Kathryn Sargent made history on 6 April by becoming the first female master tailor to open her own shop in London's prestigious Savile Row. After being trained at royal tailor Gieves & Hawkes for 15 years, where she also broke ground by becoming the first female head cutter, her journey came full circle when she opened the doors to her own store on the iconic street, which has traditionally been dominated by men in its near 200-year association with tailoring.
"I feel quite proud of my achievement, but it's been 20 years that I've been training and working in the Row. I set up my own business just under five years ago, and it's born on the true values of Savile Row bespoke tailoring, so it's nice to be here in my sort of spiritual home," said the softly spoken 41-year old, wearing her own creation.
She said she learned from some great people, all men, who were happy to pass down their skills to a younger, energetic generation of tailors. Originally from Leeds in northern England, Sargent said her well-dressed father was a source of inspiration and that she got her creative genes from her mother, a keen knitter.
It was her love of formal menswear and the process involved in making it that drew the fashion student to Savile Row, where she was "enchanted" at her first visit. She became an apprentice in 1996 and the first female head cutter in 2009 at Gieves & Hawkes.
She started her own business in 2012 and soon moved to an atelier where she made bespoke garments for men and women. The new store will also target both sexes, making it one of the few on Savile Row to cater for women. In that vein, she also launched her own unisex Sargent Harris tweed. Bespoke two-piece suits at her store start from £4,200 ($6,000) and can cost £10,000 if made from very exclusive and rare cloths, she said.
Her breakthroughs are reflective of a wider trend in the tailoring industry, she said, adding that a majority of newly qualified tailors to have graduated from the Savile Row apprenticeship scheme last year were women.
"It's very inspiring for them to see that a woman can do this job. To have an opportunity to work in this industry, now there are more and more women coming through the ranks. Last year, out of all the newly qualified tailors who received their apprenticeships and diplomas in Savile Row, 65% of those were women."
That was up from 20% of female graduates when the scheme started just over 10 years ago. Sargent played down the significance of being the only female master tailor on Savile Row. "It's something that is not going to be such a talking point in the future, but I'm very delighted to be the first," she said.