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Before the immediacy of marketing imagery in the world of fashion, communicating the latest trends and new ideas were often conveyed internationally by fashion dolls, writes Robin Dutt.

Their heyday was the second half of the 18th century but historians have identified their origins to Renaissance Italy – even 18th century France.

The fashion doll or Pandora, or indeed, Poupees de Mode allowed dressmakers, tailors and milliners to accurately show miniature versions of what the potential customer could expect for the season and experience at first hand, the vibrancy and actuality of colour, tactility of fabric and use of decorative trimmings and buttons.

One designer of this century has utilised the concept of these figures for his S/S 2021 collection entitled Mirror Ghosts Whisper Loud.

You can always expect the unexpected at Walter Van Bierendonck and this year is even more of an exception, featuring his selection of loose-cut tailoring with a twist and turn – some outfits complete with slices of mirrors, metallic fabrics and clearly ‘no-fur’ fur.

The designer’s exact inspiration is much more recent than the eighteenth century, as he personally cites  the Theatre de la Mode which travelled the world in 1945.

The pandemic of the time, the newly ended Second World War is surely a match for our clinically relevant pandemic where ideas might be slower to reach recipients in their glorious actuality, with no salon shows, no catwalks or runways, no experiencing the feel of the fabric.

But Van Bierendonck’s spirited collection, the dolls slowly rotating to sensual contemporary mood music, is brave, unusual, disturbing, comic, touching and clearly shows that his concept at the very least, is virus-proof.

  Before the immediacy of marketing imagery in


Sometime last year when one was briefly allowed to roam the hitherto empty streets of early Covid and encouraged to go on a shopping safari, I made a vintage discovery, writes Robin Dutt.

Dating from the 1960s, it is a handsome, mint condition, raglan sleeve overcoat with leather knot buttons, in a most fetching Racing Green, After Eight chocolate and biscuit-ivory Tweed, designed by one Sir Hardy Amies.

Apart from the elegant label, proclaiming his name, there is another, altogether larger with an image of a map accompanied by the proud assurance that this garment had been woven (notice, not ‘made’) by the Islanders of the Outer Hebrides.

How to wear it: courtesy of Slater Menswear

That alone gives instant provenance and inspires. It is a substantial affair and just right for now (and a little later).

But as the seasons roll on, one company, Slater Menswear, has identified Tweed for all seasons and places – be it late spring or even summer – and whether the workplace or worn for special occasions.

Slaters reminds that Tweed need not be restricted to the arguably most associated colours of the fabric – russets, mustards, drabs and olives but consider more ‘metropolitan’ and strident tonal mixes of silver greys, teal blues and the like – perfect with very smart dark, Parker Quink Blue-Black jeans, cut narrow for a winning weekend look.

Also, there is no need to think of Tweed having to be part of an ensemble. A  Tweed waistcoat, crisp Jermyn Street shirt, smart trousers and Brogues make for a timeless statement and look dynamic into the bargain too – from morning coffee to evening cocktail.


  Sometime last year when one was briefly

Review: Dandy Style – 250 Years of Men’s Fashion’ 

A welcome addition to any elegant gentleman’s library will be this latest book, edited by Shaun Cole and Miles Lambert, writes Robin Dutt.

Cole is associate professor in fashion at Winchester School of Art (University of Southampton) and Lambert, curator of costume at Manchester Art Gallery and both have poured considerable enthusiasm into this celebratory account of the Dandy.

It is often said that the English invented Dandyism but the French defined it – perhaps another example (Brexit apart) of that famous ‘Entente Cordiale’.

Naturally, Beau Brummell who has been called ‘The Father of Modern Men’s Costume’ makes an appearance as the single most influential figure when it came to costume of the eighteenth century.

But to show the twenty-first century relevance of the Dandy, they explore the work of amongst others, Vivienne Westwood, Versace, Alexander McQueen and Samson Soboye who have all been drawn in various collections to this character’s legacy and lore.

In a series of photographs, engravings and plates, ‘Dandy Style’ explores the visual luxe of the Dandy and many of the costumes may be seen ‘in the round’ at the Manchester Art Gallery and the Fashion Museum, Bath.

Ever an enigma, a Dandy has a special place in the world of individual style which though altering through the passing decades and centuries, remains true to the original reason why he occurred in the first place.

The only word of the title one might contest in the title is ‘fashion’ for we must remember what polymath Jean Cocteau (a Dandy too) said about it. ‘She has such a short time to live’. But as surely everyone would agree, style is eternal.


Yale University Press, £25


Review: Dandy Style - 250 Years of

British youth cultures have always admired  a ‘whistle and flute’, in whatever form it came. Robin Dutt offers his reflections

Possibly no other country in the world can lay claim to the societal influence of youth cultures in the post-war years, than England.

And that is a remarkable,but indisputable, claim for a small island whose style influences resound around the globe. Of course, Savile Row being quintessentially English is recognised internationally but it took various swathes of well-dressed youths to remind how tailoring could be made revolutionary too.

Four main youth groups have exerted an undeniable influence in such different ways – but all reliant on the tailor’s craft.


In France there were the Minettes, more elegant, perhaps like their Italian counterparts posing on Vespas but the English Mods, when not in their ubiquitous Parkas, showed a clear yen for a suit – closely cut and instantly slimming – almost painfully so, on the thinnest man.

Indeed, Street wear supremo of this 1960s scene, Ben Sherman, is still a respected name and more recently, ex-Oasis frontman, Liam Gallagher established his Mod boutique, Pretty Green in Carnaby Street. It was a very deliberate decision to be there – the street-arena of the original Mods, sixty years ago. Groups such as The Kinks and The Small Faces understood the power of well-tailored suits but had theirs garnered from unconventional and sometimes, non-tailoring cloths.

More was more for them, who festooned their scooters in UK flags and more mirrors than a magpie could handle and came in three varieties – Hard Mods, Soft Mods (here the similarity with boiling times for eggs ends) and Peacock Mods.


Similar to the prior two subcultures, Skinheads rejoiced in their working class backgrounds and delighted in challenging the system.

They were probably the most overtly aggressive group and this was reflected in their cheerful adoption of a sinister similarity which made them look – en masse – as if part of a larger army.

Shaven heads were mandatory and tight Levi jeans, braces (often red) and Dr. Marten ‘Bovver’ boots completed the casual look with an evening feel represented by a black Harrington jacket.

It was a uniform. But even these usually politically questionable individuals realised that tailoring was also a kind of armour of intent and this usually took the form of the ‘Crombie’ overcoat (but not often cut from Crombie cloth) narrow proportions and often sporting red acetate lining – the lining of the top pocket, the same which could be pulled out for that look of violent formality.

They dressed as if part of a not so secret, secret society and both racist and anti-racist skins adopted the look but many were quite nice chaps, actually.

Teddy Boys

A subculture starting in London in the first quarter of the 1950s, saw youths blend drape coats (longer length) with velvet trimmings and ironically heavy, crepe-soled shoes – Beetle Crushers or Brothel Sneakers.

Western-style Bolo cords and metal motifs took the place of classic fabric neckwear and the look was essentially neat if deliberately annoying for the traditional English gentleman who could see what their ‘game’ was!

‘Watch’ chains were overlong and looked as if they might have a knife at the end.  To top it all, foppish haircuts such as the Quiff (Duck’s Arse) subverted convention and cocked a snook.

Responding in part to the American craze for the Zoot suit, an exaggerated look, English boys sought open rebellion inspired by American Rock ‘n’ Roll, the perhaps over-slim line silhouette deemed too spare and certainly strange.

These were the Teddy (new Edwardian boys) showing how they could turn tradition and social mores on their respective – if not respected heads. The Soho and provincial tailors made fortunes from them in a way that, shall we say, the Savile Row tailors did not?


The most elegant and sensually aware of any British subculture, this group featured men who seemed to be channeling aspects of Oscar Wilde’s Aestheticism a whole century before.

But whereas conventional tailoring might have been eschewed, tailoring fabrics were not, their costumes realised in velvets, silks, fine cotton Lawn and psychedelically-inspired man made fabrics.

The famous image of a very Byronic Lord Lichfied in oversized jabot and puffed sleeves even heralds the New Romantics of 20 years later. But Kings Road, Carnaby Street, and indeed Savile Row, tailors were sought-after for decadent inspiration and for a period,

The Beatles and The Rolling Stones led the way in the look that has become synonymous with a very English sartorial affair.

The talented, late, great Scott Crolla reminded the world’s fashion scene when he opened his bay window boutique in Dover Street two decades later – the place sprinkled with Indian prints, floral shirting, velvets and Alpaca swagger coats.

British youth cultures have always admired  a

Robin Dutt recalls a stroll he took with Richard James down Savile Row. here, he reflects on James’ career as an undisputed master of style and cut.

Looking languid and comfortable in his eponymous shop, Richard James strikes a familiar pose. That air of natural ease and elegance has not deserted him in a quarter of a century since the company’s founding and even before that, when I initially encountered him as a chief buyer for the internationally acclaimed boutique, Browns.

At this time, Browns was a magnetic go-to for shrewd shoppers who wanted edge – not shock – and James was part of a team which really knew what was what. Their judicious choices made the shop eclectic and unusual and James played no small part in the appreciation of Sydney and Joan Bernstein’s idea of what a fashion store should be on that once natural London catwalk, South Molton Street.

But perhaps one in retrospect cannot be surprised that with his eye for detail and knowledge of cut, this graduate of Brighton College of Art would want an emporium of his own – a playground where the message is stridently serious. He is master of cloth and cut and in fact, has been described by writer and academic, Colin McDowell as ‘the best colourist working in menswear in London today.’

James is often referred to as the first of the ‘new establishment’ or ‘new bespoke’ of Savile Row. Even more than 25 years on, his beaming face and ready chuckle impart a sense of mischievous charm – boyish and high-spirited despite the travelled years and much hard work. The business runs smoothly and the knowledgeable staff, a definite cut (or more) above the norm. Everything exudes peace and civility. But like the proverbial swan which glides, one can conjure the purposeful action of the feet beneath the water’s surface.

James shows me some mannequins in the window sporting a selection of stage clothes for Sir Elton John, proudly pointing out the exquisite details and for a second referencing the splashes of crystals ‘each one applied by hand,’ he opines, even the seemingly most insignificant example. Then he invites me to consider the slicing exactitude of the company’s bespoke best. As he describes these garments, there is a undoubted sparkle of nostalgia and pride in his eyes.

Many commentators immediately refer to Richard James as a ‘celebrity tailor’ and whilst this may have more than a modicum of truth about it (customers include Mark Ronson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Craig, Jude Law, Tom Cruise and Bryan Ferry) this is not the only (however important) element of Richard James, the tailor.

Such clients as master couturier, Christian Lacroix, shoe supremo, Manolo Blahnik and designer, David Linley – fellow creators – have been more than happy to be measured up for that James silhouette. But it was not from day one, exactly plain sailing. In an interview with Gentlemen’s Journal, James says, “We were not very well accepted at the start. People thought that we were using the name of Savile Row to better ourselves. We just came into Savile Row to do things in different ways.”


Looking languid and comfortable in his eponymous shop, Richard James strikes a familiar pose

Savile Row is undoubtedly a family and like most families, not everyone pledges undying allegiance to all members. As a street of tailors it stands alone in the world – a rich seam of the uniquely precious knowledge and skill running through the mediocrity of fashion. But James would be the first to both celebrate its over 200 year past and court the contemporary – with taste. He recalls one incident. “Sir Hardy Amies was marvellous,” he says. “I well recall his chauffeur-driven car pulling up outside Richard James and Sir Hardy emerging like Lady Bracknell. He’d cast a lugubrious eye over the bright pink and acid green jackets in our window before shaking his head at us in mock disbelief. And then he smiled.”

As I know only too well, having interviewed Sir Hardy and enjoyed his company, the mischief is evident. This was typical Amies – with pomp and circumstance and a little show of cheeky disapproval from the man who set up his establishment in 1946, was Dressmaker to Her Majesty the Queen and had seen little change in the Row. But that mock disbelief and the eventual smile seem to carry with them some affection and regard for what a younger James was doing.

Deep, vibrant, jewel colours have always been part of James’ sartorial autobiography. In fact, three Richard James pieces, greatly loved and sadly loved by moths too, used to hang in my wardrobe – a royal purple cashmere jogging suit, a duck egg blue blazer with mother of pearl buttons and a two-piece suit in subtle candy coloured stripes. Moths are famous for choosing the best.

But there is more than a place for a classic navy blue suit – Richard James style. I was once consulted where to find such a suit for a special occasion and I immediately said James’ establishment. I accompanied the gentleman, the cloth was chosen, the form measured, the deal done and all in the space of what seemed minutes – though not rushed – with expert hands and eyes constantly vigilant. Then he took me for an overly extravagant lunch to celebrate.

Richard James takes his role as a creator on the Row seriously and feels that he has more than a responsibility to do so. He was a founding member of the Savile Row Bespoke Association and ever with an eye not to revolutionize the street but maximise its allure and charm, pioneered Saturday opening times. Perhaps one might imagine the sound of tailor’s shears crashing to the wooden floors in horror, initially.

It is also Richard James’ pioneering spirit which has seen some unusual elements of the business such as controversial advertisements, one was banned, depicting a sartorially perfect gentleman throwing himself off the top of a building, perhaps inspired by artist Yves Klein’s performance leap, ‘Into the Void’, the sharp camouflage suit – a uniform in its own right and the ‘Naked Suit’ in collaboration with mass nudity photographer, Spencer Tunick. The cheeky boy in James has always found outlets. There is seriousness, irony and humour in much of his work – larger than average window pane checks, outsize dot motifs and again those electric, fizzy sherbet hues.

And James certainly has been recognised for his talent and business acumen. In 1996, he was awarded the Evening Standard’s Eros Award as Retailer of the Year. He was Menswear Designer of the Year, awarded by the British Fashion Council in 2001. He won the Best Advertising Campaign for Autumn/Winter 2007. In 2018, he received an OBE. Real estate developer and film producer, Charles S. Cohen took a majority stake in Richard James in 2017 and assumed the role of chairman. Last year, Richard James opened on Park Avenue, New York.

James and I decide to take a stroll down Savile Row and he reminisces about the people he had known and knows and the changes which have come about. It is all too evident that he loves his home turf. Appropriately, we come to a stop at what used to be the House of Hardy Amies – a beautiful building which would make a stupendous town house. We both talk about the unrivalled salon shows held there – all gilt and mirrors – ‘Just like my bedroom!’ he laughs.
There seems to be a twinkle in his eye, as he looks at the old building again.

Robin Dutt recalls a stroll he took