Barry is the Head Pattern Cutter at TOAST. Each morning he comes in whistling,a wide smile on his face and a spring in his step. He began his career in 1960, having left school at the age of 14. His original plan was to become a postman but he failed theexam. Instead, his kindly mother (a skilled wedding dress seamstress) made inquiries and before long found him a position at a tailors producing clothes forWallis Fashion House on Sidney Street, Whitechapel.
He was given the most menial of tasks:carrying bundles of cut fabric to and fro between factories(andpicking up what he had dropped on his way back). But he was plucky and, so it turned out,a fast learner. By working a six-day week and staying late, he quickly acquired the basics of machining, pressing and sewing.
After one year he left the tailors to become a Sample Cutter at Wallis Fashion House itself. Any free time he found was spent watching Francois (the exuberant Head Pattern Cutter). To Barry, the way Francois worked was fascinating.There wasaneaseand grace to his movements,an almost sculptor-like skill in his cutting of two-dimensional patterns and their magical transformation into subtly, accurately varied three-dimensional shapes.It didn't take long for Francois to notice this young, determined manat his sideand before long Barry became his pupil.
In 1965 Francois was headhunted by Christian Dior. When he left he took his protg with him. The Dior offices were in a beautiful building on Conduit Street. Glamorous women would wander in looking for bespoke pieces. It was a wonderful place to work. In 1969, however, Barry's time there came to an abrupt end. The management asked him if he would take over from Francois betray the man who had taught him all he knew. Barry couldn't do it. So heresigned,never telling Francois why.
Barry's next position was as apattern cutter for a shop calledO'. His clients were very high-end, from Cabinet ministers' wives throughto royalty. He would often visit Kensington Palace to fit dresses for Princess Margaret. On one occasion hebegan to unzip the Princess's dress:as he did sothe designer almost fainted with horror. Princess Margaret, on the other hand, was perfectly content and from that day forth Barry was always allowed to unzip her.
Although Barry enjoyed working with individual clients he began to miss the energy and spirit of the tailoring trade from which he'd come. In 1972 a small start-up company approached Barryto cut their coats and jackets. The new company wasStephen Marks Ltd, latertobecomeFrenchConnection.
Barrywent on to work forFrench Connectionand NicoleFarhifor forty years. He ended up with a team of twenty-nine pattern cutters and travelled the worldto oversee sampling inIndia, Italy, Hong Kong and Portugalwhilst setting upmultiplepattern rooms along the way. He tried to retire at 65,but happily for us failed. He joined TOAST last year and as well as nurturing our own pattern roomhehas generously handed down as much knowledge as he can. After all, as Barry likes to say, It's not work if you love what you do.
Words by Emily Mears
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