“To be a good tailor, you need passion and precision,” says George Atanasias, head pattern cutter at feted bespoke shirtmakers Turnbull & Asser, founded in London in 1885. And Atanasias should know: his father was a bespoke suit and coat maker in Athens and he cut his first pair of trousers aged just 14. “I made them from scratch,” he recalls fondly, “and it was brilliant! Then I made my first coat at 15, which is obviously a lot more complex, and by the time I was 17, I had become a pattern cutter.”
Atanasias believes that his traditional, and very thorough education in tailoring is the key to his pattern cutting prowess. “The newer generation of pattern cutters don’t always understand the full process involved in making a garment, which is really important. You also need to have a really good teacher; it’s not something that many people can do well – you’ve got the mathematical side to it, the handling, the patience. The majority of my solid pattern cutting experience came from my father, but then over the past 30 years – ten years in Greece and 20 in London – I’ve also developed my own distinct style.” And he has done so while working for some of the world’s most famous fashion brands – from Dolce & Gabbana to Tom Ford and Ralph Lauren – prior to assuming his role at Turnbull & Asser two years ago.
Along the way, Atanasias has been accompanied by his trusty tools, the most treasured of which is his wonderfully worn-in wooden and brass set square by Birmingham manufacturers J. Rabone & Sons, given to him by his father some 25 years ago. “The majority of younger pattern makers, unless they trained on Savile Row, probably wouldn't work with a set square – they’d work with straight rulers. It’s a traditional tool that you’d only use if you’d been taught to. I can cut pretty much anything with it – shirts or suits. You don't need to use any other rulers with it because of the ‘L’ shape, which you can turn around and use both sides of, and because of the 190 degree angle that you then develop a lot of the sizing and grading from. It is extremely precious and hard to find nowadays. It was developed by an Australian tailor in 1918 and was so effective that within six months the design had reached London; everybody wanted it!”
Like all tailors and pattern cutters, however, he would also be lost without his shears. “The paper shears I use currently have been at Turnbull & Asser since the 70s,” he explains, “they are made of an iron compound; they’re very sharp.” And does he follow in tailoring tradition and forbid anyone else to touch them? “That's correct, absolutely true,” he says affirmatively. “There was a young man who was doing an apprenticeship with me, and before I could stop him he took my scissors and cut a very thick drawstring and blunted them. It was a nightmare – it took two months of constant sharpening to be able to use them again. He was very apologetic!”
Atanasias explains that he could cut any pattern armed with just these two tools – “of course you use a tape measure to take the 18 different measurements required for each shirt, but the shears and set square are the backbone of pattern cutting” – and with them he has mapped and snipped out over 2,500 designs during his two-year tenure at the prestigious shirtmakers alone. So does he cut his own shirts, we want to know? “Yes, for smart occasions. But most of the time I’m not bothered so much about my own clothing; I've always wanted to make things that make others look good – another thing I learnt from my dad.”