The Regent Skipper (Euschemon rafflesia) is an Australian butterfly. Mainly black, it has distinctive red and yellow markings. Rather curiously, it behaves like a moth. Travel to Queensland and you probably stand a good chance of seeing one of these lepidopterans, but within the UK, you're more likely to encounter it on tag, bag or clothing label from Regent Tailoring, which features the Regent Skipper as its brand logo. The butterfly was a suitable eponym for Regent Tailoring's founder, Jason Regent, but its significance was not solely superficial; the butterfly reveals much about the verve of the Regent brand that Jason has built up over the past six years. The Regent Skipper's flashes of colour and its atypical behaviour – aping a moth, the tailor's enemy – hint at Regent's idiosyncrasies, individuality and humour. As I have recently taken delivery of my fifth Regent suit, I thought it was about time that I learnt a little more about 'the shop with a small front and a big behind'.
The people & their passion
The Regent story started in the most unlikely of places: a garage unit on an industrial estate in Salisbury, Wiltshire. But in just under five years, the business has been relocated twice and is now run from a centrally located three-storey building near the gates of Salisbury's thirteenth-century cathedral. Regent's rapid climb up the property ladder reflects its creative and commercial success. As so often seems to be the case with small businesses, the winning formula is a product of the different personalities who work at Regent.
Jason's grandfather was butler to James Bond's creator, Ian Fleming. From an early age, Jason was therefore acquainted with the world of fine cigars, prestigious marques and impeccable tailoring. A family home in Henley-on-Thames provided close links with London, a connection that may explain the synergy between country and city, shabby and chic, that is reflected in the shop today, where Monkee Genes chinos and jeans are sold alongside wool pocket squares, mounted deer heads and leather IPad cases. Jason learnt his craft with Ede & Ravenscroft, but worked in high street fashion before setting up his eponymous company. It was after he had decided to make the entrepreneurial leap, and presumably while looking for garages to rent, that Jason met his right-hand man, Will. Will maintains that he "fell in to it", but this bespeaks his modesty. At this early juncture, Will's contribution lay in event organising. Appearances at Newbury races and Goodwood introduced customers to the Regent brand and did much to stimulate the company's early growth. As the business expanded, he and Jason have found positions that suit their natural abilities and preferences; with a mixture of resignation and pride, Will acknowledges that he does the admin.
The 'Regent look'?
We aim to make a customer look their best, but this can sometimes contradict what they initially want ~ Jason
Impressed by the suits that Regent have made for me, a colleague recently commissioned Jason to make him a double-breasted suit in a charcoal flannel. The finished article attracted the attention of a female colleague, who proclaimed: "That's a Ben Wild suit!" This would imply there is a 'Regent look', a visual link that connects all of the company's creations. Savile Row tailors are frequently identified by the silhouette of their suits, but Jason and Will are less sure. The cut of a Regent suit (generally slim) is important, and both cite the 1960s as a source of sartorial inspiration, but design ideas come from many places. Jason will happily takes style cues from Hollywood – Gangster No 1, Breakfast At Tiffany's, A Single Man – and Pinterest. His online photographic scrapbook features a diverse array of street-styled men and women dressed in khaki and tweed, single-breasted and double-breasted jackets. Bikers and skaters, Charlie Chaplain and American cowboys also feature.
The encyclopaedic knowledge of diverse sartorial styles that Jason, Will and their full-time assistant Richard possess help them to advise customers. Consultation, rather than coercion, characterises Regent's approach to tailoring. Helping people achieve a look that complements their body shape is clearly a greater concern than having noticeably identifiable Regent suits, even if this sometimes involves a bit of sartorial re-education. The one style lesson Regent tries hard to impart is that individuality is key.
A lot of people come into the shop, especially for weddings, with the idea that everything has to match. We try and break that down a bit and say don't worry. It's about having pieces rather than a complete outfit. Everything's timeless here so you if you buy a jacket you can use it in multiple ways ~ Jason
Again, it comes back to the personality of the people involved. For a tailor, Jason's style is almost iconoclastic. I rarely see him wear a tie, a pocket square or cufflinks. Will, on the other hand, would not look out of place on the Mad Men set. Perhaps necessarily, Richard's raiment fits somewhere in between. The different styles that Jason, Will and Richard favour put Regent in something of a unique position among tailors because there is no single mould, rather lots of different possibilities and influences that all come together to make a customer's garment.
I quite like wearing a tie, Jason doesn't. He'll put a tie on for a wedding, but day-to-day he doesn't wear one. At the same time, he's quite happy to advise people on how to wear one. Richard is completely different as well ~ Will
The creation of a Regent suit is about collaboration. When I have attended fittings for my suits, Will, Jason and I have discussed various possibilities, from the style of the lapels to the colour of the stitching and the material of the buttons. At one point during a recent, Will was seconded to an adjacent room to give his opinion on the length of a customer's bespoke jacket, as Jason wanted to ensure his advice was appropriate. Mercifully, Will and Jason agreed. The decision was to increase the jacket's length by an inch.
Creative & commercial collaborations
The importance of collaboration is evident throughout Regent's shop, which sells a wide range of non-clothing products, from individuals and local companies, including gin, cigars, sculpture, oak doorstops and oil paintings. As Jason meets companies whose products and philosophy appeal, he is quite prepared to find some shelf or floor space to sell their wares. There is a danger that this eclecticism could dilute the Regent brand that Jason and Will are keen to build up – going wholesale, selling Regent goods in other stores, is one of their long-term goals. Customers could come into the shop looking for a particular item, become distracted, and leave with nothing. On the other hand, the Sir John Soanes atmosphere reflects the energy and creativity of the shop's owners and their desire to develop fruitful partnerships that are creatively and commercially successful. One Regent collaboration has been with Cheaney shoes. Regent design the shoes and, in consultation with Cheaney, choose the lasts and leathers that the Northamptonshire based cordwainer will use to make them.
It's always been about the best products and the best materials from a good source. We've tried to associate with some of the best British brands from the start: Fox Umbrellas, Joseph Cheaney, John Smedley ~ Will
As more partnerships are made, and they undoubtedly will be, the range of products stocked by Regent will inevitably increase and diversify. I have qualms about this, but a longer visit to the Salisbury store made me realise that I have hitherto only experienced one aspect of what Regent offers. During my visit, a continual flow of customers brought home the fact that Regent is not solely about bespoke tailoring, nor is it solely about men: on the second floor, a male teacher, late twenties, was being fitted for a three-piece suit and bespoke shirt for his upcoming wedding; two women, mid thirties, wearing extraordinary Ushanka hats, came into to peruse the women's range on the third floor. Downstairs, another customer, an elderly gentleman, had an enquiry about Possum wool jumpers. Regent do not stock these jumpers, but Jason provided details of a local company that does. Spending a couple of hours with Jason, Will and Richard made me appreciate even more the enterprise, creativity and humour of Regent Tailoring. It is the combination of different (and compatible) personalities, united by a passion for producing garments that make the most of British materials and expertise, that have turned a garage set-up into a fully-fledged business in under five years. This is an extraordinary accomplishment, but perhaps it is to be expected from a company named after a butterfly as intriguing as the Regent Skipper.