“Ah, you’re here for the impossible jacket, aren’t you, sir?” The words are said with a smile and a wink, but the implication is clear: this project has not been an easy one.
For the past four months, Budd Shirtmakers has been working with me on making a linen safari jacket. Budd is one of the most famous and storied bespoke shirtmakers in London (bespoke shirts from £225); its cosy shop at the top end of the Piccadilly Arcade is a favourite of the Savile Row set, and it still does all its cutting on the first floor, looking down on the arcade below.
But Budd is not a jacket maker. Being asked to make one was therefore something of a puzzling request, until I explained the similarity of a safari jacket to a shirt. It has no lining or structure; all its pockets are on the outside; it has button cuffs and a button-through front. Indeed, a safari jacket is really a misnomer – it is just a shirt made from particularly heavy cloth, and cut to fit over another shirt.
Budd is a very traditional outfit. But in recent years it has had an injection of modernity, with a shop refit, brighter accessories and the launch of an e-newsletter. The senior shirt cutter, Darren Tiernan, is also young, and he took to my project with welcome dedication – if a little cautiousness.
The jacket was initially too big. To allow for fitting over another shirt, Darren added a little extra to all my measurements (a paper pattern is created upstairs for each customer, in the same way as a Savile Row suit), but this proved too great in some instances – the shirt to be worn underneath is pretty thin, after all. There was also an issue with pins. Shirtmakers don’t work in the same way as tailors, and won’t necessarily pin something to show how it will be taken in or up.
We worked together over those four months, with one trial shirt and a couple of fittings. The two of us would huddle in front of the mirrors in the Budd basement and consider the excess needed around the armhole or the positioning of the three pockets. Then Darren would return to his cutting board upstairs, send out the work to be remade, and call back after a couple of weeks.
It took some time. But the end result is fantastic: a linen jacket (£395) that feels no more restrictive than a shirt, and can be thrown over a T-shirt at the weekend or worn with a button-down shirt and flannels during the week. An incredibly versatile, useful and modern garment.
And there’s the rub. For the only way that wonderful artisans like Budd can maintain their popularity and relevance today is by making garments that suit the modern man. English shirtmakers have traditionally produced stiff-collared shirts that really only look good with a suit and tie. Among bespoke customers, they are fast being overtaken by the Italians, who favour light materials, soft construction and delicately rolling collars.
Far fewer people wear suits or even traditional tailored jackets to the office these days. Yet they still need something to cover themselves. Perhaps a shirt/jacket is part of the answer; at the very least it’s great to know that Darren and the Budd team are open to those kinds of ideas. As impossible as they might initially seem…