THE explosion of colour and shockingly outrageous styling that hit the London menswear scene in the 1960s was seen as a breakthrough for male attire long captive in sombre formality.

Brocade suit from the 'Sixties by Blades

Yet viewing some of the examples of this style revolution at a new exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum one has to wonder what happened to all that promise of new freedom and male peacock-ery.

Despite the much vaunted casualness of modern male dress and repeated efforts at dress-down clothing for work, the truth is that the classic business suit in all its traditional glory remains as firmly entrenched in international business circles as ever.

Seeing the cream brocade suit and a multi-coloured seersucker striped version presented in the V & A display, one could perhaps understand why. These creations, so outré at the time as to prompt one of the wearer's to be asked to leave Annabel's nightclub (not such a fashionable place after all then) look decidedly silly and effected in the light of today. One had all the appearance of an outfit made out of curtaining, the other a razzle dazzle number to wow them on stage.

But the '60s undoubtedly succeeded in breaking the old rules. Colourful shirts, mix'n match jackets and trousers, lighter cloths and new patterns became acceptable, even if largely confined to the casual dress category. From the 60s on, men's clothing became much more interesting, varied and relaxed.

So it is clearly a testament to its intrinsic wearability, practicality and global style that the classic suit retains its pre-eminence for business wear. Savile Row tailors would say they 'could have told you so' if they weren't far too polite.

For those interested in fashion, the exhibition, featuring women's as well as men's wear, is well worth a visit – it is on until next January. Names such as Tom Gilbey, John Stephens (King of Carnaby Street) Mr Fish (of Kipper tie fame) John Michaels and Lord John remind us of the Swinging decade, which the V & A curator maintained sagely was a period of "spectacular creativity". Would that we could have a smidgin of that now.




Tailcoat in navy wool twill, vest in black silk faille by Scholte.

He made clothes for the Duke of Windsor. Black wool evening outfit on the left is by Alexander McQueen, now better known for his women's designs. He started in Savile Row, training at Anderson & Sheppard and Gieves & Hawkes, and manages to combine a masterly skill in cutting with a controversial penchant for design.


Across the pond, New York went ape earlier this year with the launch of 'Anglomania', an exhibition devoted to London's design creativity at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Concentrating upon the period between 1976 up to this year, though with some historical references, it is rather more concerned with the fantastical figures of British fashion than the restrained development of Savile Row - though it does certainly include some bespoke suits in its displays. One of these is a sublime example of the classic evening tailcoat and vest by legendary tailor Scholte, made in 1938, that would have met with Beau Brummell's approval (see Style p3). What Brummell would have made of the more exaggerated style of the evening outfit by Alexander McQueen is less certain, but McQueen did train in Savile Row and it went down a treat at the New York show.

The exhibition continues until September 4. Henry Poole are well represented in the event, providing a number of outfits.

:: SAVILE ROW Style Magazine::


:: What's In Savile Row Style ? ::

:: Row Uncertainty Continues ::

WORK continues apace in Savile Row on the major renovations on one side that pushed Anderson & Sheppard out into New Burlington Street and which are promised to provide new accommodation for tailors once completed. But will any tailor be able to afford it?

Meantime, Westminster Council makes sympathetic noises and is pledged to help keep tailors in the Row. At a pleasant reception in the Spring at Gieves & Hawkes, tailors, property representatives and councillors gathered to indicate an outbreak of entente cordiale. But after the speeches, most tailors were left wondering if the cordiale really would extend to their future negotiations with landlords and how any measures could stem the steady infiltration of non-bespoke incomers.

We know of several tailors where protracted negotiations regarding lease renewals have placed an uncertain cloud over their heads. Happily, one of the top names is just about to sign an agreement that will give security of tenure for some time to come, but for others the wrangling goes on.


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