The Voice Interview

The only black tailor on Savile Row has bags of awards

Published by: The Voice, "He's Sew Good" by Amina Taylor

It is difficult not to feel awestruck as you enter the inner sanctum of Professor Andrew Ramroop’s Savile Row office. Lining every exposed space on the wall – between hand-made suites in various stages of production – are awards and accolades that should be used for show and tell‚ days at schools across the country.

How could anyone fail to be moved by the honours bestowed upon the man who came to came to the UK to Southampton on a boat from Trinidad when he was 17-years-old with a self-confessed “funny accent”?

While most of us were still running around, deciding who we wanted to date and settling on what mischief we would get involved in, Prof Ramroop was already an accomplished tailor who would, after few short years, create history as the first man of colour to own a business on the notoriously snooty Savile Row.

  Maurice Sedwell Interior

Maurice Sedwell Interior

As your eyes wander past the plaque presented to him from the Federation of Asian Master Tailors, the framed, personal letter of thanks from England cricketer Mark Ramprakash and certificates of congratulations in languages I do not even pretend to understand, you realise that this is a man at the top of his field. This is the environment of a professional for whom nothing but the best will do.

One award not on display is his recently-received Chaconia Gold Medal, for distinction in the field of tailoring and business. Presented by Trinidad’s President to Ramroop in a live television extravaganza in the land of his birth, it clebrated one of the island’s most accomplished sons.

For the man who says he will always be a Trinidadian, and flies home every year for Carnival, to be lauded in his adopted home and his original home must take some beating. It is when confronted with the rewards of his years of dedication that the man born Andrew Madan Ramroop goes quiet and reflective.

“I am very, very proud. I felt like I was 6ft 5in that day, even though I’m only 5ft 7in. The Chaconia Gold is the highest civilian award that anyone can receive in Trinidad. It is humbling.”

This is when the very dapper Ramroop brings his own personal ethos: “I don’t do things for accolades and so on. You do things because you enjoy what you do and by virtue of that you become very good at it. Opportunities may present themselves and if you are prepared you take advantage of those opportunities.

“There are some things in life that leave you absolutely dumfounded and this is one of them. The Prime Minister of Trinidad called me a month before the ceremony. He was being very complimentary in the conversation and I was thinking ‘this is interesting’. He then said ‘I am going to recommend you to receive the second highest award that the country gives to its citizens, the Chaconia Gold.’ I was floored. This is not something you even dare to dream about.”

This fairlytale existence is not something that Ramroop would have envisioned as a young boy growing up in a very lush Trinidad. Always passionate about tailoring, the young Ramroop did not know he would be creating history when he picked up his first needle and thimble.

“The background from which I came never really prepared me for this kind of thing. I left school when I was 15. I never wanted to go to school, I wanted to be a tailor. I came from an area where there was a lot of excitement. It was a good area but you know in the West Indies, especially being from the village that I was from, I had opportunities to go off on paths that would have provided drama.”

To prove this point Prof Ramroop states that of the four teenage boys who started the apprenticeship to be tailors, only he has remained in the business with the three others either losing interest or finding themselves succumbing to temptations like drink and drugs. Professor Ramroop did not follow that path for one main reason: “There was that strict West Indian upbringing that stays with you, that you never lose regardless of how much you might try and rebel; some of it does get through your thick skull. When you reflect, you realize some of what your family tried to teach you has got through. With all the influences that there were, the opportunity to go the wrong way presented itself many, many times but I carried on the path that I had chosen for myself.”

That history-making path manifested itself when, after many rejections for positions in Savile Row, he was taken on by Maurice Sedwell, whose name still stands as the name of Ramroop’s business. After six years of being with the company, Ramroop was running the business and finally took full control in 1988.

Accepting the profile and recognition that came with his position as a history maker was not always something the man honoured by the World Congress of Master Tailors (this year) was always keen on.

“I went through a period when I did not want to be distinguished or even noticed as a black person working in what is very much a white environment. I went through that period because I just wanted to gel and get on with it.

“I was constantly being hung with this banner as the person who has managed to make his way through the challenging environment and be successful. I felt, for a brief moment, that I did not want to be recognized in this way at all, purely because I wanted to be distinguished as someone with an ability – not a black person with ability but an individual with ability.”

Professor Ramroop no longer feels like this. The reality of his situation and position has always been ingrained in him but for this husband and father of two, he has now embraced his status and everything it represents.

“I have gone back to where I was before because, having been successful in this very, very competitive environment, I feel that it is absolutely paramount to be a role model outside rap music, entertainment and sport, even outside high academic attainment. If we aim high and don’t hang our hats where our hands cannot reach but set ourselves attainable goals then nothing can hold us back. If my role here can be one that others can aspire to achieve then I don’t mind being the man who paved the way for them to do that.”

In his professional work, Prof Andrew Ramroop is doing just that. The master tailor is in the process of getting together some of the UK’s brightest design and fashion students for a label he will call Sartorial Art. As well as extending the Maurice Sedwell brand, this design initiative will bring the Andrew Ramroop touch to a different audience.

With handmade Maurice Sedwell suits costing thousands, Prof Ramroop wants to bring that quality to other parts of his business. He wants to extend his legacy but retain the quality, a technique he has employed at his Savile Row flagship store.

“I’m very realistic that I will not be here forever and I would like to have more time for myself and for my family. If anyone comes in here they should be able to see anyone whom I choose to represent the brand because they have the same brand awareness and attention to detail that I do. We constantly strive to draw the distinction between good and perfect.” To look at the man himself, you know he has succeeded.

FACTFILE

1970 Arrives in the UK after a journey by sea from his home of Trinidad.
1972 Enters London College of Fashion and completes a three-year course in two years and is awarded a certificate of Distinction.
1974 Joins Maurice Sedwell on Savile Row as Assistant Cutter
1988 Makes history by becoming the first black man to own a business in the formerly all-white Savile Row.
1988 BBC 2 featured documentry on Black Firsts.
2001 Is conferred with the honorary title of Professor by the London Institute for Distinction in the Field of Tailoring.
2001Represented United Kingdom at World Congress of Master Tailors, Paris, France.
2001 Winner of Men of Merit Award.
2001 Winner of Black Enterprise International Businessman Award.
2001 Invited to use his name for Harvard Uinversity, African American Faculty (USA) HighestAspiration Award.
2003 Represented the United Kingdom at World Congress of Master Tailors Italy.
2004 Is reconferred with the Professor title by the newly created University of Arts London.
2004 Winner of Excellence Award by Made in London - London Development Agency .
2005 Represented the United Kingdom at the World Congress of Master Tailors, Berlin, Germany.
2005 Awarded Chaconia Medal Gold by the government of Trinidad & Tobago.
2006 Awarded the Trailblazer Award by the Mayor of London for Achievement in Fashion and Tailoring.