Probably the proudest moment of Colin Starsmore’s 50 years as a tailor came just a couple of months of ago.
At the Radio 2 Folk Awards 2014, musicians Richard Hawley and Martin Simpson were introduced to the Royal Albert Hall stage as “two guys who look like they’ve come straight from London Fashion Week”.
Both were wearing suits made, not in Savile Row, W1, but in Station Road, Darnall. By Colin in his tiny first floor workshop, to be exact.
“That felt fantastic,” says the 65-year-old. “It was special.”
Special perhaps, but the accolade will hardly come as a surprise to the thousands of Sheffielders who, down the decades, have had their threads made by this most talented of tailors.
Colin – one of just three practical suit-makers left in the city – has today announced he is retiring at the end of the year. But for exactly half a century he has been dressing the city’s smartest and sharpest looking blokes. Steelworkers, pop stars, footballers, Teddy Boys, Mods, bookies, barristers, dandies and ne’er-do-wells have all passed through his doors looking considerably better turned out when they leave than when they arrive.
Hawley returns every few years. So too does Tony Christie, despite now living in Lichfield. David Ford and Wilf Smith were both regulars when they played for Wednesday. And artist Pete McKee, who worked with the global Paul Smith label on a range of T-shirts, famously turned down the chance to grab a couple of garments. “I get my suits from Colin Starsmore, of Sheffield,” he said.
In all, Colin reckons he’s made somewhere approaching 10,000 suits over five decades.
“Men like coming to a tailor,” he tells The Diary today at his two-storey shop, a kingdom of cloth and needles, scissors and tape measures. “They don’t like going shopping but they do like to come and get that personal touch. Choose their cloth, discuss styles, know they’re getting something unique.”
Colin, who grew up in the Manor, started at 15 for no real reason other than he believed men would always need tailors.
It hasn’t quite worked out that way – as more blokes buy off the peg, fewer traditional suit-makers survive. But customers have kept coming to him, anyway.
He set up his business in 1970 after training under Arthur Wilson, of Handsworth. “I learned a lot from him,” notes the grandfather-of-two of Eckington. “Mainly I learned this business would never make me rich. But I enjoy it anyway.”
His favourite moments, he says, are every time a chap walks out happy with what he’s made.
Now, he’ll soon be taking his last orders and winding up for the end of 2014. He’ll sell the property on but not the business.
“Once I’ve finished, that’s it,” says Colin. “I’ll never make another suit again – not even for myself. I’ll spend more time with the grandchildren and relax.”
After 50 years, he’s earned the rest. It suits him.