Men's Fashion

A twist in the tailoring

A clutch of designers are combining easy modernity with classic Savile Row precision – and giving bespoke British tailoring a new edge, says Tom Stubbs.

October 12 2010
Tom Stubbs

In Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, Lady Markby declares that “nothing is so dangerous as being too modern. One is apt to grow old-fashioned quite suddenly.” The observation might well be applied to the world of tailoring. While the institution of correctness that is Savile Row can feel a little staid on occasion, those seeking to articulate a more contemporary approach to design must tread delicately.

Artfully marrying a modern outlook with traditional values, a range of excellent new tailoring options present themselves this autumn, none of which come out of Savile Row, but all of which reference it to some degree, reinterpreting classic elements from a variety of contemporary perspectives. This fresh consignment of smart vision offers imaginative ways ahead. The creatives involved come from diverse backgrounds, encompassing womenswear, global retail, fashion styling and traditional tailoring. The results are correspondingly varied. This, then, is the new wave of British smart style.

Tailoring duo Thom Whiddett and Luke Sweeney met while working for East End tailor Timothy Everest. Trading as Thom Sweeney, their partnership is four years old and recently found a home in a stately building that was once an art gallery on Weighhouse Street in London’s Mayfair. They are young (Sweeney is 30, Whiddett 31) and evince a progressive attitude to bespoke. They have built a varied clientele, tailoring menswear for designer Matthew Williamson, dressing rock stars and also making suits for the head of Graff Diamonds, Laurence Graff.

Their focus is on satisfying the requirements of a new breed of customer. “Just offering one look, like many Savile Row places do, goes against the ethic of bespoke in our opinion,” says Sweeney. “What we do is a bespoke, a one-off piece for the client – it’s not about us. We’re very open to ideas and suggestions.” He says their style caters for a new generation of men who wear suits for leisure. “They want a more Italian feel. Guys going into British tailors were coming out not quite happy with how military their suits looked,” he says. The typical style is slim and single-breasted, with a distinct fitted body. Although the shoulders are defined, they’re constructed with very light padding and canvas (bespoke service from £1,895). “Silhouette is very important to us, and we’re into a fitted waistline. It’s a blend of British and Italian values,” says Whiddett.

They are strong proponents of separate jacket and trouser style, an emerging menswear theme, which accounts for 40 per cent of their business. Specialising in this “casual” look, they team their muted check jackets in new linen/wool/cotton blends with, say, plain cotton trousers. They’ve also adopted a horseshoe-cut waistcoat as a signature style, a look taken from one of the many iconic photographs adorning their shop-cum-salon. In person, Sweeney and Whiddett are receptive, cool and businesslike, and very smartly attired themselves – a reassuring trait in any tailor.

Approaching men’s style from a draping rather than a cutting perspective is Roland Mouret’s new label Mr (previewed here in September). Mouret is celebrated for his womenswear, his signature folded and draped dresses adored by women for the way they work magic with drapes and folds to cover sins and accentuate assets. Having recently moved into new offices in Mayfair, Mouret’s first menswear collection is all about simple, favourite items that work with “unconscious co-ordination” as he puts it, suggesting that you can simply throw pieces on and they will work. It feels totally modern, but he has been influenced strongly by Savile Row. Three handsome overcoats (from £1,100) define the collection and are marvellous garments, draping beautifully with a strong shoulderline in the British military tradition, and yet they are completely unstructured.

“Mr unites unstructured and easy with stricter tailored lessons learned on The Row,” says Mouret. “I wanted to give men the appearance of being tailored but the feel of wearing something casual.” The suiting is quite relaxed, can be worn easily over knitwear, but is still elegant and would flatter bigger frames. The sleeves are long, rather like a coat, and Mouret has removed all traces of tradition from the finish, such as buttonholes. The approach to sizing is unusual too; the chest goes up in one-inch gradations and is offered in two silhouettes, sculpted and straight. Suits start at £1,950. “I’ve created classic [£850] and athletic-shaped [£750] jackets, with a suggestion of a 1940s shoulder. The shoulder is pivotal; once it is in place the line will follow.” The fabrication is luxurious, the palette understated. This is a cleverly conceived first foray into men’s tailoring by Mouret.

Another new entrant is Clive Darby, who spent 25 years representing tailors including Richard James, Kilgour and other Savile Row institutions. While selling their collections he liaised with retailers all over the world, developing a keen sense of how tailoring works for men. When Kilgour ended its ready-to-wear business in 2008, Darby devised a simple collection, working with a tailor and design team. Thus Rake was born.

Darby’s ethos is based on his experience of travelling for work while still looking stylish. “Luxury boutique Boon The Shop in Korea is known as an incubator; people watch how designers perform there. They ordered a small, exclusive capsule selection, and it sold very well,” he says. For autumn he has conceived an interchangeable smart capsule collection, which sold across Asia, to Lane Crawford in Hong Kong, Minority Rev in Japan – and also to Matches in London. “It’s clothing that can be worn and adapted to different formats. It’s about taking suit jackets or trousers and putting them with something less formal,” he says.

His jackets (from £1,185) have blazer-like qualities, such as swelled seams and edging, making it easy to wear them with alternative trousers or jeans. The clothes are very light and are designed to work well when being worn in warmer climates. “The whole collection will always be half-lined,” says Darby. Even his fetching peaked-lapel Donegal tweed (£990), which feels like a semitropical/Pacific relation of a Savile Row country jacket, weighs just 8.5oz. Distinctive details of this collection include the round lapel buttonhole, referred to as the “halo”.

Addressing another hole in the market is the charismatic Adrien Sauvage, who advises wealthy women on lifestyle, wardrobes and events. This autumn he is launching A Sauvage, prompted partly by the unsatisfied sartorial needs of his clients’ husbands. He identified a gap between classic men’s tailoring and luxury fashion brands, and plans to fill it. His work will certainly engage men who enjoy dressing smartly for its own sake. The firmly constructed yet light City Suit (jacket, £895; trousers, £295) in Air Force blue pin-dot wool is striking enough to demand a second look. Sauvage’s suits have generous lapels.

“The skinny fashion look, with skinny ties, is five years old. I’ve gone much wider and created a masculine silhouette that hasn’t been seen in the past 20 years. With that comes more closed-collar shirts and wider ties in textured Scottish wools,” he says. There is a modernity to the proportion, the cut seemingly elongating the limbs, which Lanvin and Rick Owens customers will be at home with. An evening suit in graphite mohair (jacket, £945; trousers, £295) is a restrained cocktail affair with a subtle international verve to its finish. “I don’t do anything shiny; I’m not into sparkly, Liza Minnelli-style fabrics, just very simple suits with jetted pockets.”

Interestingly, Sauvage’s business partner is the TV presenter George Lamb. They look striking in their ensembles, particularly as they are both 6ft 5in tall – they might be the new poster boys for British tailoring. Does Sauvage, one wonders, consider the collection to have a distinctly British style? “Not necessarily British – more cosmopolitan,” he replies. “The rolled lapel is Naples, the narrow pants are Parisian, but the roped shoulder is English.” (A roped shoulder, incidentally, is where the sleeve head sits out from the armhole with a slight bump.) The double-breasted country tweeds (£845) and checked sports jackets (£945) teamed with contrasting vivid trousers (£295) are rather English, too. But be warned: the cut is not for all body shapes.

The return of Hayward’s of Mount Street is a further notable development. It reopened for business last year and is now launching its first ready-to-wear line. To understand the full significance of this, one needs a little background. The late Doug Hayward opened up shop on Mount Street in 1966, aiming to bring egalitarian values to tailoring, countering the stuffy old-boy culture on The Row. He made modern suits for his friends, who included Terence Stamp, Laurence Olivier, Noël Coward, Roger Moore and Michael Caine. As their fame grew, Hayward’s became legendary too, and the shop became a social hub for this showbusiness set. Hayward’s work can be seen in The Thomas Crown Affair and The Italian Job – fine examples of his definitive style.

Hayward was the Hollywood tailor of his era, but when he died in 2008, his company went into administration. Ritchie Charlton and Campbell Carey, both former Kilgour cutters and directors, have since acquired Hayward and resumed business. They’ve also been busy contriving a new blend of style savoir-faire. Regardless of any legacy, these clothes are special. A double-breasted blazer (£850) in matt mohair and wool is exceptionally elegant. The look is long, lean and relaxed with a low fastening. The flapped pockets are audaciously angled to point at the Corozo nut buttons, and the result looks far smoother than any flash gold-buttoned affair. It’s the kind of sartorial sentiment Hayward himself encouraged.

“Doug was a directional, contemporary tailor in 1967, and we’re following his ethos,” says Ritchie. “His work had a certain softness, a nod to Italian style, with a supple coat [jacket], but still a British shape. We’re doing the same. He also favoured a low button, and loved double-breasted. What is very Hayward is our notch in the lapel; it’s quite closed, and the lapel is cut 90° square.” The shoulders are gently roped and squared, but not as “seriously square” nor featuring such macho lapels as Tom Ford’s. A moss-green Donegal cashmere tweed suit with soft shoulders (£1,200) is also a striking piece. It has a supple, luxurious quality, and maintains Hayward’s easy but smart shape.

Geography also comes into the equation at Hayward. “We overlook Mount Street Gardens and it affects what we’re doing. The architecture and people are entirely different from Savile Row. We’re right where all the expensive hotels are, and the street is full of high-fashion shops.” How does this translate into clothes? “If you look at Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair, even though he was smart and upright, there was a certain louche element about him. But louche isn’t exactly it… What we’re doing now is ‘modern Mount Street élan’,” Charlton says. Whatever they call it, this is some of the most suave, sophisticated menswear you will find at the moment.

These five new progeny of Savile Row demonstrate that laudable style in a modern world is about working the past with an original, often foreign accent. That’s just how The Row began, proving that “old-fashioned” is only a matter of perspective.

See also

Tailoring