Luxury shirt designer, Emma Willis, has been specialising in bespoke and ready-to-wear shirts, combining careful craftsmanship with the finest cottons, linens and silks, since 1990, produced at her Gloucester shirt making company based at the elegant 18th century Bearland House.
Behind the exquisite, luxury shirts they make and their small shop on the corner of St. James’s and Jermyn Street lies a compelling story as Emma has not only thrived in the male-dominated world of shirt tailoring for nearly 30 years but in 2008 she also founded registered charity Style for Soldiers with Ambassador David Gandy. ‘I was very moved when I heard stories about our young servicemen and women’s life-changing injuries incurred in Afghanistan and Iraq, how, in many cases, they would also lose their jobs and I was determined to do something to help. ‘ She decided to offer the injured service men and women a bespoke shirt as a gesture of thanks and began visiting the military rehabilitation hospital. Realising how many would now need medical walking sticks she then designed a customised orthopedic cane, hand carved in Gloucestershire from black ebony, with a buffalo horn handle and silver band engraved with the soldier’s initials and regiment. So far they have made and given over a thousand shirts and over 500 walking sticks, which is, as GQ’s Bill Prince, says, ‘a genuinely selfless achievement, and one that’s hard to imagine anyone from her immediate industry having the determination or, frankly, the cojones, to attempt’.
Over the years, she has gathered a loyal following of discerning and international clients, including His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales who also attended the last Style for Soldiers reunion party. In the last few years, Emma Willis has become the chosen shirtmaker for the top UK film studios, with many great British actors wearing Emma Willis shirts, including Charles Dance, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Craig.
Her loyal team of exceptionally skilled hand cutters, seamstresses work from Bearland House in the centre of historic Gloucester, overlooking the cathedral, where customers are also invited to visit for bespoke appointments . Here Emma runs a continual earn and learn sewing training scheme funded by Conde Nast International, who wished to support her in her determination to encourage and employ young people in the creative British clothes making industry.
The interiors of her elegant Jermyn Street shop emulate a relaxed, English drawing room with antique furniture, fine art, chandeliers and English garden flowers . Customers are welcomed as guests and benefit from the option of filing their patterns for future orders placed online. Equally, her bespoke online service provides an array of choices of cottons, silks and linens, with the option to alter design details and fit. Her range extends to dressing gowns, pyjamas, boxer shorts, djellabas made in luxurious Swiss cottons as well as handmade ties, combining cashmere and silk for winter and linen and the lightest voiles for summer.