But Ms Willis’s clothes are not only reserved for princes and presidents, she dresses soldiers, too. She brings two of them back from her lunch to meet me. They are linked with her charity Style for Soldiers. One of them was injured in Afghanistan and met her at Headley Court rehabilitation centre, where she offered to make him a complimentary bespoke shirt. The men explain how the shirts offer physical comfort (for example, adapted cuffs with Velcro for those injured in bomb disposal work) and the confidence to re-enter the job market. Ms Willis says she has worked part time with disabled people all her life and was horrified to hear about the large number of young men and women sustaining devastating, life-changing injuries while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The fact that they lose feet, arms, legs, hands, eyes, faces, bowels, genitals, speech – and sometimes minds – serving their country, which I certainly wouldn’t dare to do, and that I have never heard a complaint in six years of visiting the Military Rehabilitation Hospital, makes me feel even more humble in the face of their young sacrifice, which they bear so courageously,” she says.
The small desk in the heart of Emma Willis’s shop is adorned with ‘thank you’ notes, including one from Sir Tom Stoppard. But it is a framed, more informal letter that catches my eye. From Robert at Headley Court, the soldiers’ rehabilitation centre in Surrey, it reads: “I just got my shirt, thank you, it’s very handsome. I got a new tattoo I have got to show you as well.” Ms Willis demonstrated her interest in helping restore pride to injured men by setting up Style for Soldiers. “In 2007, I heard a piece on Radio 4 that featured interviews with injured servicemen there. I was moved to tears by their courage, youth and dread of having to leave the armed forces after incurring severe and life-changing injuries, mainly from homemade bombs in Afghanistan. “I realised there was something I could do,” she continues, “so I approached the hospital and measured the young men for a bespoke shirt – a gift to thank them for their courage and sacrifice.” Since 2008, Ms Willis has visited Headley Court every two months, and she enjoys the interest the soldiers take in choosing colours, collar and cuff designs for their finished shirts.