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.
At last September’s London Fashion week, she launched her keenly anticipated S/S’18 women’s shirt and shirt dress collection in pink, blue and white striped, checked and plain linen and cotton, modelled by her daughter Hermione Corfield, who won hearts playing Emma in ITV drama The Halcyon. Yet beneath the façade of the beautiful shirts there is the compelling story of a kind, upstanding woman who has not only thrived in the male-dominated world of shirt tailoring, but has also chosen to share her talents with those less fortunate.
In 2008, Emma Willis founded registered charity Style for Soldiers with ambassador David Gandy. ‘I was very moved when I heard stories about how life-changing the soldiers’ injuries were… I was determined to do something to help,’ she explains.
As a gesture of thanks, Emma offered the injured men and women a bespoke shirt and visited the military rehabilitation hospital to measure them herself. She also designed customised orthopaedic walking sticks – hand carved from black ebony, with a buffalo horn handle and silver band – engraved with the soldier’s initials and regiment. So far she has donated a thousand shirts and over 500 walking aids, which is, as GQ magazine says, ‘a genuinely selfless act’.
This remarkably noble approach to life, as well as an unbending devotion to the craft, defines Emma Willis. It also explains why she has gathered a loyal following of discerning and international clients, including HRH The Prince of Wales who attended the last Style for Soldiers reunion party, and Barack Obama. In the last few years, Emma Willis has become the chosen shirtmaker for top British film studios, with many great British actors – including Charles Dance, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Craig – wearing Emma Willis shirts.
Her loyal team of exceptionally skilled hand cutters, seamstresses and fashion designers – the crème de la crème of the shirtmaking world – work from Bearland House, an 18th-century townhouse in Gloucester. Customers are invited to visit for bespoke appointments. Here Emma runs a continual earn and learn sewing training scheme funded by Condé Nast International, who wanted to support her in her determination to encourage and employ young people in the British fashion 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 have the option of filing their patterns for future orders placed online. Equally, her bespoke online service provides an array of cottons, silks and linens to choose from, with the option to alter design details and fit. Her range extends to dressing gowns, pyjamas, boxer shorts, djellabas and silk ties, all made in highest quality Swiss cottons; combining cashmere and silk for winter and linen and the lightest voiles for summer. No wonder Vogue has lauded Emma Willis as representing ‘inimitable English style’.
EMMA WILLIS 66 JERMYN STREET, LONDON SW1Y 6NY +44 (0)20 7930 9980