Thom Whiddett and Luke Sweeney make up two sides of a perfectly balanced, elegant, and valuable coin. As founders of the bespoke and ready-to-wear menswear brand Thom Sweeney, they’ve created something of excellence. Walking into their impeccably curated world, their townhouse in the heart of London’s prestigious Mayfair, we enter an environment with a flavor of bygones past, but still possessing a very contemporary feel.
Perhaps dating myself here, but spending time at their flagship home, I’m transported to the set of iconic vintage TV shows; ‘The Persuaders!’ and Roger Moore’s ‘The Saint’, movies such as Sean Connery’s ‘Dr No’, and of keeping easy company with the likes of Alain Delon and Marcello Mastroianni. And, like the very best martinis have to be made using the highest quality ingredients, with a skilled barman to shake or stir to perfection, it has taken the razor-sharp eye of these expert curators to elevate the experience to something memorable, at times magical, that leaves you wanting to come back for more.
Thom and Luke’s story is archetypal, made of the stuff that inspires us to cheer them on. We love an underdog, and there’s something raw and genuine about a couple of young men from modest backgrounds defying the odds, and not only forging opportunities for themselves with zero privilege, but taking on the seemingly stuffy world of bespoke tailoring. Both men rose to that challenge through their work effort, raw self-belief, passion and entrepreneurial spirit. Luke, an avid aficionado of the art of boxing, was born of parents in the East End rag trade, left school without qualifications at 15, and ran around the West End trading trimmings (zippers, button, linings, shoulder padding) for his father, forming his dream as he took in that world. Thom, during a summer intern job for Esquire magazine, was present for an interview with leading tailor Timothy Everest, a man who alongside Ozwald Boating and Richard James were shaking up the seemingly staid world of Saville Row. He entered Tim’s workspace in Spitalfields, East London, and was immediately wowed by what he saw. Gathering his courage Thom asked the head tailor if there were any openings for a job. Timing is everything and head tailor George Crossman, a tough East End man with a short fuse for those who wasted his time, took him on as a trainee cutter and became his great mentor. It was here, given their shot by Timothy Everest, that the two young men met. Thom focussed on the technical craft of tailoring, and Luke engaging his charm and savvy, front of house, dealing with customers, fabrics, fit, and design. “In those days it was still considered quite a stuffy business,” says Luke. “Guys were only wearing suits for work. My dad said I was mad going into it. But we were cutting and making some interesting things, for interesting people — they weren’t just bankers and lawyers, it was movie stars and pop stars too, so that was great training for Thom and I.”
The two, being of a similar age, mindset, and obviously getting on well, shared a mutual dream of doing their own thing and in 2007, they took the plunge and Thom Sweeney was born. Luke recalls, “We realized that there was a whole new world out there that wanted bespoke, but made in a slightly different way, with a slightly more younger spirit.” Receiving their first order for four suits by one customer who believed in them (and who remains a great supporter) they were given the means to begin ordering fabrics and take on other clients. Thom Sweeney’s first home was a tiny damp room off Oxford Street, with barely enough space for a mirror and a cutting board, but they soon made it their own, affectionately naming it ‘Mayfair’. The following three years they built their clientele, saved their money and, after being offered a great deal on the rent including the first year free, moved into a small frontage on Weighhouse Street, in the real Mayfair, a quirky space with multiple rooms that other businesses had been unable to make work.
Heads down, focussed, learning as they grew, word began spreading and in 2013, Thom and Luke launched their first ready-to-wear collection on Mr Porter, the go-to men’s online clothing destination. The following year saw them open a second retail store on nearby Bruton Place, focussed on both ready-to-wear and made-to-measure. Then America called and in 2017 they opened a beautiful outpost in Soho, downtown Manhattan, New York. This brings us to the now, and their Old Burlington Street townhouse, their premier flagship, opened in 2020, which encapsulates the full gamut of their taste and inspirations. The building comprises of four stories; the entry level floor welcomes you in and offers the ready-to-wear and a taste of what lies ahead; below that, there’s the engine room where the cutting and craft gets done, complete with a gentleman’s barber through the arch to the rear; the first floor is where the precise measuring takes place with libations of your choosing and a game of pool if time and skill allows; and the creme de la creme is the top floor which is a boys’ own dream, a lounge and bar named ‘Sol’s’ after Luke’s late father-in-law, the businessman Sol Kerzner — it’s beautifully curated, slick yet comfortable. The perfect place to relax and entertain clients surrounded by timeless photographs and art, all transporting the happy punters into the world of class, elegance, good hearted mischief, a contemporary take on the style and fun of the Rat Pack era. Thom says “We’ve never been drawn to stark, cold retail spaces. We always want you to feel like you’re coming into our home almost, a place you’d want to hang out and spend some time.”
With clients including Daniel Craig, Ryan Gosling, and Bradley Cooper, to name a few, and plans to open a store in Los Angeles and also the Middle East, it’s a far cry from their tiny room off Oxford Street. But one gets the feeling when speaking with the boys that they’ll never lose their roots — on the contrary, they epitomize the charm of a couple of lads with big dreams and, not unlike their suits, executed to precise perfection. To find out more about what makes them tick, we invited them to become the latest subjects of our ‘Who the F*** Are You?’ profile, answering the 20 questions that get to the heart of who we are.
Who the f*** are you?
LUKE: That’s great question. I hate talking about myself, and I’ve actually never thought about that. To be honest, since I can remember, I’ve always felt very comfortable in my own skin, which has so far helped me navigate myself through this crazy world. I’ve always looked at the positives in life, even when things can get tough. Everyone has extremely tough times. I’ve had tough times, and will have more, but I really understand that’s life. My life is far from perfect but I appreciate every part of it. In a nutshell I think I’m a decent bloke who gives life a good crack.
THOM: Soul searching! I’m still learning as I go, like a work in progress. But I guess what I’m doing defines me. I’m 42 years old, raised in a small seaside town in Kent and escaped to London when I was 18. I’m married to my beautiful Dutch wife, and father to three amazing kids. And am proud co-founder of our brand, Thom Sweeney.
How are you feeling right now?
LUKE: I’m feeling great. I’m healthy. I have a wonderful family and the best friends. Professionally I’m doing something that I’m really passionate about, and get to experience things in life I never thought possible. In my eyes it doesn’t get better really. I honestly wake up every morning and count my blessings.
THOM: I’m good. I don’t really get too stressed or anything like that. It’s January, so I’m really just thinking non-stop about the year ahead, what I want to do and where we take the business. Other than that, I wouldn’t mind a little trip somewhere warm — it’s bloody freezing here!
Where did you grow up and what was it like?
LUKE: I grew up in Hornchurch in Essex. It was a working class area but full of great characters. My childhood was the best a kid could have. Great parents that instilled old school manners and values in me; both mum and dad grew up in East London in a tough environment, but always had a great outlook on life which I think has rubbed off on me. My memories of growing up are just wonderful, the best brothers and sister and the best friends — we are still all close to this day. My early days were filled with lots of sport — boxing , cricket, and football. And, of course, the nightlife in Essex was too much fun once I got into my teens — probably hence why I never made it as a professional sportsman!
THOM: A small seaside town called Herne Bay in Kent. It’s a funny place because it’s not too far from London, but it felt a million miles away from all the action. I loved growing up there, and have still got friends from when I was five years old. I was adamant that I’d move to London when I could afford it though!
What excites you?
THOM: Starting the next project. I love a project; a new house, new stores to open, working on the latest products, and building up the e-commerce side of the business.
What scares you?
LUKE: Leaving this world having not given my best, whether it is personal or professional.
THOM: Spiders! I can’t stand them. I blame my oldest sister for constantly freaking us out as kids when she saw one. Otherwise, bigger than that, standing still. Still is backwards for me. I guess that’s why I like working on the next thing.
What is your proudest achievement?
LUKE: Having my kids. I don’t think you can top that feeling.
THOM: 100% my kids — Max, Mikey and Charlotte.
What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do?
LUKE: Personally the hardest thing I’ve ever done was to take the news when my son was diagnosed with autism. It was a real blow for my wife and I, the worst feeling and a really tough period in our lives. But in hindsight there have been so many positives from it. It made me grow up as a man, and made my family unit even stronger, and he is the most wonderful and happiest boy. I’m so proud of him. He’s my best mate.
THOM: Work-wise, I think opening our first store abroad, in New York, in less than three months, with literally everything conspiring against us. It was mad — but fun!
Who was your greatest mentor and what did they teach you?
LUKE: I’ve been extremely lucky, I’ve had two great mentors in my life. Firstly, my dad. He was the most amazing father. He taught me all the basic life skills you need to get on. To be kind, to be determined, to work hard, to take care of your family, and always do the right thing in life. He was the best dad. And secondly, my late father-in-law. He was a special man in so many ways. He enjoyed his life to the fullest, didn’t waste a second. Hugely talented and successful, a real visionary in the hotel industry. But also a very humble man who adored his family. He taught me so many lessons, most of them simple ones. Find your passion, work hard, enjoy the ups because there will be downs, and take care of your family and friends. He was a great man and I was so lucky to have had such a close relationship with him. He changed my life forever.
THOM: My greatest mentor was a legendary Savile Row cutter called George Crossman. He took me under his wing when I was 19 years old as an apprentice, and taught me to cut and draught patterns, opening my eyes to the world of bespoke tailoring. But it was a lot more than that. An important part of his training was taking me to fancy restaurants, lots of boozy lunches, and generally showing me the finer things in life! He was a really tough east end boy with zero patience, a great sense of humor, impeccable taste, and a fantastic eye for cutting patterns which I hope has rubbed off on me.
Who are your fictional and real-life heroes?
LUKE: My hero growing up was Muhammad Ali. I idolized him. What a man! Aside from what he achieved in boxing, he was a man who stood up for what he believed in and was prepared to sacrifice it all for those beliefs, no matter what. I don’t know many in his position that would have done that. And my late mum and dad, my amazing wife, and my late father-in-law.
THOM: I admire a lot of people, but hero could be a bit strong. Rocky Balboa. George Crossman. Ralph Lauren for fashion, and Bill Maher for making me laugh and his no-nonsense straight talking
What is your favorite item of clothing in your wardrobe?
LUKE: My bespoke midnight blue Thom Sweeney tuxedo.
THOM: My new cashmere polo coat. It’s longer and cut easier than normal, beautiful drape and gorgeously-curved wide lapels. I love wearing it dressed up and down, over a suit or with jeans
What music did you love age 13, and do you still love it now?
LUKE: Rod Stewart was always playing in the house when I was growing up. My mum loved Rod Stewart, so I love a bit of Rod.
THOM: I had a few phases around then. I loved discovering the 60s, had a few weeks obsessed with The Kinks, then seamlessly jumped into east coast hip-hop — Gang Starr, Wu-Tang Clan, et all — thinking I was really cool and street! And yes, still love both genres now.
What’s the most inspiring book you’ve ever read?
LUKE: ‘Screw It, Let’s Do It’, by Richard Branson. It’s full of great short stories of his life. It’s incredible!
THOM: This has caught me out! I’m a bit of a philistine when it comes to reading literature these days. I’m more consumed listening to conversations on the Lex Fridman podcast. The first book that really got me when I was young, and reading much more, was Roald Dahl’s ‘Danny the Champion of the World’.
What is a movie that left a lasting impression on you?
LUKE: ‘Rocky I’
THOM: ‘Jaws’ scared the shit out of me when I was growing up, ‘The Goonies’ cheered me up, and ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’ is the most stylish film I’ve ever seen.
What is your favorite word or saying?
LUKE: “Cowboys don’t cry.” I love that saying. My late father-in-law always said it and its stuck with me. I interpret it as you win some, you lose some, but give life your best and when it doesn’t go your way, dust yourself off and go again.
THOM: I just learnt and love a Japanese phrase, “wabi-sabi.” It’s an aesthetic concept which is best described as “the appreciation of the beauty of imperfection.” From my tailoring background’s perspective, I think it sums up the beauty of a hand-made bespoke suit. If something is perfectly replicated and symmetrical, then it’s a little dull.
What do you want people to say about you at your funeral?
LUKE: Hopefully they say I was a good man who always wanted the best for everyone. A great dad and a great friend. When it’s all said and done, I think that’s all that matters really.
THOM: That’s too morbid for me to give a proper answer, The thought of death and not existing scares the hell out of me when I really start contemplating it.
And finally, a quickfire five favorites….
LUKE: Audi RS6.
THOM: James Bond’s Sean Connery-era Aston Martin DB5.
LUKE: West Ham.
THOM: Tagliatelle at Giacomo Bistro.
LUKE: Larry King texture clay.
THOM: Pankhurst London.
LUKE: Thom Sweeney and Nike.
THOM: Thom Sweeney of course.
Learn more about Thom Sweeney here