Connect with:

Standard Blog Whole Post

By Robin Dutt

Another tailoring name has reached something of a landmark this year.  Charlie Allen is celebrating 30 years in the trade.

This may seem a minnow beside the venerable Dege & Skinner, yet it shows how the ethos of tailoring in the Savile Row tradition is being continued by fresh practitioners. And Charlie comes from a family of tailors –  his brother Joe has a shop nearby, his brother Johnny is at Huntsman, and his father a retired tailor.  Tailoring is in the blood.

Based in the trendy heights of Islington, a hop, skip and a jump from Savile Row, he is in his home territory, born in Highbury, and inevitably an Arsenal supporter. He makes outfits for Arsenal personnel. “Not the players any more,” he says. “You have to pay them for the privilege.”  Alas, a foreign brand fills that bill. But he benefits from proximity to the City, attracting those High Net Worth individuals in the finance sector.

After leaving the Royal College of Art in 1981, he went to Blades, then the fashionable tailoring establishment at the head of Savile Row, where Ede & Ravenscroft is now sited. He went on to make his own clothes, in his mother’s kitchen for a while, and to such good effect that he sold a whole collection to Jones in the King’s Road and another to a US outlet. When mother finally wanted her kitchen back, he took a workshop just across the road from where he is now, and within the year had nine people working for him there.

It says much for his talent as a designer and a tailor that he has consistently been busy, both as a bespoke tailor and as a design consultant. He has worked for an extensive range of international clients, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Austin Reed, Nike and John Lewis. Much of this work involves ready-to-wear, accessories and sports clothes. But his heart is in tailoring.

“There are plenty of bankers up from the City, architects, solicitors, entrepreneurs, Germans and Americans. I’d like a base in the West End as well, but the rent and rates are so high.


“Government action is needed to protect Savile Row, to protect small shops. In Paris, they have protection, so specialty shops and crafts continue. Here, the big conglomerates push up rents and are pushing out the small businesses.” (See also p.)

He opened the present Islington shop in 2006, not far from the Emirates stadium, and with rather more space than some have in the Row. His most recent tie-up is a collaboration with Arsenal defender Carl Jenkinson, now the Charlie Allen brand ambassador. Last year, he launched his online ready-to-wear collection, and also a new shirt brand The English Artisan. And to assist him with all this work, he has been joined by Australian designer Joshua Scacheri.

“I love  tailoring and it goes on.  When I see a nice big fat guy coming in, with a 60 inch waist, I’m delighted. They’re the ones with bodies that really need bespoke, who can’t be fitted elsewhere. But happily, we get plenty of sporty guys too.

“I’m happy. We’re ticking along nicely.” And with that he brought out a bottle of Pol Roger, the champagne house that sponsors his shows, and raised a glass to celebrate.

By Robin Dutt Another tailoring name has reached

A rich vein of military tailoring runs through Dege & Skinner like a legend through a stick of rock.

Generations of smart young men have left Sandhurst kitted out by the company, many to continue as loyal customers for the rest of their lives, and other military men, overseas as well as in the UK, have benefitted from the bespoke talents of the company.

But while this military strain in the firm’s DNA has undoubtedly helped it reach this year’s 150th birthday, it has by no means restricted the variety of its other customers. A rich assortment of heads of state, business men, and international celebrities have benefitted from Dege & Skinner’s bespoke talents – including, somewhat surprisingly, Michael Jackson.


Now, with William Skinner at the helm – and he is the fifth generation of Skinners to be concerned with the firm – it is one of only two remaining tailoring establishments in the Row to be family-run, and is celebrating its longevity this year in suitably decorous manner.

“We’re keeping the celebrations fairly low-key,” said Williams Skinner. “We have commissioned some new cloths, exclusive to us, with the Dege & Skinner name running along the selvedge. And the party in April coincides with the birthday of the founder – and happily its St George’s day too.”

The business began life as plain J.Dege & Sons, to be joined some years later by the first Skinner. The Skinner family took over from John Dege in 2000, when the name became Dege & Skinner, and it has continued to concentrate upon bespoke tailoring, with no plans at present to follow other Savile Row names into the ready-to-wear field.

“We are staying with bespoke tailoring and bespoke shirt making,” William Skinner emphasised. “That is our priority. We have discussed the possibilities of course and will keep an eye open to future considerations, but really, we are bespoke purists.

“Ready-to-wear is about making something to sell. Bespoke is making something that someone wants. It is much more personal, to have and to do.”

Happily, there seems to be no shortage of customers wanting that personal service.

“They are not necessarily all wealthy. Many are but others have a real interest in clothing and like to get into the process of having suits made for them. They are prepared to spend money on clothing that is well made.”

And they are in illustrious company. Royal Warrants to the Queen, and to the Sultan of Oman, to the King of Bahrain, and other Royal connections testify to Dege & Skinner’s heady mix of customers, extending through the US, Europe, the Far East and Russia.

Wherever they are based, many customers will be ordering some of the new suitings, and even the tweeds, that form the anniversary collection. The weights may make them unsuitable for the hotter climes, but these customers need wardrobes fit for global lifestyles. The traditional British country style remains popular around the world, and quite a few of Dege & Skinner’s customers enjoy the sporting season here.


The five Huddersfield worsted suitings, including wool/cashmere compositions, come in 11oz weights, while the Border tweeds in wool/Saxony twists are 13/14oz weights. Designs are fairly classic but with attractive colourings, in the tweed designs particularly.

There was no automatic rite of succession here. William Skinner’s father, Michael, now chairman, had headed the company since taking over from his father in , who had waited, in some trepidation, to see whether his son would return from a sojourn in the US  to join the family firm. There is a sixth generation in the wings, but again no guarantee that William’s young son – or daughter – will opt for a career on the Row. He is quietly pleased, however, that son Harry, aged 12, recently said that he ‘would like to join the firm’.

“We invest in the future by taking on trainees, and are keen on passing on skills.  We have a wonderful staff, passionate about what they do, and they will always put their best foot forward overseas and in the Savile Row shop. So we forget about age. The future looks rosy,” he said with a smile.

A rich vein of military tailoring runs

By Robin Dutt

I possess quite a few. Let me recollect – midnight blue silk velvet, claret red, a fine 1960’s Simpson’s example with an imposing silk grosgrain shawl lapel and, oh yes…one rather curious confection – a 1920’s luxurious midnight blue art silk, decorated with a vivid print of a variety of strange monsters playing tambourines and flutes. Coward couldn’t have wanted for better.

And although one can hear the ‘tisk-tisk’ of those wedded only to natural fabrics, so many 1920’s and 1930’s artificial fibres were revolutionary in their brilliance. They trapped colour better than the real deal and were easy to maintain.possess quite a few. Let me recollect – midnight blue silk velvet, claret red, a fine 1960’s Simpson’s example with an imposing silk grosgrain shawl lapel and, oh yes…one rather curious confection – a 1920’s luxurious midnight blue art silk, decorated with a vivid print of a variety of strange monsters playing tambourines and flutes. Coward couldn’t have wanted for better.

Do remember though, that artificial materials of the past were generally much superior to today’s poor efforts. But even today it is possible to source dead stock bolts of cloth which you can have whipped up into something unique. I came across some purple crepe which had been presumably left in the sun so much that it had the shadow of the window frame burnt onto it.


Turnbull & Asser sashed robe in silk


Vintage 50s Chinese Medathion smoking jacket

For a more robust winter gown, head to Guy Hill’s Dashing Tweeds near Savile Row for a range of surprising colour combinations. Tweed for a smoking jacket? You will be surprised.

The smoking jacket and dressing gown are what some might refer to as ‘undress.’ Some inspiration for such garments may be traced to the Oriental robes of the 1600s. But they have long been appropriated by English gentlemen, and are a staple of theatricals and thespians. Who can forget Dennis Price in Kind Hearts and Coronets, where along with his superb day time wardrobe, he sports a sculpted dressing gown? It was also the perfect partner to his mood and manner – and indeed, intent.

Worn with a certain insouciance, smoking jackets still possess a studied charm. And whilst it may look surprising to see a gentleman in a smoking jacket at Claridge’s or The Ritz now, it is more than appropriate.

There has been a timely rekindling of interest in this garment. It is no coincidence perhaps that this renewed fascination coincides with the popularity of the cocktail hour in general.

New & Lingwood is breaking twenty-first century ground with some exquisite examples of robes with unusual motifs – skull and crossbones, a shadowed, ancient frieze detail and a blaze of almost Beardsley-esque peacocks for starters. Turnbull & Asser offers timeless, elegant polka dot, divinely minimal and mathematic – or you might consider the clever jigsaw design instead. Favourbrook has long championed vividly printed, woven and even beaded fabrics for its evening garb and Hackett’s offerings are sentinels of pared down masculine chic. But do let us remember Scott Crolla, who over 30 years ago encouraged men into wearing exotica.

The smoking jacket, or gown, should ideally be partnered by a crisp (usually white) shirt and judiciously chosen cravat. A tie pin (never a clip) is a delightful addition. Perhaps for some a bow tie is acceptable but I often favour creating a bow out of a square of soft silk (Thai or Indian are best) to create that Charles Baudelaire chez moi elan – or in fact, anyone who understands the elan of the dandy. Of course, Terry-Thomas and Frank Muir with their bows could do no wrong.


Velvet robe with tasseled sash, Matthew Cookson


Burgundy velvet sb style by Henry Poole with quilted shawl collar and cuffs

There is something rather reassuring about tightly knotted frogging on a smoking jacket. I purchased one some years ago dating from the 1900’s from Belgium, the body an intense royal purple and the shawl and cuffs old champagne, the tactile frogs a clever mix of both hues. A sash, usually the same colour as the lapels, can look dashing but does have a tendency to slip and need attention between Martini sips and that tray of canapes.

This robe de chambre was originally made most popularly in velvet because the dense pile would ‘soak’ up the smoke that issued from pipe or cigar – quite apart from being a delicious fabric to the touch. Velvet is usually cut with an upward pile which intensifies the colour and also minimises damage to your clothes beneath by accidental ‘bruising’. Apparently, one tailor in the Row made up (by mistake) a smoking jacket with the pile reversed and made it their signature style rather than repeat the process, correctly. Innovation knows no bounds when it comes to damage limitation.

Although perhaps tradition might favour the traditional approach, the smoking jacket today could be a sartorial expression of evening experimentation. So obsessed was Fred Astaire that he went to meet his maker, buried in one. To possess a minimum of at least twelve, offers all kinds of monthly alternatives and yes, I did say at least.

There are so many questions to ask oneself about the material, the finishing details, the lining. Is a tasselled belt de rigeur or a mite too much? Quilted lapels? Why not? Patch pockets for sure and no vents, definitely. Other than that, there remains only one other question. What to drink?


Classic db smoking jackets in green velvet with frogged fastening by Davies



By Robin Dutt I possess quite a few.

By Tom Corby

The days when a girl born into privilege, like Lady Mary Crawley, would glide down the stairs of a stately home similar to TV’s Downton Abbey, swathed in chiffon and diamonds, to be greeted by a chorus line of young men in white tie and tails, are long over, but the weekend house party in country houses still happens, although perhaps in different forms.

There is a band of survivors hosting private weekends in their grand, sometimes crumbling houses, but guests no long arrive in a cavalcade of Rolls Royces, accompanied by personal maids and valets, and enough luggage to contain at least three changes of clothes a day. The Rollers have been replaced by 4 X 4s, while the hosts, more often than not, wear Barbours and green wellies. Violet, Downton’s Dowager Countess of Grantham, would surely have had something to say about that!

This does not mean to say that people are not conscious that the appropriate clothes must be worn for the appropriate occasion. White tie outfits are still very much in demand, and here again the Downton effect is in evidence. Incidentally, Huntsman, Savile Row tailors since 1849, produced the white tie suit for Lord Grantham, the actor Hugh Bonneville, and two seasons later he is still wearing it. The tailcoat was made to faithfully reflect the fashion of the time, with the firm’s cutter replicating early 20th century shoulder construction and line. The director and costume department of Downton asked that the trousers be made without pockets, to prevent Hugh putting his hands in them.


Velvet dinner jacket from Cad and Dandy

Kathryn Sargent runs her modern tailoring house from her atelier in Brook Street with traditional Savile Row values at its core. She says that a great number of people have country houses as a getaway, and, of course entertain from them. Her clients tend to ask for country colours, perhaps for shooting parties. Long walking skirts with pleats and made of tweed are very much in demand and ideal for following a shoot. Riding habits are also making a come back

The people at Guns on Pegs, the Jermyn Street shoot promoters, are also convinced that country house parties are still very much the thing, with the                            accent on the corporate, but with aristocratic land owners still playing a part. Tom Adams, the firm’s shoot account manager, says that participants are continuing to ‘dress to the nines’, in gaiters and plus fours, in just same way as their great great grandfathers during the Edwardian hey-day of fashionable house parties. Lavish picnics are served at lunchtime, and there is usually a dinner party the night before the shoot, with another party on the Saturday night of the weekend.


Countrywear by Purdey

He said: “It’s all about a passion for the countryside, with shoots becoming more accessible, opening up to a large cross section of people.” Shooting parties have even been taken up by show business. Madonna has been known to join the guns on her estate in Wiltshire, doing her utmost to look the part, spending almost £1000 on a Cashmere outdoor coat, Burberry moleskin breeches and a pair of Le Chameau boots, an ensemble which, when topped with a tweed cap, moved her friend Gwyneth Paltrow to dub her ‘Miss Marple’.

In these egalitarian times, you can also rent your own scenario, and pretend to be Lord Grantham and Lady Mary for a couple of days. Any number of big country houses and estates are opening up to guests who want to indulge in this kind of fantasy – at a price. And as well as sporting weekends, they are in demand for weddings.

An example is Blairquhan Castle, in Ayrshire, the ancestral home of the Hunter-Blair baronets, but now owned by a Chinese syndicate. Twenty people can occupy 10 rooms there for £4,500 per night. For that, they get all the original furnishings, and even the blankets have ‘1824’, the year the castle was built, woven into them. The producers of the Oscar winning film The Queen, starring Helen Mirren, used the castle’s interiors as their Balmoral. Both castles were built in the baronial style in the 19th century, on sites which had castles there before them, and both have sporting estates.

Country suit in an exclusive Huntsman tweed


Even the royal family is letting in paying guests. The Castle of Mey, the late Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother’s beloved hideaway on the north coast of Caithness can be rented for £50,000 for a long weekend. The guests, a small circle of wealthy business people and philanthropists, are carefully vetted, and for their money enjoy a full programme of events put together by Lady Elizabeth Anson, the Queen’s cousin and party planner, including stalking and salmon fishing. Only the Queen Mother’s bedroom is off limits.

The Castle of Mey Trust devised these very privileged breaks to raise funds to pay for the upkeep of the castle. The wise guest would pack shooting and fishing kit and black tie. The women would also pack an evening dress, perhaps a Bruce Oldfield, who, once having dressed Princess Diana, is now ironically couturier to the Duchess of Cornwall.


White tie at Savile Row Bespoke’s reception at Apsley House, the Duke of Wellington’s home

Lady Elizabeth, daughter of the 4th Earl of Lichfield and Princess Anne of Denmark, could rightly be described as ‘the hostess with the mostest’. There are few, if any, party planners who are better known than her. For instance, she organised a dinner for 40 members of the royal family on the eve of Prince William’s wedding to Kate Middleton And she has been a sharp observer of both ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’ since she was a child, having been brought up at the Lichfield family seat, Shugborough Hall, in Staffordshire.

“I spent more time with the servants than with my family,” she said, “and watched how they worked. They even had to iron the newspapers. I learned how to polish silver, and ate the remainders of the grown ups breakfast when it was sent back to the kitchen from the dining room.

“As far as my brother, Patrick, and myself were concerned, the servants were our friends. I don’t think I came down to dinner until I was 15, and I was 17 when I had my deb season. We wore long dresses every night, and in those days trousers and jeans were unheard of.”

One of the last bastions of old style formality are the royal weekends hosted by the Queen and Prince Philip at Balmoral or Sandringham. Lady Elizabeth, however. does not arrive with a trunk full of designer clothes.

“I don’t do new designer,” she volunteered. “I go to charity shops, and have found some unbelievable bargains, like Hardy Amies dateless couture. Not so long ago I bought five jackets for £9.40.The Queen laughs about my glass jewellery. Her Majesty knows that I’m not wealthy.”


A grand dress from Catherine Walker, one of Princess Diana’s favourite designers


In the golden age of country entertaining, between the end of Queen Victoria’s reign and the start of the 1914-18 war, food beside sport, both in and out of the bedroom, was one of the most important constituent parts. For breakfast, the Edwardians could gorge themselves on fruit, eggs, potted meats, fish, toast, rolls, kidneys and fried bacon, followed by at least two other huge meals, including the sportsman’s breakfast, not be confused with ordinary breakfast.

Lady Carnarvon, chatelaine of Highclere Castle, near Newbury, the location for the filming of Downton Abbey, serves her guests porridge and croissants for breakfast, and at Christmas entertains a party of 26 who stay for up to 10 days.

In the early 20th century, 14 footmen, a butler, an under butler, a major domo, a groom of the bedchamber, ladies maids, three or four cooks, kitchen and house maids were needed to ensure that every whim was catered for. Now Lord and Lady Carnarvon have seven or eight staff on duty when they entertain. Lady Carnarvon admits that she doesn’t achieve a true Downton ambience, not one that its author, Julian Fellowes imagines.

“Just as well,” she says. “We don’t want people dying in flagrante, in Lady Mary’s bedroom, or of the Spanish flu, do we!”


Boldly checked tweed, from Dashing Tweeds

By Tom Corby The days when a girl

Winner of this year’s Golden Shears award is golden boy Joe Holsgrove, 20 year old trainee at Denman & Goddard, who managed to triumph over strong competition from a highly talented field of young tailors.

The Golden Shears competition takes place every two years and is open to tailoring trainees and students. Known as the Oscars of the tailoring world, it attracts entries from across the country as well as Savile Row, and shows the tremendous wealth of talent now emerging.

Joe was studying graphic art, when by happy chance he arrived at Denman & Goddard in 2011 for some work experience. That was it.


Joe Holsgrove and his winning outfit.

“I just loved the detail, the precision, turning a 2D pattern into a 3D garment,” he said. And he fitted in so well, he was offered an apprenticeship by Denman & Goddard, which he started the Monday morning after the Friday that he left college.

For his Golden Shears entry, he designed, drafted, cut and made up the suit, right the way through to the final finishing details, basing it upon a fairly classic styling but with some original aspects “to give it catwalk appeal”.

“I started at the beginning of last year, and really, it took up my life! I worked on it after work at Denman & Goddard and at home, and as the deadline for entries approached I worked 12 hour days on it for 21 days.”

He was positively glowing with elation after the presentation in March at the Merchant Taylors Hall in the City. Before an audience of tailors, fellow trainees, relatives and media, the garments of the 25 finalists were presented, and it was clear the judges had a hard time in selecting the winning trio, such was the high standard.

Joe’s success was a popular one. Second came Dionne Reeves apprentice at Huntsman, winning the Silver Shears award, with Nuriya Kabirova, studying at Rochester University of Creative Arts, receiving the Rising Star award. But all those who entered were applauded by an appreciative audience, and have undoubtedly received a boost to their careers by being in this final selection.


Brilliantly colourful, intricate design by Nuriya Kabirova made her the Rising Star

All entries went through very rigorous examination to reach that stage by the team of technical judges, which included Jonathan Becker of City tailors Couch & Hoskin, Alan Bennett of Davies, Joe Morgan, Chittleborough & Morgan, Kathryn Sargent, and Brigitte Stepputtis of Vivienne Westwood.

The final selection was made by judges Jodie Kidd, Piers Linney, Betty Jackson, Lord Grade and Jennifer Saunders. She spoke for all of them when she said “It was the hardest thing to judge, the standard was just so high”.

After receiving the Golden Shears award, Joe himself said he was speechless, but still managed to say that “all the hard work has paid off”. He still has a year of his apprenticeship to run, but winning this coveted prize is a major landmark. There is little doubt that he will become the Master Tailor that is his aim, but in the meantime he is very happy where he is, and to have Dino Constantinou, at D & G, as his mentor.

Now, he looks forward to having some time for his hobby of renovating classic Beetle cars, and to catch up with friends. They think he is a pretty smart dresser, and he certainly looks the image of what a Savile Row tailor might be expected to look like.

“I like to dress in quite a traditional style,” he explained, “and I don’t like current fashions at all. I think it is one of the greatest aspirations to aspire to dress well, and I’m very much into the classic Savile Row look. My pet hate? Low-cut jeans – I really hate them!”

And with that he was off to celebrate with a night out on the town with his proud parents, grandfather and brother.


Winner of this year’s Golden Shears award