Suits you, madam: the rise of bespoke tailoring

watoday– Tailor Emily Nolan stands with her right hand cradling her T-shirt-clad breast. “Having such big boobs myself,” she says, “this is something I really wanted to get right.” We’re inside a white shipping container plonked in a sprawling backyard in Melbourne’s Hawthorn East. In this narrow space – antique apple-green velvet chairs, giant mirror – Nolan takes up to 40 body measurements to make just one of her perfect custom-made suits. For women.

Decent clothing brands have always been able to offer a Hillary-style pantsuit at short notice but only recently has the rather stuffy world of made-to-measure turned its gaze on the female form.

Apart from Nolan, who launched her label E Nolan in May 2019, tailors Oscar Hunt and P Johnson have also announced in the past two years that they now fit women. Earlier this year, Patrick and Tamsin Johnson (of the latter) told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that post-lockdown seemed an opportune time “to add genuine strength to the way women dress at work”.

Twenty-six-year-old Nolan, today wearing one of her own designs, her long hair cascading down her back, has always loved suits. She remembers watching her busy mum, Susie, leave the house every day in her corporate armour of suited cloth and admired the ’90s nonchalance of Julia Roberts gliding through airports in blazers and jeans.

Much later, after graduating from the Whitehouse Institute of Design as 2016’s Designer of the Year, she pestered P Johnson for an apprenticeship. There, as the firm’s only female tailor, she learned the fitting methods made famous by London’s Savile Row.

But the intricacies of structuring the cut so cloth and lapel accommodate breasts is a skill Nolan has had to teach herself. Today, her shipping container welcomes 20 new clients a month, while her pants (from $450) and jackets (from $950) are cut from a choice of 600 Italian, English and Irish cloths. It’s a dream, she says, learning from her female and LGBTQIA+ clients. “I mean, some of them have been wearing clothes fabulously longer than I’ve been alive!”

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