Swellboy on… Savile Row eveningwear

Our man applauds the tailors cutting a dash with black tie

Image: Brijesh Patel

I am watching with interest the minor revolution in eveningwear currently taking place on Savile Row.

A few weeks ago in this column I noted the attempt by well-known art dealer Larry Gagosian to wear plimsolls on the red carpet in Cannes. Indeed, the whole phenomenon of “Hollywood black tie” – whereby an actor wears a rather too-thin regular tie with a white shirt and dinner jacket – is well documented. But to my mind these are unsatisfactory attempts to modernise eveningwear, as they do not show much imagination or care. Next we will see a return to those T-shirts from the 1970s that were printed with a bow tie, frilled shirtfront and dinner jacket, complete with carnation in the buttonhole.

Wearing black tie is a matter of respect towards your host, a symbolic gesture of having taken care with your appearance. Evening dress does tend to make things look more agreeable, and it need not be a tremendous effort. As the legendary hotelier Andrea Badrutt, who ran the Badrutt’s Palace Hotel in St Moritz in the glory days of the jet-set years said: “If you change out of your ski clothes into a blazer why not change into a dinner jacket?”  


However, I can understand the desire to look a little different. For instance, when it comes to informal formal gatherings (if you get my drift) I have a three-button jacket in dark bouclé wool that Terry Haste made for me. And my great sartorial hero the Duke of Windsor certainly knew how to set himself apart with his dinner jacket in needlecord (something I have copied). In fact, I rather think that he of the eponymous tie knot would be intrigued by what Jason Basmajian is doing with eveningwear at Gieves & Hawkes: using luxurious textured bouclé fabrics, and mixing subtle patterns and interesting weaves with such evening details as covered buttons and shawl collars, albeit without the satin or corded silk facings.

Meanwhile, a door or two down at Kilgour, Carlo Brandelli is doing what many great artists have done in their later periods and is paring his work back to the absolute minimum. In doing so he has skilfully managed to create a garment that is a piece of formalwear, but without any of the antique details. He calls it a “stand shawl collar”, and on a jacket made from a marvellous open-weave silk or wool with “slim welt” pockets, it is a brilliant thing that has to be seen to be understood.

However, I am not as brave as Carlo when it comes to getting rid of all extraneous detail. When he showed me this garment he had gone so far with his own minimalist creed that he had dispensed with a shirt altogether and was wearing a very handsome blue double-breasted suit over a sculpted bare chest. Alas, I do not have the physique for this Bernard-Henri Lévy-style of dressing.


Read more of Swellboy’s sartorial musings on black-tie dress codes and his penchant for double denim.

See also