Jake (who, I’m happy to share, has recovered after contracting the wretched virus) has opened his store and it has been met with universal acclaim. Sartorial luminaries such as Aleks Cvetkovic and Gauthier Borsallero have been amongst those to sing his praises.

I’ve been cheering him on from afar too. His Instagram stories give thanks to those who have left him working at a frenetic pace. He has even taken the decision to give up his part-time job making bespoke trousers. And he is constantly expanding his repertoire. Recently he added shirts in chambray, and a new model, the leisure shirt, to his store.

As I was struggling to finish this piece, a coda of sorts fell into my lap. I noticed an Instagram story announcing his 100th shirt order; an achievement not to be sniffed at for a one-person enterprise. A milestone to curtail my writing, but I predict it will be only the first of many for this talented young tailor.