Big Swinging Stitch - Spear's Magazine

Big Swinging Stitch

Fine tailoring is back in style and men are looking like a billion bucks, says James Sherwood

Fine tailoring is back in style and men are looking like a billion bucks, says James Sherwood

London’s Mayfair hasn’t seen anything like it since the days of Beau Brummell, the original Regency dandy who, from his Chesterfield Street townhouse, led the fashion for double-breasted royal blue tailcoats, white shirts, buff breeches and black leather riding boots.

Men are wearing immaculate, body-conscious bespoke suits cut in a true Brummell blue. The lace-up shoe of choice is Berluti: polished with sufficient light, shade and lustre to be as unmistakable as a Rembrandt night sky.

Like Brummell, modern-day dandies’ shirts are invariably white and, instead of a freshly laundered linen cravat, a rich paisley cashmere scarf from Etro or Pickett is expertly draped into the coat collar.

Fine tailoring is back in style. Savile Row, as dead as a Windsor knot tie a decade ago, is stitching up much of the fast-growing bespoke market in London, Europe and the US.

Anda Rowland, co-chairman of Anderson & Sheppard who, with Henry Poole & Co, Huntsman, Gieves & Hawkes, Kilgour, Welsh & Jeffries, Ede & Ravenscroft, Dege & Skinner and Davies & Son, make up the founding fathers of British bespoke tailoring, says that the Row has ‘upped its game to new levels of quality, innovation – and profitability’.

Sales of Savile Row bespoke suits have risen by 30 per cent in the past two years and are forecast to rise by another ten per cent this year. With existing houses and showrooms working at capacity, Richard James, Timothy Everest, Ozwald Boateng, Nick Hart and Richard Anderson – who together form the New Establishment on the Row – are all expanding into new premises.

Stung by Savile Row’s resurgence, Italian and American fashion brands are, for once, taking their sartorial lead from London. Tom Ford’s new menswear venture, in partnership with Ermenegildo Zegna, takes Savile Row icons of male elegance such as Fred Astaire, the Duke of Windsor and Cary Grant as a starting point for his luxury men’s ready-to-wear and made- to-measure.

But rather than ape the discreet charms of Savile Row’s iconic houses, Ford gives tailoring his characteristic razzle-dazzle. In April 2007 his first Tom Ford flagship opened in a 900-square-metre townhouse on New York’s Madison Avenue: a billionaire bachelor pad townhouse designed to make the private jet set feel at home.

Ford says: ‘Savile Row is still the benchmark for classic men’s tailoring. I’m streamlining the bespoke process and creating a Hollywood movie version of it. If you’re as devoted to style as I am, you can get amazing things on the Row but the result depends on your initiative to select fabrics, your eye for detail and your personal taste.

‘Depending on who you are, you can get a beautiful suit or a suit that fits very well but really isn’t so interesting. The Tom Ford collection is a hybrid of a tailor and a fashion designer: the best of both.’

Giorgio Armani offers his fatto a mano su misura (hand-made to measure) service at his Black Label stores around the world. It gives men the chance to create their own individual Armani suit.

Customers are measured up by Armani tailors and choose their own fabric, silhouette, lapel, vents, pockets, trouser pleats, buttons and lining. Each suit is hand-made in Armani’s new men’s atelier (bespoke tailoring studio) in Milan and hand-fitted either in Milan or in an Armani boutique.

Since no man will choose an identical combination of fabric, silhouette and detail, no two suits will be the same. ‘Men need couture just as women do – something made exclusively for them to define their social position,’ Armani says.

Thanks to its Tailoring Academy in the family-owned firm’s hometown of Penne, Brioni has its crack team of in-house trained tailors to take care of VIP bespoke customers across the world.

‘Handcraft is truly perceived today by a growing clientele as true luxury,’ says co-CEO Andrea Perrone. Brioni is desirable to new wealth because it strikes the right balance between soft Neapolitan tailoring and the formality of Savile Row’s London cut. The shape is held by the cut and construction rather than canvas and padding.

Bespoke, sharp suiting is making its way on to the catwalk in Milan, too. With fur trims and slick tailoring, Gucci’s new chief designer, Frida Giannini, has updated the guys-on-the-make look.

Bottega Veneta’s latest suits bring to mind the heyday of London’s financial district. Whether these customers are real or imagined, the idealised notion of them dominate designers’ offerings for spring 2008 – all pitched to a guy with both a high net worth and a 30-inch waist.

It is, of course, money – spit ‘n’ polish City, hedge fund and private equity money, not slouchy cargo pants and polo shirts dot.com cash – that is fuelling the boom. Big swinging dicks want a big swinging stitch that reflects their status and their confidence.

‘You can spot Hedge Fund boys from a mile off,’ says tailor Timothy Everest. ‘The suits are blue but they don’t choose a dead navy cloth.’

But there are more than dollars and cents behind the bespoke boom. For Armani the time is simply ‘right’ for formality both in terms of fashion and socially. ‘I’ve always been a modernist and an innovator. In the 1970s it was right to rebel against the formality of tailoring, to get rid of that antique way that men used to dress and replace it with something more modern,’ he says.

‘Now it’s time to embrace formality again but in a new way with modern fabrics – to bring the traditional and the modern together, combining the origins of the tailor’s craft with the innovations of a contemporary design studio.’

Ford says Savile Row’s ‘clubby’ style appeals to the modern wealthy man. He is trying to recreate the intimate atmosphere of W1, where clients attend dozens of fittings in the tailor’s workshop, on Madison Avenue.

‘Like most men, I hate shopping. I hate the process of trying on clothes. That’s why my new stores operate more like a sophisticated gentlemen’s club. I wanted to create a place that a man could go to once or twice a year and order everything from his tuxedo to his tennis shorts in one hit.

‘Maybe it’s the stage of life I’m at, but I’m not really interested in fashion trends for men. I want real clothes – classic clothes – not just more “stuff”. Fashion trends have accelerated to such an extent that I really don’t think guys have any motivation to keep up with all that nonsense. I wanted to get off the treadmill of showing on the runway and chasing what’s new.’

Anderson & Sheppard’s Rowland says that as luxury goes mass, with many of the big labels opening branded ‘Mc-outposts’ worldwide, men are looking for a more personalised wardrobe.

‘True luxury, or quality, is to be found in idiosyncratic firms that champion discreet personal service and produce hand-made goods tailored to the discerning individual’s needs,’ she says. ‘Our customers want to come and see us. They like to see the cutting room and get the whole experience of visiting a Savile Row tailor. That is our strength.’

The modern-day buck walks in the footsteps of Brummell on Hill Street, Curzon Street, Savile Row and St James’s, even though it’s the windows of Cecconi’s, not White’s Club, that these arbiters of style watch from.

Hedge fund manager Arki Busson and his fellow boutique investment fund glamour boys are cutting a dash not seen for almost 200 years. Even the notoriously priggish Brummel would have approved. As the old poseur used to observe: if people don’t turn to look at you on the street, it’s time to sack your tailor.



 

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