Robin Dutt on a visual trick which works its magic
While Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode (whom I admire enormously) sang Everything Counts in Large Amounts, the opposite is so often true. The tiniest detail informs. Take for example, the Rope Shoulder.
In important tailoring, the silhouette has to be everything – not just fitted to the form. Working cuff buttons, that twisted thread hovering behind the lapel button hole, that third button on a 3-button coat cut so you can’t – or shouldn’t – close it, are all vital aspects of fine sartoria. The Rope Shoulder presents a coat sleeve top which stands proud, extending it and informing the line of the continuing shoulder plane as it makes its way to the lower or mid-neck, depending on the cut commissioned.
For the observant, it may remind of those cartoons and caricatures by 18th century masters such as Cruikshank, Rowlandson and Gilray who often showed politicians, royalty and dandies with exaggerated, raised shoulder “puffs” in light mockery of them. Engravings of costume, parlour prints and book illustrations were more what we are talking about here – a realisation of this tailoring device’s elegant purpose.
But this serious and un-mocked Rope informs and educates the whole costume and indeed the wearer and so, the observer. It draws the eye to it very subtly and also if the sleeve is cut to be just a mite narrower the torso itself will be narrowed and slim the body of the wearer. It also lengthens the arm and looks splendid when balanced by a judicious shooting of a white cuff. The Rope shows the nature of the fabric, suggests its feel and is certainly a visual trick. It is still much favoured by even designers and if you look, the odd example may be unearthed in the most unlikely high street temples of male dressing (ruined as they are). But of course, that poor rope in these circumstances, trapped into a dark place by the sharp, single steel tooth of a machine not the loving hand of a cross-legged tailor.
As Simon Cundey, MD at Henry Poole & Co, says: “The rope sleeve signature in cloths from Savile Row gives a mark of destination. It gives the feeling to the suit of the elevation and frames the shoulder to the head. This, with a high gorge, is synonymous in English suiting and recognised throughout the world.”
Although the Rope Shoulder is usually associated with Italian tailoring, Savile Row tailors are often asked for it. I know, I did when I designed my coat at James & James, overseen by Eric James but cut to perfection by the late, great Yvonne Nichol, a fiery, feisty Scotswoman I playfully thought of as “Thistle”. It is thanks to her that my roped shoulders are as they are.
Not exactly Leg O’ Mutton, never Gigot Sleeve and, heaven forfend, the Neapolitan, the sculpted, lovingly entombed rope that makes up the Rope Shoulder is a most masterful sartorial device.