This is a story that could have had a very unhappy ending . . . but former Luton Grammar School boy Geoff Souster was always an enterprising lad.
When his fresh start at Denbigh High also ended in ignominy – he was thrown out for refusing to sing Three Blind Mice – he immediately organised an apprenticeship with local tailor W Bell & Son and took to it like a duck to water.
“It was the 1960s and I loved suits, fashion and fabric,” he explained.
He went to the London College of Fashion one day a week to learn the basics of the trade, including cutting and hand-sewing buttonholes.
The keen footballer met his wife Laura at the Cavalier Club in Luton. She was wearing white leather hotpants and according to Geoff, 66 – the youngest ever president of the Federation of Merchant Tailors in 1988 – it was love at first sight.
“She was stunning then, still is now,” he smiled.
It was a match made in heaven as she was a trained dressmaker and tailoress. They married in 1972 and opened their first shop in John Street in 1978, moving to larger premises in George Street in 1982.
A year later, Eric Morecambe opened their second shop in Dunstable.
Souster means ‘to sew’ in old English and the pair have been tailoring for the great and the good – including Lenny Henry, Eammon Holmes, Michael Buble and boxer Barry McGuigan – for 100 years between them.
Opera singer Russell Watson got married in one of their platinum label suits and the late Bob Monkhouse claimed: “I may not be the best comedian but with Geoff as my tailor, I am the best dressed.”
They’re marking their combined centenary of service with a special celebration magazine detailing their business background, how their bespoke suits are made and the many celebrities who’ve blazed a path to glory sporting their slick tailoring.
The company trades under the name Souster & Hicks and the business is now based in Woburn. Turnover is so good that from next month, customers will be seen by appointment only.
Sons Scott and Wes have joined the family firm, as well as Scott’s wife Natalie.
Geoff’s happiest in jeans, a well cut jacket and smart shoes – “not a ghastly old pair of trainers.”
So how many suits hang in his wardrobe? “I can’t afford to buy my own make,” he quipped in mock horror.
He abhors the current scruffy trend and laments: “Englishmen don’t know how to dress down with style.”
He’s seen many a husband dragged into the shop when a family wedding is in the offing. “Afterwards they’re surprised when friends tell them how much weight they’ve lost – when it’s all in the cutting.”
Souster & Hicks was one of the first companies to use a factory made-to-measure computer system, allowing them to produce very competitively priced suits – starting from £750 – as well as their renowned custom-made garments which use the time-honoured techniques of bespoke tailoring.
So are they taking time off to revel in their hard-won reputation? Not a bit of it! According to Geoff, they enjoy the work far too much.
> Visit www.sousterandhicks.com