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By Robin Dutt

Within the Savile Row fraternity Malcolm Plews, pictutured, commands great respect, something of a tailors’ tailor, with long experience in and around the Row, a Royal Warrant, and now with a sitting in Sackville Street. “I work mainly from home,” he explains, “having converted my garage into a workshop. I can look out over the countryside and there are no interruptions, it’s wonderful. That’s where I make my patterns and do the cutting. I come here to see my customers and do fittings. I love it.”

He came here when he moved out of Welsh & Jefferies a year ago, preferring to be on his own, but also enjoying this facility for meeting customers in congenial surroundings with fellow craftsmen. Many master tailors, as he points out, work from home, having been priced out of the Savile Row area.

“It’s a shame,” he says firmly. “There are lots of really good cutters and businesses no longer able to stay here. When I started work in Savile Row, there were many small units. It means that youngsters today haven’t got the fantastic teaching opportunities that these small workshops provided. Savile Row used to be synonymous with good tailoring, quality and fit. Now, a lot of it is about who has the best marketing man or woman.”

He started with an apprenticeship at a tailor’s in his home town of Bexhill, taken over by Gieves & Hawkes. At the same time, he attended a tailoring course at Shoreditch College and won the College Shield in 1964. Recognising a rising talent, Gieves asked if he would like to come to their Savile Row headquarters.

“Of course I did! But it was pretty hard. I had to move from home and find a bedsit to live in London. But I loved coming to Savile Row then and still love it today. It’s not like a job – it’s just something I like doing.”

During his time at Gieves & Hawkes, he learnt all aspects of tailoring, benefitting from the firm’s speciality in military uniforms. From there, he had a stint at Nortons, and then thought it was time to start on his own.

“I took a shop on the Row, which was great. But we had to get out when the building was to be redeveloped. “

The Row then was still very much a village, peopled with “proper tailors”, he remembers, and with much camaraderie. Michael Skinner approached him to join Dege, where he was production director for a number of years, and then he went to Welsh & Jefferies.

This is where Royal recognition came, when he was granted the Royal Warrant as military tailor to the Prince of Wales, a Warrant he still retains. Clearly proud of this achievement, he maintains that code of restraint that is traditional in Savile Row when talking about any customers. Other illustrious clients remained with him when he decided to start up on his own again last year, many from the US, and he has been gratified and pleasantly surprised by the numbers of customers who have sought him out.

“There was a rumour that I was retiring. Well, I’m clearly not. I’m still a student of the craft, and I’m keen to pass on my knowledge to the next generation of students. I have some young cutters come to my home for training. I love the trade and enjoy tailoring today as much as I did when I started. I’m happy.”

And he looks it, a relaxed and affable man, the quintessential Savile Row craftsman, a Master tailor, and, as one of his peers put it, “a really nice bloke”. There’s no greater compliment for an Englishman.

By Robin Dutt Within the Savile Row fraternity

By Robin Dutt

Granny Takes a Trip was at the very heart of the cultural revolution that hit London in the Swinging Sixties, a small shop with an outsize influence that was launched in early 1966 by a young trio, including tailor John Pearse, pictured above.

Now ensconced in a tranquil establishment in an 18th century precinct of Soho, he lead a peripatetic existence after early training in Savile Row, where his mentor was the Duke of Edinburgh’s tailor, Teddy Watson at Hawes & Curtis.

“I learnt to cut and to sew and to fit, and then, after a few years, got the travel bug and so decamped to St Tropez,” he says.

After summering in the South of France, he returned to London and had a fortuitous meeting with a couple of vintage clothing collectors, who were looking to open a shop. When they found he knew about tailoring, they asked him to join them. With £40 from his father to cover his share in the business, he was in.

The shop went on to provide the essence of anarchic London style of the time, colourful, flamboyant, outrageous, for both sexes, under the styling inspiration of Pearse. The initial vintage stock gave way to include tailored lines and shirts, and it became the place for anyone with pretensions to style to shop. He stayed for a few years, then was off again.

“I went to Rome, no, Paris first. Then in Rome I met Fellini, and he told me I could be a great film producer. I did some acting, and there was a French contingent filming and I thought, well, this would be better than being in the fashion business.”

So next he went to the US, where he met up with Andy Warhol. He made a film, and remembers the screening with wry amusement. “You could here the sound of chairs creaking and see silhouettes passing across the screen, as people left!” There were other sojourns in LA, in Berlin, Cannes…

Somewhere in the mid-70s, his travels were interrupted when someone approached him and said ‘You made me a suit in the 60s. Could you make me one again.?’

“So I did. And then I did some others, and it just took off.”

For a decade, his circle of acquaintances/clients kept him busy, including a raft of famous names, Jack Nicholson included. Then, somehow, he was back in London, and moving into his present premises in 1986.

“I am very happily ‘retired’ here,” he says. “Some of my old customers continue, some even bring their off-spring. Others might read about me and come along; others just find the shop as they are passing. I’d rather hang out here than in Savile Row – it is more exclusive.”

He produces a collection of one-off ready-to-wear designs, which includes some distinctively patterned shirts, and great knit ties, as well as suits for men and women, and coats. But bespoke is the mainstay, accounting for 80 per cent of his business. He uses interesting cloths, some with bold patterns or colours, a relaxed flair in his designs. He runs a hand over his creations in that caressing way of a diehard tailor and clearly still loves his craft.

“I cut and fit, but I don’t sew any more. Really, style is my forte. Most customers like my style – and they get to talk to me, which may be good or bad!”

Two or three times a year, he and his wife head for their house in Uruguay for a month at a time. But no, he won’t be retiring there.

“I retired to come here,” he says, standing in the doorway in bright sunshine. “Yes, Soho is changing but change is inevitable. We must count our blessings.”

By Robin Dutt Granny Takes a Trip was

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.

William-Skinner,-Dege-&-Skinner-2

“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.

charliesuit

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.

carl

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.

tandbjacket

Turnbull & Asser sashed robe in silk

Vintage-50s-Chinese-Medallion-Smoking-Jacket

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.

Matthew-Cookson-dressing-gown

Velvet robe with tasseled sash, Matthew Cookson

poole

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?

davies

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

Dashing-Tweeds-smoking_jacket-

Huntsman


By Robin Dutt I possess quite a few.