Prerecorded and posted: May 27th, 2021
Rachel Elspeth Gross
Rachel Elspeth Gross 0:00
Hi, everyone, it's Rachel Elspeth and Jonathan Joseph. We are here for another episode of I Can Do That and today our guest is haute couture tailor Nafisa Tosh. Hello Nafisa. So wonderful to have you here with us today.
Nafisa Tosh 0:13
Hi, how are you?
Rachel Elspeth Gross 0:16
Very well, thank you. So we've been trying to get some information for young people, who are interested in the fashion industry. And people who are interested in finding different career paths within the fashion industry. And we love the idea of showcasing the real work that goes into all of the different facets of what clothing means. Could you start by telling us what it is that you do like on a daily basis? What it's like to be such a high level of a tailor.
Jonathan Joseph 0:47
So every day is completely different for me, if I'm on a shoot, I never know what I'm going to be doing on a shoot until I arrive, what the work will entail. Today, for example, I was having what I thought was a quite studio day, and then I had to go out for two fittings, and pick some equipment up. So my days tend to be really varied and quite spontaneous. I have to be flexible to think on my feet. It also helps to have a really great list of contacts, that I can phone up and say, I need this, I need that, you know, can you help me? It's about relationships, you know, making relationships work. And, and knowing what's around who's around. So yeah, my days are very, very varied. It's not for everybody, I have to say. So if you like a regular nine to five, in studio every day is the same. That's not what my work is about. So yeah.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 1:54
How did you get started? How did you see like a place in your your training or your education that really pointed you towards what you do today?
Jonathan Joseph 2:04
So I almost was born into the industry, because my dad was a tailor. And my mom was a home sower. So I think I was about five or six years old when I first started annoying my dad and asking him if I could help make dresses for my dolls. And then as I got older, I was helping him with like hand finishing and, and because a child's hands are quite soft. So you can do the buttonholes by hand. You're not on a men's suit. So he would give us fabric to practice on. So yeah, I learned from my dad. So by the time I was 16 years old, I was a trained tailor, unofficially, and and then I got my degree equivalent. And because of my tailoring skills, I was always able to keep working and pay my bills pay my way, because I was just like a working class girl, you know, didn't have any family, any fashion connections or such. But it was my skills that have got me to where I am today. So yeah.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 3:15
Jonathan, is there anything you you want to add?
Jonathan Joseph 3:17
Yeah, absolutely. Well, I you know, first of all, that's amazing. I'm jealous. No one in my immediate family growing up was a sower. So I you know, and I am To this day, not so great at it. But I was wondering, you know, what do you recall being your earliest fashion memory where it was like, Oh, my God, like, this is something there's something magical here. There's something here that speaks to me, what was that earliest memory for you that you can recall when fashion spoke to you?
Nafisa Tosh 3:47
I think that was when I picked up my first Vogue magazine. And I think it was in a doctor's reception area. And, you know, they have like, all kinds, all kinds of like, you know, science mags and National Geographic and things like that. And then I found British Vogue. And it was the secretary who passed it to me, she's, I think you might enjoy this more. And I opened it up and it was literally like my mind just went (poof), it just went nuts. Because there was all this. So this was it must have been in the early 80s, like 81 or 1980 when everything was like full of color and beautiful textures, and you know, all this amazing work. So, you know, I was just thinking, what is this? You know, and she says she can keep this and read it. I mean, you know, like my parents like working class parents. So for them, you know, spending the equivalent of like, an hour's wages on a fashion magazine was a big no, no. So to be given this, and it became my Bible, and I read everything in it, especially the credits. I studied it And, yeah, I mean now work with those people in the credits, so I love that, you know, it's just fantastic. Yeah.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 5:10
I was reading this morning about the Elle Cannada issue you did with Florence Pugh with the cover and that beautiful fitted dress. It's so neat to go from a dream, or a fantasy in childhood to like being that that's what's amazing.
Nafisa Tosh 5:23
Yeah I mean, I never knew that there was an industry involved with fashion magazines that you could work on shoots in magazines. And of course, when now I think about it, every image has to be created. But also, when I'm working on a shoot a lot of the control gowns that we get, I have to tell them to fit an actress who is average height average size, without cutting any of the fabric so that Yeah. Especially if it's beaded and embelished. You know, you're not allowed to cut anything at all.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 6:04
So this is a sample, I assume.
Nafisa Tosh 6:07
Yeah, you have to do it in a way so that, especially if it's video or a moving image, that often goes on a photoshoot. So you might have a behind the scenes video. So you'll see people walking around, it's like, Okay, how do I make a six foot gown as a gun that's been fitted into a six foot two model fit an actress who's five foot two without cutting anything off, and for it to be invisible? So that's quite skill.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 6:36
I mean, how would you go about that?
Nafisa Tosh 6:38
You really have to know your fabric, your construction, where to conceal fabric, how to conceal it, you know what you can can't get away with an also I don't have like five or six hours. For example, this week, I worked on a shoot, we arrived at 7am we get set up, we have breakfast ready for eight, you know, so you have to, I have to create my own workstation. Then we do the fitting the minute the talent walks in. And it's whilst they're in hair and makeup and nails. That might be an hour and a half or two hours. So it's really quick turnaround. Otherwise, I'll be holding up the shoot. And you know, it takes a while. Yeah. So I have to be carfeul and good.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 7:06
Oh, my God.
Jonathan Joseph 7:12
That is literally magic. That is the definition of magic.
Nafisa Tosh 7:35
I wish I could take me with me and show them this is how it's done, you know, we create the illusion of glamour. You know?
Jonathan Joseph 7:44
Yeah, that's a big part of what we do here at Little Red fashion, which is to sort of lift back the curtain, at least a little bit to show kids that when you see a fashion magazine, when you see an editorial when you see those images, they've been manufactured and created for you, for two reasons. One, if they want to work in the industry, they should know what goes into it. But also, it's important that kids understand that it's not reality. It's a fantasy, because I think we've there's been so many issues, body dysmorphia, and things like that for kids that don't understand, necessarily or internalize it as reality. And I think showing that is super important to not carrying those issues forward another generation, what would you say, is the most challenging piece you've had to work on on a shoot where you had to basically create that magic on a scale even you were kind of surprised with?
Nafisa Tosh 8:40
I would say in reality, it would be the McQueen work that I did. You know, because working with Lee, it's very different to how you work with a designer, where you design a collection, and then you twirl everything in custom color code. So you can make mistakes, you can chop a shape up, you can perfect it and you have weeks, whereas McQueen, you'd be given a sketch in the morning, and you might have 48 hours to recreate it. And it can't be an It couldn't be just thrown together. It had to be at a really high couture level. And really, you don't have time to stop and think about what you're doing. It's like, it has to be perfect. And it has to look right and finish. Right. And of course, that's why all these gowns are still in exhibitions and museums, you know, because they were made the proper way. And I actually only went to help out at McQueen for one day and and then ended up staying for about two and a half years. Yeah, it was freelance, but it ended up like yeah, every day.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 9:58
I'm just imagining all the corsetry, all the fine details, it's Yeah, just creating that on such a truncated time schedule. I mean, that's, that's impressive. Oh, my goodness.
So if you were going to tell, yeah, if you're going to give a kid who wanted to learn how to do this kind of work this really highly specialized detail oriented space to kind of work, what would you Where's a good place for someone young to start?
Nafisa Tosh 10:32
Well, I work with a lot of young people in a couple of charities, so my advice to them is, just keep on working, don't stop. And it, it really boils down to one thing, which is your skills, if you can construct so if you can design a garment and make the pattern, cut it out. And know how to lay the pattern on the fabric so you get the best out of it. And construct a garment, even if it's the basic all these skills make us so much more valuable as the designer as a pattern cutter, if you know the whole process, then you can't go wrong is your technical skills, all the best designers that I've ever worked with. Lee, Antonio Berardi, you know, so many Jesper Connor, they all knew how to pattern cut as well as design. Anybody can design. It's about taking it to the next level. And the next level. Do you know what I mean?
Rachel Elspeth Gross 11:50
Goodness. Um, so Jonathan, do you book one more before I ask my follow up?
Jonathan Joseph 11:57
Sure, um, you know, I think what I find always interesting, because to your point in ifisa, that ability to have it all under one roof, so to speak, where it's, you know, the pattern cutting and understanding the garment from A to Z. What sort of resources do you suggest to parents of kids who are into fashion who don't know anything about fashion themselves? Because a lot of the times, you know, kids might get into something in you as a parents, like, they're speaking Martian. So they don't? They don't know. What do you think, you know, where can a parent of a kid who wants to get into this stuff? Who doesn't themselves know how to sow for example? Where can they go to help them quide those kids?
Nafisa Tosh 12:41
Sorry, what was that? What was your last? What's the last part of what you said?
Jonathan Joseph 12:47
Where can they? Where can they go to help guide those to guide those kids? If they don't know themselves about fashion? And it's not necessarily their thing? What resources do you know of that might help guide them, and help they might be able to, you know, provide that insight that they themselves don't necessarily have?
Right, Okay. So I mean, these days, You've got so many more resources than you did when I was young. YouTube is brilliant, you know, and you think, I mean, online is fantastic. YouTube, you've got like beginners, you know, how to start sewing, that kind of thing. But also, within my local area, my community, hopefully, will be starting how to sew for young people, but also, I'm a real advocate of trying to stop clothing going into landfill, you know. So we're going to be doing local community based workshops on how to repair your old clothes, how to fix a zip or how to sew a button on all these things. So maybe within your community, there's like a sewing circle, workshops, classes, a lot of schools now in the UK, restarting how to sew in primary schools and secondary schools as well. You know, because it's all part of the movement on slow fashion, repairing clothes, you know, stop chucking things away.
Yeah fashion mending.
Nafisa Tosh 14:31
Exactly. You know, like completing that full circle of fashion. Yeah.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 14:38
I read in an article interviewed on where you talked about with your own students or people that you've mentored about taking vintage piece or something that's older that's found and cutting it down the middle. And then you have to have where you have like a model so you can look at the right way to do it. And then you can take the other half apart. Learn how it was made like that. I thought that was such an interesting idea. You could go to a junk shop and find a jacket for two dollars
Nafisa Tosh 15:08
A jacket, yeah, an evening dress, you know, skirt, anything, you know, cut it in half, take one half apart, and you have it as a reference. But also the part that you take apart. You can, you can have look, you can get inside and you can see, you know, how did they make the shoulder pads, you know, you can see all different layers that go into a shoulder pad. If it's a man's jacket, you can see where the chest piece goes in the stitching that was used, you know, every single component that goes into making a jacket, for me, it's fascinating because it's like a jigsaw puzzle. It's like a detective story.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 15:47
Jonathan Joseph 15:48
Just get inside. And yeah.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 15:54
That's amazing. So one thing we always like to ask people before we wrap up is if there's a favorite fashion book or piece of something, you know, some kind of obviously, the Vogue magazine you described is very important. But is there is there a fashion story or a fashion book that just really means something to you?
Nafisa Tosh 16:12
Um, to me, it was a documentary that I watched on BBC its a video. And I think it's still available. It's called Chanel line. And, for me, I mean, I grew up in like, really small provincial town in the north of England, outside of Manchester, you know, as far removed from fashion as you can possibly imagine. And I remember watching it maybe about 15 years ago, no, maybe longer maybe about 20 years ago. Anyway, it was a documentary on BBC Two. And I think it's like five parts. You can get it on Amazon. I think it's even on YouTube, and just watching Karl Lagerfeld and hit these amazing ladies in the Italia. And how the collection was created. You know, to me, it was amazing. Again, it was a mind blowing moment. And then about five years ago, I was asked to go and work for Chanel in Paris on a freelance basis, helping with the tailoring for the shows and stuff like that. And I can remember walking in through the drawers and, and having a moment and thinking I'm actually going into the building where that even if I don't come back, even if I'm here for one day, and then they asked me back and you know, it's been amazing. So yeah. That that for me was, you know, a phenominal moment. With books. I think a book that I keep going back to his savage beauty the McQueen book. Only because it's got quite a few of my pieces in and yeah, Vogue, I mean, you just can't go wrong with even if you can't afford to buy Vogue, every single issue. Just get the September issue because that will have Yeah. I mean, it will keep you going throughout the year.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 18:05
Jonathan Joseph 18:08
Yeah its great.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 18:13
Well, this is wonderful. I'm so glad that we were able to do this today. I mean, obviously, we love your work, we think it's incredible. It's so important to know all the things that go into making something like you said that lasts a long time that can still be exhibited, or shown or worn. And that has a life that kind of reflects, you know, the the way that that work was created. I think that's a beautiful thing. And we're so grateful that you were willing to take some time and share that, that kind of a story very much.
Nafisa Tosh 18:45
Thank you so much!
Jonathan Joseph 18:46
Im sure our audience loved it.
Nafisa Tosh 18:52
Thank you. Oh, yeah,
Jonathan Joseph 18:53
thank you for roaming the technical punches as it were, because this lovely technology we have is great until it's not and I know there's been a bit of audio lag on the feed. So I definitely appreciate that and I know our audience did as well. So thank you again for joining us for another Little Red Village installment here at Little Red fashion, because it truly takes a village to raise the next generation of amazing talents like Nafisa, because we will need tailors forever and always to make sure that our garments look their best.
Nafisa Tosh 19:25
All right, we're going to turn off the broadcast right now. But if you said you mind holding on for two seconds so we can say thank you. Absolutely.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 19:34
Alright everyone, thank you so much for joining us and we'll see you again next week.