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Men's Fashion

Isn’t it iconic…

From Connery’s Conduit Cut to Churchill’s flannel chalk-stripe, tailors are reviving heritage designs made famous by celebrated clients. Nick Foulkes reports on the recreation of icon style

October 13 2013
Nick Foulkes

This autumn, there will be a small revolution on Paris’s Left Bank. Nothing too strange in that, you might think. After all, Saint‑Germain-des-Prés has long been the haunt of iconoclasts and firebrand philosophers, as well as individuals who just like to sit outside cafés perfecting their existential anguish – the disputative Left Bank intellectual is as much of a cherished international stereotype as the punk rocker of the King’s Road. But whether they were devotees of Les Deux Magots or favoured the Café de Flore, debated the relative merits of chanteuses Annabel Buffet and Juliette Gréco, argued about the philosophies of Camus and Sartre, or preferred Gauloises to Gitanes, Left Bankers could usually be counted on to agree where to get their suits made – Arnys on the Rue de Sèvres.

Opened in 1933 by second-generation tailor Léon Grimbert, Arnys became the tailor of choice for France’s intellectual and cultural elite, numbering Yves Saint Laurent, Sartre and François Mitterand among its customers – and then came the news last year that LVMH had bought the famed men’s outfitters. Given Bernard Arnault’s penchant for national landmark luxury houses, it is not surprising that this Left Bank bastion of chic would attract his attention sooner or later. But then word spread that the hallowed site, where for eight decades famous and fashionable Frenchmen had come to have their suits made, was going to become a shoe shop, a branch of Berluti. One imagines that you could hear Parisians choking on their cafés right across the 7th arrondissement.

Of course, it is a little more complicated than that. Bernard’s son, Antoine, has been tasked with turning the famed Parisian bottier de luxe into a one-stop men’s luxury outfitter. While the Arnys acquisition gave him a choice bit of real estate, the deal also came with a workshop full of tailors – and it has fallen to Berluti artistic director Alessandro Sartori to integrate what he calls the “grande mesure” of Arnys into the rapidly evolving Berluti brand.

Sartori is a wiry and excitable Italian who fizzes with ideas and enthusiasm. He also looks pretty sharp in his blue mohair suit from Arnys. Speaking from behind a pair of dark Persol sunglasses, he explains what will be seen at the storied site on the Rue de Sèvres when it reopens on November 15. “We will transform the old Arnys atelier into the new Berluti Maison and it will be the house of our bespoke service or, as it is called in France, grande mesure. We will combine the club feeling of Berluti with the seven tailors working in the atelier.” To display these craftsmen at work, an architectural trick has been borrowed from restaurant design: “There is a nice glass wall through which you see the tailors.” It will, says Sartori, be a literal and figurative window to a world of sartorial expertise. “We will keep the Arnys savoir faire, but with Berluti design.”

It is reassuring, at least to me, that Sartori is not some dreamy pseudo‑intellectual philosophising over the nature of clothes, but a man with real experience of the practical side of menswear, having worked for years at Zegna – a family firm that knows a thing or two about making men’s clothes. As such, he realised that it would be folly to throw out a tailoring legacy that reaches back eight decades and, accordingly, one of the key launches or, more accurately, relaunch, will be a classic jacket from the back catalogue of Arnys called La Forestière.

The Forestière should really be known as Le Corbusier, as it was for the famous architect, who used to work around the corner from Arnys, that this curious Mandarin-collared, kimono-sleeved, patch‑pocketed jacket was made. “With Grimbert, Le Corbusier designed this as a chic working jacket,” says Sartori. The extremely wide armhole, the subtly altered architecture of the shoulder and the adaptation of what was known at Arnys as the “pivot” sleeve, enabled the Swiss modernist to raise his arms without the jacket riding up and imparted a unique comfort and ease of movement as he worked at his drawing table.

The name La Forestière was coined because inspiration was also drawn from the gamekeepers’ jackets in the 1939 Jean Renoir film La Règle du Jeu. And it is with a view to keeping this sort of complicated and authentic heritage alive that Sartori will make three versions of the original Forestière – flannel (€1,600), corduroy (€1,850), cashmere (€2,300) – which are only available at the Rue de Sèvres store, as well as introducing a closer-fitting Forestière Double (€2,800), created by Sartori for the ready-to-wear range available at all Berluti stores.

This idea of presenting a version of a classic item made famous by a celebrated customer is also being used by David Mason to launch a ready-to-wear range under the name Anthony Sinclair. Although there may be some debate as to whether one can really be said to be launching a range when it comprises a single pair of trousers. But then, as a tailoring house, Anthony Sinclair is, shall we say, focused in its offer.

Sinclair was the tailor for Sean Connery in the James Bond movies that were directed by Terence Young. Young was a stylish man-about-town and he made Connery in his own image, part of which was to dress the actor in a “Conduit Cut” suit, the so-called “drape and shape” look, with a fair bit of fullness in the chest and a suppressed waist. When he retired, Sinclair handed down his shears to Richard Paine, who by the early years of this century was renting workshop space on Savile Row with David Mason. Mason, now 50, grew up in Manchester as a confirmed 007 fan with a Saturday job in a local menswear shop and on his first visit to London, on a school trip, he skipped the sightseeing and headed straight to Savile Row. “I wanted to see where James Bond had his suits made, not knowing at the time that Bond has never had a suit made on Savile Row.”

So, coming across a tailor who had been apprentice to the man who made Sean Connery’s suits was a Damascene moment for Mason. “The idea of the brand capitalising on the heritage had not really occurred to Richard; he’d actually stopped trading as Anthony Sinclair and was using his own name, looking after the old Anthony Sinclair clients,” explains Mason. I said to Richard, “Why don’t we do something together? You’ve got the skills, the experience and the bloodline, and I think I can develop this as a brand and open it up to the market.” As is often the case with good ideas, it was left to mature for about seven years.

“Then I got a call from the people who were putting on the James Bond exhibition at the Barbican asking if we had any of the original Connery pieces and, if not, could we recreate some of them. So I got onto Richard and said, ‘Look, it’s now or never – it’s the 50th anniversary of the Bond movies and we’ve got the opportunity to do something with EON Productions in the Barbican.” And he said, ‘Right, I’m ready.’”

Alas, the original pattern was long gone, but Mason was lucky enough to find one suit owned by a collector. “He kindly loaned it to us and Richard cleverly reverse-engineered a pattern from it, from which we recreated two iconic pieces: the first thing you ever see James Bond wear on the big screen [in Dr No], which was the shawl-collared midnight-blue evening suit, and then everybody’s favourite, the three piece Prince of Wales check suit from Goldfinger, in which he rolls in the hay with Pussy Galore [both from £3,500].”

Since then at least 50 of the three-piece Prince of Wales suits have been made (although how many have rolled in the hay is unknown), and Mason feels the time is right to venture into the ready-to-wear market by reviving another Goldfinger classic, the cavalry twill trousers worn by Connery when he was photographed next to the totemic Aston Martin DB5. After the shot of Connery in a dinner jacket with a gun, it is probably the most famous publicity still in Bond history and there will be two styles of trousers to honour it: “The Sean [£400], a classic cut, mid-rise, with frogmouth pockets, open-lapped side seam, with strap and buckle”, and a more contemporary take called, yes, “Daniel [£200], with a lower rise, slimmer leg, belt loops, side-slant pockets and the signature open-lapped side seam”.

If Mason’s problem was to recreate a brand with the merest scrap of sartorial DNA to work with, then Roubi L’Roubi, charismatic new co-owner and creative director of Huntsman, one of Savile Row’s grandest tailors, is faced with the opposite dilemma, as research into the archives of Huntsman has reaped a rich harvest of clients, from screen royalty to real royalty.

In common with Sartori at Berluti and Mason at Anthony Sinclair, L’Roubi is leveraging the heritage of the house to build a brand beyond bespoke. “It wasn’t bought with a feeling of it just being a going concern,” says L’Roubi, who acquired the august Savile Row shop last December with his partner and co-owner Pierre LaGrange. “I think it can be a big international brand of the future that has its roots in the UK.” And it is while digging up those roots that L’Roubi came up with clients as diverse as Hollywood he-man Clark Gable, who liked his Huntsman-tailored outfit for Mogambo so much that he became a customer in propria persona, and other fashion designers such as Hardy Amies.

“I knew Huntsman had dressed famous personalities in the past, but to actually see the physical patterns and the ledgers was a revelation,” says L’Roubi. What was not a surprise was the consistency of the absolute classicism of the design right through the decades: it is always the one button, it’s the classic revers, it’s the Huntsman cut.

“I love the idea that it has this heritage. It has so much that one would want to look at that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel – it’s all there.” So for the launch of his first season’s ready-to-wear collection (suits from £2,100) this autumn he is inviting customers to “shop the look”, and among the proposals are old Huntsman pieces bought by Paul Newman. “There’s a picture with him in a particular single-breasted checked suit that I absolutely love – the style, to me, is classic Huntsman, and taking inspiration from this we would offer a Prince of Wales check, with blue over-check, single-breasted two‑piece suit [£4,600].” And if you are in the market for a checked tweed two‑piece, then L’Roubi suggests Bill Blass, who was fond of Huntsman tweeds, as a role model.

Maybe it is something to do with the recovery of the US economy, because another great Savile Row name is offering an homage to a great American customer of the past. Henry Poole’s owner, Simon Cundey, initiated a programme in 2009 that he calls “legendary suits”: “The Churchill was one of my favourites,” he says. “In 1936 we made him this amazing chalk-stripe suit and Fox’s [the famous West of England flannel makers] had the cloth records. It was 18oz and we had it made with exactly the same size stripes” – albeit in a lighter-weight 11oz flannel that is more comfortable for modern wear. Cundey describes the Churchill suit (£4,260) as “a three-piece three-button with straight pockets, a ticket pocket and a notched lapel, with trousers with pleats and cuffs – just right for a whisky by the log fire”.

This year it is the turn of William Randolph Hearst Jnr, who favoured what Cundey calls a “very unusual black-blue colour”. In deference to the inventor of tabloid journalism, the look (£3,900) – “two-button peak lapel, slanted pockets, flat-fronted trousers with no turn-ups” – is snappier than the Churchill.

With a history reaching back to the first decade of the 19th century and detailed records from 1846, there is no shortage of “customers who have a story behind a certain colour or cloth”. Indeed, some of them are rather colourful characters in themselves, among them Colonel WF Cody, better known as “Buffalo Bill”. Given his flamboyant personality and reputation as a showman, Cody’s order of a black frock coat lined in satin with satin facings, a double-breasted silk vest and black stripe cloth trousers is disappointingly conservative. Alas, there are no plans for Henry Poole to offer a Savile Row take on Buffalo Bill’s fringed buckskin jacket any time soon.

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Tailoring