Women in menswear V: Alexandra Wood
WOMEN IN MENSWEAR V | Words + photography: Lee Osborne
Name: Alexandra Wood
Job title: Founder of Alexandra Wood
I first discovered Alexandra via my friend Cyrill Ibrahim on instagram – the holy grail for us like-minded sartorialists. A member of the forty-something club myself, Alexandra’s beliefs immediately struck a cord with me: “Let’s face it”, she says, “40 is the new 30 and realistically, who actually cares if you’re no longer in your 30s?” From the importance of selecting the right shoes to adding texture or a pop of colour to enhance your complexion, Alexandra is an oracle of style enhancements, whether you’re established in the dapper stakes already or a budding novice. Her store, (although quite frankly, ‘store’ doesn’t do it entirely justice), it’s more store-meets design studio, located in the provincial market town of Bishop’s Stortford in Hertfordshire, is a haven for the erstwhile gent. Wood has transformed what initially was a derelict building in to a style destination in itself – in that it’s not just a shop. Think exposed beams, comfy chairs festooned with throws and ikat print cushions – where you can sit and ponder your purchases while leafing through a Scott Schuman streetstyle tome; spacious dressing rooms with 360-degree mirrors and even a men’s chill-out zone complete with bar; not to mention a proliferation of exquisite details – from a rakish wrought-iron Savile Row sign hanging above the till to a stylish Alexandra Wood logo-emblazoned sound system. I recently had the pleasure of meeting the immaculately-attired face behind the brand to get the backstory on her menswear journey so far…
Tell me a bit about your background. Where did you grow up and did you go to art school?
I grew up in Camden, London. I went to Camberwell College of Arts first to do a Textiles foundation, then to London College of fashion where I studied professional pattern cutting and fashion design.
You’re a designer, not a tailor, right?
I’m a menswear designer, with pattern cutting education. My preference is to design rather than to cut and where my speciality lies.
Tell me how you first got in to menswear?
I began my career in womenswear working for Shanghai Tang in their bespoke tailoring department. My customer’s husbands would then come in and ask if I would create something for them also and I simply fell in love with the simplicity of menswear. It’s a very different kettle of fish.
What made you want to set up on your own?
I’ve worked for other companies but felt that something was missing by way of experience and placing the customer at the forefront; to make them feel special and to design them tailored clothes that make them feel incredible. I found I had a talent for making people both feel and look good.
What brought you to Bishop’s Stortford?
I’ve lived here for 13 years and the shop that I opened 3.5 years ago is the oldest tailor’s in the UK and quite possibly the world. It felt like the right fit to start my own first shop.
Describe your typical working week between BS and Savile Row…
I have three kids, so it starts off with getting them to school before I go off and start my day. I tend to spend half of my week here in Bishop’s Stortford and the other in Savile Row. I can be doing anything from team meetings, designing new collections to made-to-measure consultations.
What were your objectives when you opened your first menswear store in Bishop’s Stortford?
I wanted to create a special space for customers to have a fun, friendly and warm experience. To also test my designs, which I’m delighted to say have been very well received. Our customers are always excited to find our new treasures.
Define your own idea of a menswear store in 2020
There always has to be really great service, that will never date. The customer has to be both seen and heard. Stores should be focussing on experience and helping people to show the value of what your offering is.
What menswear services do you offer?
We create made-to-measure tailoring, fully bespoke and I design our own ready-to-wear collections. We have staple wardrobe classics which are quality items for everyday wear, then we have our limited edition ranges which are more exclusive and which we only create one or two of. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. This very much fits in with our ethos of being unique.
Do you have a mentor?
I have guidance by way of a business coach and I have two fabulous people from large, reputable companies who offer me advice as and when is needed.
Where are your products made?
Our clothing is all made in Portugal and the Czech Republic. Our accessories are made here in the UK. This has been the same since I began 13 years ago.
You’re very stylish yourself. Who or what has influenced how you dress over the years?
Why thank you! I really love simplicity. I’m tall and slim, so I wear clothes that flatter my shape. I try to wear colour, but it’s usually with a scarf or a pop of bright lipstick. I love Audrey Hepburn and Olivia Palermo for inspiration. I’d say I’ve become more stylish with age, as I’ve become more confident to wear what I like.
Any cross-over influences from menswear which have influenced the way you dress?
I love the sports jacket/jeans combination, it’s such a great way to say I’m casual but take me seriously too. Adding a smart shirt and jacket to this look works a treat. Just make sure you have nicely fitting jeans, not ripped baggy ones, or this idea goes straight out of the window.
Who epitomizes women’s style in your opinion?
Audrey Hepburn – Timeless, classic and chic. That black dress is as wearable today as it was then.
Describe the challenges of being a woman in a predominantly male-dominated profession
I don’t pay any attention to it. If my customers enjoy working with me and like what I do, then that’s all that matters. I do, however, think women need to be shown up more in the spotlight. There’s a lot of talent out there that’s hidden… Us ladies have a different eye to that of a man.
Favourite style destination?
For Men, other than my brand of course, I am a big lover of the very cool brand Mr Porter. For me though, it has to be Harvey Nichols.
Most stylish guys in menswear?
To me James Dean epitomised cool and style with minimal pieces. I also really like David Gandy who made the double-breasted waistcoat cool again. My answers are usually otherwise quite unconventional, such as Jeff Goldblum and Harrison Ford, who for their age, look so damn cool and effortless!
Which age group do you mainly serve?
I design mainly for men over 40. This is where I shine and we work well together.
Proudest moment so far?
Having my customer Chuka Umunna on the GQs best dressed list and also, a personal achievement; for coming this far is in itself an achievement. I’ve shown myself I’m made of tough stuff. There’s more than meets the eye when you run your own business and it’s not always easy.
What drives you?
I absolutely love making men look amazing. I can see someone dressed in a certain way and an image pops into my mind of how much better they could look and that continues to excite me.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I aim to sell my business and to be hired as the creative director. I recently read an article by Orlebar Brown who said he never wanted to run a huge company and that he wanted just to do the creative part of the role. I can absolutely identify with that!
Savile Row tailoring wherever suits you
10 High Street, Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire, CM23 2LT
Tel: 020 3369 8969