Y Magazine

Coffee with Y – Martin Nicholls

A master craftsman of men’s bespoke tailoring is branching out in the Sultanate. Y’s Alvin Thomas gets a lesson in how to look good. 



I’ve been invited to a “Gentlemen’s Meet” at the 1847 lounge at the Jumeirah Emirates Towers, Dubai; it’s 7pm and the room is beginning to fill up.

I am with my friend Ahmad Marei – who knows practically everyone in the UAE. He shows me around but I notice a small crowd already gathering around a particularly distinguished-looking individual.

He seemed to be explaining – in detail – the science behind crafting suits and other items such as wallets and belts. Intrigued, I ask Ahmad if he can set me up with an interview with the guy who is the centre of attention.

He looks at me and says: “That’s Martin Nicholls. And don’t worry, consider it done.”

And in less than five minutes, the interview is on. And it doesn’t take me long to realise why this man is so popular.

He is a bespoke tailor and head cutter at the esteemed Alfred Dunhill’s “Made to Measure” programme.

Dressed in a Dunhill suit himself (which I hear can cost upwards of RO7,000), he says: “You would look very smart in a suit.”

I can only smile and thank him but the smile is wiped off my face when I enquire about how much a suit can cost. Well, if you have to ask the price…

However, Martin was on the team that started the “Made to Measure” and “Bespoke” programme for Alfred Dunhill in 2003.

“We’ve seen this brand grow from strength to strength. Our success is not limited to the name of the brand. It extends to our method of working with clients,” says the suitmaker.

With a twinkle in his eye, he laughs: “We’ve been going since 1893 so we have almost 125 years of experience under our belt.”

But Martin’s life hasn’t always been so glamorous. Fuelled by his passion for fashion design, he headed to the renowned Savile Row in central London, which is famous for its traditional bespoke tailoring for men, and knocked on the doors of famous tailoring houses looking for a job.

It took him five years to learn tailoring (from the experts at Hunstman Savile Row), and he struck gold when he was accepted at Gieves & Hawkes – a brand with more than 200 years of experience.

“I originally graduated in the field of psychology and zoology from London,” he says. “But something about fashion reached out to my soul and that’s what pulled me towards suitmaking and tailoring. I was itching to work with sharp scissors and tape.

“Since it was a passion of mine, it was not something I was going to give up on. My first job was with the established name Gieves & Hawkes, which was the very brand that I always wanted to work with,” he says.

“I was lucky to be offered a job there, especially as a 22-year-old graduate with no experience whatsoever. But then I learned that my study of psychology could be applied in tailoring.

“My first impression was that tailoring was just a form of learning how to cover parts of one’s body.

“But as I progressed, I learned that it is more of a form of expression: I consider it an art form and a craft, and one that requires me to use my skills in psychology.”

Every suit is different, Martin says, and that creating a suit requires careful visualisation of the mindset of the person – his character, his personality and also his persona – to tailor a bespoke suit.

“This is why, when I tailor a suit, I sit down with the client and talk to him for over an hour about what he wants. I then try to learn about his profession and then visualise what kind of fabric I can offer him.”

When I ask him to reveal some of the tricks of the trade he laughs: “I cannot reveal those to you. But what I can tell you is that the fabric and the weave of the fabric translate to more than just the look.

“It tells of the confidence of the person wearing it.

“So getting it right is very important. I spend roughly 80 hours on one individual suit, and delivery will take up to six months. All of it is made by hand and I cannot compromise on even the smallest of details, such as the weave, the colours of the fabrics, the fabrics and even the stitching.”

It’s little wonder then every suit  that Martin creates is patented in London.

Martin joined Alfred Dunhill in 2003, where he has worked with several high-profile clients, including superstars such as Daniel Craig and Samuel L. Jackson.

But Martin is concerned about the dwindling number of people still around to pass on the art of suit making to the younger generation, and that few youngsters want to take up tailoring.

He then asks me if I know why suits are important, to which I have to plead ignorance.

“Suits are ageless,” he explains. “You can wear one wherever you go, be it for meeting royalty or if you are simply heading for a meeting. It will never look out of place.”

He then goes on to reveal that Alfred Dunhill has a rapid expansion plan in the Middle East, and that a few outlets will soon open in the Sultanate.

“Don’t be surprised if you see us in your part of the world soon,” he says.

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