With the passing of Sir Roger Moore, Tim Newark recalls James Bond’s links with Mayfair
With the passing of Sir Roger Moore, Tim Newark recalls James Bond’s links with Mayfair
British actor Simon Callow has been seen in many guises. Here, Robin Dutt finds out about the man behind the mask.
I meet actor Simon Callow at a discreet French cafe in South Kensington. He is enthusiastic – immediately affable with a slight hurry in his step. And this hurry is understandable. Simon Callow, CBE, is a man much in demand. In addition to his thespian work, he is a musician, writer and theatre director.
We order – he a diminutive pot of tea, and a traditional bowl (no handle) of French-style coffee for me. Born in 1949, Callow’s origin in the world of the theatre followed at a rapacious pace when he wrote a letter to Sir Laurence Olivier, at that time at the height of his powers as the artistic director of the National Theatre and of course an internationally acclaimed Shakespearian actor – something of a national treasure which the young Callow was enthused by. The great man suggested Callow join the box office staff of the theatre.
This was no rebuff to an aspiring talent – quite the contrary. It was by observing actors that Callow realised that a career in acting was indeed for him. The lessons of observation proved to be most valuable. Combining his other considerable talents, each of which so accurately typifies him, they certainly represent the sum of the whole.
It is still surprising, perhaps, that he made his stage debut 43 years ago. His various credits include Amadeus and Being An Actor (both 1984), and he directed Shades in 1992. In the same year he starred in the TV series Little Napoleon. But arguably it was 1994’s Four Weddings and a Funeral for which he was nominated for a BAFTA award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role that endeared him to so many.
We begin to talk about the subject of this interview – what identifies his signature sartorial look. One might reasonably suppose that most actors surrounded almost constantly by costumes might not be so enthusiastic about clothes themselves – civilian dress for a player of the stage or screen. But as it turns out, classic as his look certainly is, it is refreshingly simple and signature.
“I like clothes having a feel as well as a look,” he begins. “I always try to buy clothes made of a fairly distinctive fabric. Also, I am sturdily built (here a wry smile) – large chest and short legs, so I can never really wear closely tailored garments.”
But that said the essence of great tailoring is, as Sir Hardy Amies had it, never to look too tight. Great tailoring is usually form-fitting and form following. Callow cites a great favourite of his, Issey Miyake whose genius he salutes and favours Emenegildo Zegna’s suits “which suit me well and the fabrics are so interesting. I can’t wear very colourful clothes but I love a whole range of browns, bright copper especially. My mother wanted me to look like a country gent which was preposterous because we were poor!”
This early “rus in urbe” look has clearly permeated and Callow is confident with the elegant simplicity and no-frills identity of his chosen garb. Clothes, though un-fussy can also be as vital as more experimental ones – possibly even more so – trusted friends in the wardrobe. Couturier and Chanel supremo Karl Lagerfeld once said something about truly great clothes becoming classics in the wardrobe. The key word, it might be said, is “becoming”, almost like living entities. Callow certainly understands what he believes can be style disasters for almost all. “Pork pie hats and sandals with colours all incredibly muted, make no sense at all. – as if they have been studied in a manual. I suspect that men of my age have their clothes bought for them by their wives and betray nothing about the individual.”
Despite what one might call a relaxed, even casual ethos, the actor remembers always loving purchasing those “one-off garments which never went into production – absolutely unique and quirky”. He cites the one-time Covent Garden boutique in the 1980s Les Deux Zebres, where small runs and indeed one-offs appealed to the urbane dandy types of the time. Today, he likes the edgy minimalism of South Molton Street’s Vertice which offers a mixture of Italian and French relaxed tailoring and some unusual Asian garments which are hard to find elsewhere in the capital. These are unusual and limited editions, sourced by one charismatic gentleman, Giovanni, who cut his teeth in the demanding world of high fashion represented by Gianni Versace.
Here, he mentions his mother who used to work at one-time shirting stalwarts, Raelbrook where a high end range of garments was produced which might have been an early influence. Created by one Dodi Van Del, these shirts Callow remembers as extravagant.
I ask the obvious question. What is his take on style and fashion?
“Style is an individual sense of oneself.” And fashion? “A statement of idioms.”
Callow is not naturally, off stage or screen, of the visually loquacious sort. Simplicity, directness and a tangible sense of never wanting to waste time seem to permeate his very being. That is why his wardrobe must perform for him much as, but in a different way, as he must perform in his assigned costumes. An answer can sometimes be one word – like the immediate but judicious choice of a garment. In a recent email I sent him asking whether he objected to something or the other, the answer flew back. ‘None,’ he said as if to continue a sentence when even the odd pleasantry would be wasting time.
When it comes to a choice of simple clothes, he cites the indispensable but often elusive black T-shirt he has yet to find with a neck “the higher the better”. It is the kind of basic T shirt that many Japanese designers (like Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto) and label Cop Copine understand so well. He here also speaks admiringly of Uniqlo’s underwear – “Fantastic!” he enthuses. Such garments are basic but important foundations. And this reminds of the ultimately architectural nature of clothing. The basics are ideal elements for those who are too busy to fret over details. Put your clothes on with care – and then forget all about them opined Sir Hardy Amies. It really is a perennial lesson for all.
How times have changed. He recalls the norm of rehearsing a play in three-piece suit, similar to the unseen announcers of Radio 4, even up to the 1950s who donned black tie behind the mic. Even unseen, formality was regarded as essential, the better to deliver a voice with gravitas.
Callow, with a lifetime of costume memories, loves and has always done the effortless revolutionary style of Mario Fortuny and Paul Poiret. “I’ve always liked flow,” he says. “Oh and Coco Chanel of the 1960s for women was amazing but whether real human beings can wear it is another matter.”
Callow worked with the designer, Jasper Conran on My Fair Lady and found the experience compelling. “Jasper, at the time, was at the height of his existence as a couturier and famously dictatorial – and mercurial – which is always a tricky combination,” Callow remembers. “He was an emperor in his own sphere. He would be pushing people about the place and yanking bits of cloth. The costumes were exceptional. When we talked together, we got exactly what I wanted. Jasper and I understood each other immediately.”
When it does come to suiting (and apart from the chic ensembles of Zegna) Callow hugely admires tailor Tom Lutwyche. “He made a most exquisite suit for me when I played Oscar Wilde. I love watching the art of the cutter. My grandmother was a seamstress – wonderfully good – and used to make fancy-dress for me.”
So, as might have been suspected all along, threads are part of his performing DNA. And as to the suit he would choose if he had only one choice? “The suit I was married in – oatmeal flecks, beautifully cut. It is transformative.”
And that is surely the essence of any element of fine tailoring. Indeed, it does transform but without subsuming any of the individuality of the wearer.
British actor Simon Callow has been seen
Robin Dutt talks to one couple who are putting man’s best friend in the finest threads available
I hope this is an apocryphal story. Some years ago, a European traveller was enjoying the variety of Chinese culture when she felt a little peckish. Eschewing what street food was available, she entered a restaurant with her tiny dog in a bag. The lady sat with her dog and indicated to the waiter through sign language that she wished to order and also to feed the dog. With great politeness, the dog was taken away and in time the waiter returned with a steaming dish of noodles and spicy meat. No dog as such, was in sight. Lost in translation? I’d say.
But the truth of the canine matter is that, in general, most of the world loves dogs – as pets, not indeed all belonging to lettuce-munchers in Chanel-at-lunch. Some have to work for their keep with sheep, guide those who are visually impaired, or scour the forest’s ferny floor for fallen pheasant. Cute/useful (or both) spring to mind.
So, a paws (sorry!) for a bright thought which occurred to Mark Rodriguez and Lisa Yatabe, pictured above, who have come up with a concept to clothe beast – and man – in the best threads available, courtesy of Savile Row stalwarts, Holland & Sherry. While pieces for pooches is not a new idea per se, Tail-or-Made looks to bring functionality and glamour to both with three labels to choose from – Black Label (bespoke), Green Label (made to measure) and White Label (ready to wear). The pair are serious about their coats so you’ll find no sparkly collars or leg warmers here – just immaculately tailored pieces to help both master and hound repel the inclement elements.
Dogs provide work for many hands from leather workers to the pet food industry, vets to doggy parlours (dodgy description!). And when that dreadful time comes – think of the pet undertaker, even the taxidermist – and Tail-or-Made seems to be right on trend. And with the many fashionable ‘mix-ups’ currently finding favour – cockapoos, labradoodles, puggles and chuskies – dogs like these may be the ideal customers.
The poet Alexander Pope wrote the following lines – “I am his majesty’s dog at Kew, pray tell me sir, whose dog are you?” Now this is the kind of dog Tail-or-made was, well, made for. Unashamedly, Rodriguez and Yatabe explain that their aim is to “create luxury tailoring for dogs and their owners – to cater for the country resident and also offer the country mood for the city dweller.” Their slogan is: “Don’t do as one does. Dress as one does.”
Rodriguez has a decade of experience on The Row and Yatabe is a celebrity stylist. A winning combination – especially as their personal chemistry is so good. Identifying the market was, if not easy, then perfectly logical. Those who are passionate about their canine companions often hold them in higher esteem than the creatures they are forced to work with. And why not? Sadly gone brilliant stylist Isabella Blow, one-time fashion editor of variously Vogue, Tatler and The Sunday Times, used to wash down her desks with Perrier water. I know many who eschew Thames tap for Hildon Still for their furry friends. And considerate pottery queen Emma Bridgewater is among many who always have a bowl of water for passing pups.
Holland & Sherry is one of the world’s most respected fabric companies in the world, the mill’s 180-year heritage adds a certain authority and the whole concept bathed in good old English eccentricity. Choosing from their seductive swatch books makes the process of choosing frankly difficult and obviously plants the seed in the mind of the shopper that one can never have too many outfits. Co-ordinating outfits for owner and dog might make most sense if there is an outfit for every day of the week. But this need not be a case of ultra match between the two. Subtly picking up on a colour here or a texture there, trimmings and buttonings are all to be had at Tail-or-Made.
If the term “Luxury for Dogs” sticks in certain craws, those people are simply not earning enough. They must try harder. For, like the more usual bespoke and made-to-measure garments made on Savile Row, Tail-or-Made garb should be regarded as investment pieces.
The most established women’s weekly, The Lady, has a certain Darcey Bussell in residence – a mild mannered Dachshund – who to boot has an eponymous lifestyle column, describing the vagaries of its week. The basket is hard by a rose velvet mini chaise longue in the editor’s office.
Known for its clean lines and slim silhouette of its outerwear, Tail-or-Made advises adroitly but of course here as anywhere, the customer is king. It still wouldn’t hurt to listen to the experts. One suspects that when measuring a dog there is no need for spoken codes when it comes to measuring however. One celebrated tailor’s frequently used SLABDCH when measuring particular customers. The translation? “Stands like a broken down cab horse!”
I know a gentleman who often seeks my counsel when deciding on what colour to choose for his dog’s lead and collar. The dog in question is a delicious minky-grey so that neutrality suggests the complete rainbow, the owner rejecting black because it is too harsh, he feels. Yet another has his grandmother crochet coats for his pet – a rat catcher type which resembles mini versions of the sofa throws from The Big Bang Theory.
But, sadly with price an issue, Tail-or-Made cannot be for every dog, however deserving. Spare a thought for Molly from Essex, a cocker spaniel who can untie shoelaces, open doors and helps with the washing up but whose owner can’t afford such luxuries. Or celebrate the handsome and beautiful mutts which the glorious PDSA treats and Battersea Home tries re-home, or indeed St Mungo’s charity. Still, a dog can dream…
Exquisitely made and made to echo the owners’ choice of coat there is something so very reassuring about striding through park, forest or wood with a matched companion. And with a certain brand of doggy treats selling for more than fillet steak, the ones who disagree with all this pooch-pampering might just have to get used to that little green monster.
Robin Dutt talks to one couple who
By Richard Aucock
2016 was the year of the new Aston Martin DB11 but it’s not the only car the firm sells. Sitting above it in the range is the older Vanquish, a car pitched as a GT supercar rather than the sports car remit of the DB11. There was just one problem with the launch of the DB11. It was so good, why spend extra on a Vanquish? Now, Aston Martin has a solution: the Vanquish S. A better, faster, even tastier take on the firm’s pinnacle car. It costs £199,950 and we’ve just driven it. Does it solve Aston’s rather enviable dilemma?
Hit me with some facts on the Vanquish S
Power is up for the Vanquish S, from 573hp to 600hp. The 6.0-litre V12 remains turbo-free, though, unlike the turbocharged DB11; the increase is achieved through old-school tuning. Aston’s also recalibrated the gearbox, uprated the suspension and created a new aerodynamic package. Changes aren’t major, but the engineering work behind them is…
What’s the thinking behind the Vanquish S?
Aston’s intention with the Vanquish S is to hone and perfect the existing car, which was launched in 2013. Make it feel more like a car worth the £45,000 premium over the DB11 that’s stealing all the Aston Martin thunder. The Vanquish is an achingly gorgeous car, so Aston wasn’t about to alter this. It simply wanted to make it more of a car for connoisseurs.
What does it look like?
Aston’s Vanquish S press demonstrator looks special because it’s covered in carbon fibre and subtle graphics. But all Vanquish S look smart because of their enhanced front-end aero pack. A more aggressive front splitter pairs with a bigger diffuser at the rear (they’re carbon fibre as standard), with quad crackle-black exhaust tail pipes adding the finishing touch. A meaner, moodier Vanquish: it’s such a beautiful car, doing anything extra would spoil it. This hones it expertly.
What does the aero stuff do?
The tweaks to the aerodynamics at the front cut lift significantly – and because the car is now pressed into the ground more firmly, understeer is reduced. The rear diffuser complements the enhanced front end, creating a car Aston says is just as nicely-balanced as the regular car… but sportier and sharper with it.
That dash looks a bit old compared with the DB11, though…
The interior feels painfully aged compared with a DB11. Sure, it’s impeccably assembled, thanks to the skilled several-thousands at Aston’s Gaydon HQ. But the spidery instruments, chronically dated infotainment screen, Ford switchgear, hard-to-read centre console, all make it feel a decade old at its core. It’s the elephant in the room you can’t ignore.
Does it make a nice noise?
Start it up and there’s a typically exciting V12 woofle. It’s hardly subtle. Crucially though, it’s more ‘real’ than some other start-up explosions. All real noise, not artificial stuff. As I’d later discover, Aston’s enhanced this throughout the rev range, so the noise is even richer and more delicious on the move. Like watching a 60s driving movie in surround-sound cinemascope. Lovely.
What were your first impressions?
First impressions were of a lovely, elegant V12 GT supercar. These machines can be intimidating: not the Aston. Sure, it’s low, wide, potent-feeling and so expensively-crafted you almost fear taking it onto public roads in case someone lunges at you. But this only adds to the feeling of knowing where your £200k goes. There’s something else, too: so-called ‘zero backlash’ tech in the gearbox makes the eight-speed transmission feel even tighter and shift gear even more impeccably. You subconsciously notice this: it adds to the sophistication and quality.
Obvious question… is it fast?
0-62mph takes 3.5 seconds and Aston’s targeted a 201mph top speed. So it’s fast, yes, but not massively faster than the already-fast Vanquish. One thing Aston’s been careful to retain is that 200mph-plus top speed – something the extra drag from its new aero kit put at risk. Cleverly though, this is actually more aerodynamically sleek than the standard car.
Is it now too fast?
The power hike is mild, so it’s not colossally faster than the Vanquish. The extra power is felt less than the improvement in pulling power. It has the same torque, but it’s delivered across a fuller rev range – even though it’s not turbocharged, it’s been given a bit of turbo-like depth. It’s faster, but it’s actually easier to drive – and, as proven on the wintry roads of the test drive, a subtle and very progressive traction control system is there to help you out when things get slippery…
How does it feel different to a regular Vanquish?
The regular Vanquish is a fine car but this one perfects it. Revisions to the suspension, led by ex-Lotus handling guru Matt Becker, mean it’s both sportier yet better-riding. There’s more control, more finesse, more accuracy and delicacy. It’s cultured, tactile, remains unruffled no matter what the road surface below. The differences aren’t night and day, but to the Aston Martin loyalists who’ll be buying this car, they’ll be stark.
If it’s firmer, how can it also ride better?
Here’s the contradiction with the Vanquish S: stiffer suspension yet better ride. That’s because the springs and dampers have been meticulously tuned by Becker and his team, to precisely hone every aspect with race car precision. Better control, less roll, less heave and pitch – an altogether more premium ride, despite the fact it’s also sharper. Wizardry and black magic, that comes as standard with the Vanquish S.
Does it earn its ‘S’ badge?
The Vanquish S is a marvellous car to drive. The steering is beautifully weighted and the build-up in forces as you turn into a corner is impeccable (there’s no hesitancy or ‘grey area’ to steer through, either). Suspension is controlled yet supple, seemingly at ease on the very worst of British roads. It feels lighter on its feet, quick-witted, smaller and wieldier than you’d expect from its GT-car dimensions. Sportier and sharper, certainly. But I’d say it’s also S for superior. And sublime.
How does it feel different to a DB11?
The DB11 is an easier car to drive, simply because it’s turbocharged. It feels more modern. The interior is fantastic; it’s a ‘new’ Aston, and this is not. What the Vanquish S is, however, is a meticulously honed one, an Aston Martin that feels like it’s been to finishing school. And it’s the feeling of such depth of engineering that will draw people to it. It feels more bespoke, more individual. It feels like you’d hope a £200k car would feel.
In not changing too much and instead honing the fundamentals already there, Aston Martin has perfected its range-topper – while also keeping the price hike relatively sensible (it’s around £7,000). It’s now a car brand loyalists will savour, and one that existing Vanquish owners will salivate over. More importantly, it asserts the Vanquish’s range-topping status in the face of such stiff internal competition from the brilliant DB11.
Sure, its aged interior is a sore point, and the new tech of the DB11 will still see that car take the bulk of sales. But the Vanquish S is now a car distinct enough to confidently sit at the top of the Aston Martin range. It now feels sufficiently special to earn its S stripes.
This review first appeared on motoringresearch.com
By Richard Aucock 2016 was the year of