Charles Saumarez Smith talks personal taste: Part One

Charles Saumarez Smith is secretary and chief executive of the Royal Academy of Arts, and a former director of the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery.

Charles Saumarez Smith.
Charles Saumarez Smith. | Image: Jude Edginton

My personal style signifiers are striped ties and shirts with cutaway collars. I’ve been buying ties from Margaret Howell since the 1970s. The shirts I buy from Udeshi.

The last thing I bought and loved was a blue suit from Toast. But it’s so bright, I seldom dare wear it. In the 1980s, I worked at the V&A teaching history of design. I’ve always been interested in fashion. I could say it was all due to the V&A, but it wasn’t; there’s a photograph of me in a Margaret Howell jacket when I was at Cambridge.

Classic Swedish Interiors by Lars Sjöberg.
Classic Swedish Interiors by Lars Sjöberg.

The best gift I’ve given recently was a grey cashmere blanket made by Kate Blee. I’ve bought a number of things from her, including ties. She has an annual sale in Shoreditch, held on the ground floor of her husband’s architecture practice.

And the best one I’ve received recently was a small, wooden, carved goblet my wife gave me for Christmas, which she bought from an antiques shop we always visit in Beaumaris on Anglesey. 42A Castle Street, Beaumaris, Anglesey LL58 8BB (01248-811 598;


The books on my bedside table are two dog-eared volumes of Scott-Moncrieff’s translation of Proust, a copy of Classic Swedish Interiors by Lars Sjöberg and an old edition of Finch’s Quarterly Review.

If I had to limit my shopping to one neighbourhood in one city, I’d choose the top end of Brick Lane and Shoreditch, as most things I want are available at Folk Clothing, Labour and Wait, as well as the lovely food emporium Leila’s Shop. Folk Clothing, 11 Dray Walk, London E1 (020-7375 2844; Labour and Wait, 85 Redchurch Street, London E2 (020-7729 6253; Leila’s Shop, 17 Calvert Avenue, London E2 (020-7729 9789).

Mural by David Tremlett at Fernandez & Wells, Somerset House.
Mural by David Tremlett at Fernandez & Wells, Somerset House. | Image: Tricia de Courcy Ling

An unforgettable place I’ve travelled to in the past year is the church of Saint-Pierre in Firminy, designed by Le Corbusier. My son is very keen on Le Corbusier, so last spring we drove through France, searching out his work. Saint-Pierre is concrete and was only completed six years ago. It’s unbelievably impressive, very moving and quite organic – in an unusual way.

And the best souvenir I’ve brought home is a bottle of 10 Corso Como olive oil. We came back from France via Milan and went to 10 Corso Como, an emporium in an old garage – very inspirational for the space we’re planning for 6 Burlington Gardens. €36; Corso Como 10, 20154 Milan (+3902-2900 2674;

Shirt by Udeshi, £195.
Shirt by Udeshi, £195. | Image:

A recent “find” is the new branch of Beak Street deli Fernandez & Wells in Somerset House. It has amazing murals by an artist called David Tremlett. Somerset House, Strand, London WC2 (020-7420 9408;

The people I rely on for grooming and style are Matthew Mulhall of Kinninmont, who cuts my hair. He is very expensive, but since I’m nearly bald, I don’t have to go very often. I buy all my shoes from Paraboot in Antwerp. I did use a tailor called David London who made suits for Gilbert and George, but annoyingly he’s moved to Spain. Kinninmont, 26 Chilworth St London W2 (020-7706 8200). Paraboot, Groendalstraat 1, 2000 Antwerp (+323-2272 505;

Church of Saint-Pierre, Firminy.
Church of Saint-Pierre, Firminy. | Image: Superstock

In my fridge you’ll always find cold beer more consistently than food, preferably Landlord pale ale by Timothy Taylor, which is stocked by Sainsbury’s. You can also get it online, but I haven’t got round to buying beer on the internet.

The last music I downloaded was Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G on Spotify, after hearing a friend, Melvyn Tan, play it at a concert in Cadogan Hall.


My favourite websites are Old Town for classic British workwear; Manufactum, a German company that sells well-made household basics from behind what was the Iron Curtain; and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, which I use for research.

See also