In 2012 Thames&Hudson published a very special book written by James Sherwood: The PerfectGentleman The Pursuit of Timeless Elegance and Style in London with Foreword by Terence Stamp, a world know sartorial figure and actor. The book, that now can be found in Bucharest bookshops like Carturesti, has all the ingredients to be a classic. Thames&Hudson describe the book as: “The pursuit of elegance in men’s attire inevitably leads a gentleman to London’s historic West End. Since 1666 the quarters of Mayfair, Piccadilly and St. James’s have been colonized by hatters, shoemakers, jewelers, shirt makers, perfumers and h osiers. Today, this enclave of excellence has the highest concentration of firms trading in luxury goods for the well-appointed male. Here the modern gentleman who values quality and craftsmanship can still walk in the footsteps of such as Beau Brummell, Edward VII, Oscar Wilde, Winston Churchill, the Duke of Windsor, Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, Prince Charles and, latterly, the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry James Sherwood has been given access to private archives and unpublished material, and has commissioned new photography to provide a rich insight into the companies and their crafts today. The London gentleman’s social world, from shopping arcades and hotels to members’ clubs and dining rooms, is brought to life through vivid texts, intimate portraits and lavish images. The Perfect Gentleman showcases the historic houses and the great patrons who have upheld the highest standards for hundreds of years alongside a new generation of craftsmen and women who are keepers of the flame.”
James Sherwood, fashion critic, journalist for The International Herald Tribune, the Independent, the Financial Times, The World of Interiors and BBC is one of the leading figures in London Man’s Fashion and a true Modern Dandy. Prove for his commitment in preserving the memory and tradition of classic English Menswear stand another two books published in 2010 and 2011: Savile Row: The Master Tailors of British Bespoke (2010), Fashion at Royal Ascot: Three Centuries of Thoroughbred Style (2011). About his first book The Savile Row: The Master Tailors of British Bespoke (with Tom Ford introduction) the Spectator thinks that: “The word “lavish” could have been coined for this volume“
He is also the man behind several very successful exhibition such as London Cut- the globally-touring exhibition of Savile Row bespoke suit tailoring, Archive Room at No 1 Savile Row for Gieves & Hawkes (2008-2010). Now he is archivist for Savile Row founding father Henry Poole & Co and consults for Anderson & Sheppard on the house’s new shop at No 17 Clifford Street. His opinion on style can be also found at his weekly online diary Letters From Bloomsbury Square. He is currently working on a novel and consulting as creative consultant for the cabaret at Brasserie Zedel and Savoy hotel’s Museum curator.
In 2007 you were the curator of the London Cut – the first celebratory exhibition of British bespoke tailoring at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence. Why is it so important to preserve the legacy of Savile Row? What is the essence of Savile Row’s immortality?
When Pitti Immagine Uomo commissioned me to curate The London Cut in 2006 there was already momentum gathering around a return to the Savile Row code of values: handcrafted bespoke garments made in London, an appreciation of excellence, an uncompromising desire for uniqueness and a refusal to submit to the decline in formal dress. This was being driven by a young generation who were rejecting fast fashion and were reluctant to buy into designer brands. For me Savile Row bespoke tailoring refers to a more formal, reserved and leisured age when instant gratification was considered vulgar. Time is now the most precious commodity and the men who have that time to invest in ordering bespoke suits is a sign of confidence, individual elegance and the appearance of a leader rather than a follower of fashion.
Who are the Savile Row newcomers? Who is the next big name in your opinion?
Of the bespoke houses trading under relatively new names, I admire and appreciate the style of Thom Sweeney. Trained by Timothy Everest and showing an equal reluctance to set up shop actually on Savile Row, Thom Sweeney has found an aesthetic that combines the technical excellence of the classic Savile Row cut with a more dashing approach to the line and choice of cloth. The Mayfair Hedge Fund chaps in their 20s and 30s see what Thom and Luke are wearing and trust their judgement and taste. It is also encouraging to see a new generation of cutters at historic houses such as Henry Poole & Co (founding father of Savile Row) like Alex and Craig working to define a leaner, closer fit for younger customers. Anderson & Sheppard‘s ‘everything but the suit’ haberdashery shop at No 17 Clifford Street is a huge departure for a pure bespoke house and an indication of how to furnish a bespoke customer’s wardrobe with the most elegant, understated accessories while still keeping the house brand pure. This is the key to the future of Savile Row.
We see nowadays a peculiar trend – suits and sneakers. Is there a lack of knowledge in the fashion field or is it trend that will pass eventually?
I do think the suit and sneaker trend ran out of steam rather a long time ago. The ‘mash-up’ approach to styling a formal Savile Row suit tends to look apologetic and displays a lack of commitment and confidence. A bespoke suit demands a shoe that doesn’t undercut its impact. This doesn’t mean the old rule that black cap toed leather Oxfords have to be worn with a suit and brown should never be seen in town still stand-up. I don’t think you’d be shot at dawn should you wear a navy suit with tobacco suede loafers. The whole point of Savile Row style is to commit to putting one’s best foot forward. I don’t think a pair of Converse trainers does anything other than let your tailor down.
In April 2012, Gustav Temple protested about the opening of Abercrombie & Fitch Kids at Savile Row No 3. How can we preserve Savile Row as it is and how can we defend a symbolic street from the intrusion of “McFashion” brands?
Savile Row has survived the Napoleonic Wars, the Crimean War, the Boer War and two World Wars. I don’t think McFashion brands will defeat them now. I am a huge admirer of Gustav Temple and the Chap tribe. I don’t think they – or the tailors for that matter – want to ‘preserve’ Savile Row. Protect and defend might be more appropriate terms. Many fashion brands have opened on Savile Row only to find themselves lacking by comparison.
That said, London does and must continue to protect streets dedicated to historic trades such as Savile Row, Jermyn Street, St. James’s Street, Cork Street and Hatton Garden. Once the handmakers are forced out by rent rises or the risibly titled ‘market forces’ I can’t imagine the emerging market money will pour into London. If our historic shopping streets are overtaken by McFashion brands then people who live in Shanghai, Moscow or Singapore will have no reason to visit us. Uniqueness is the sole selling point for a global style capital such as London.
Today there are great English shoemakers from the past that are forgotten for example Nikolaus Tuczek. Can you tell me more about his personality and legacy?
Like Savile Row tailors, the shoemakers who still produce the definitive English last in London and Northampton have the pedigree, integrity and quality that inspires loyalty in customers worldwide. All of the historic marques who still trade are examples of the survival of the fittest. Tuczek was taken over by John Lobb hence the creative bloodline has passed to our most esteemed bespoke shoemaker still trading on St. James’s Street. The DNA of Tuczek has been passed on to Cleverley through founder George who trained at this esteemed firm. The fact that a firm’s family tree can still be traced is a credit to all of the handmakers in Mayfair, Piccadilly and St. James’s. Scholte is no longer a trademark but the baton was passed to Anderson & Sheppard and thus the history is absorbed into the story of a house still thriving and surviving.
I noticed that you are a fan of Cary Grant’s personality, Cary Grant being also onthe cover of one of your books. What is the essence of Cary Grant’s style and why is he so admired in terms of style?
If one considers the men who were seen as the dandies of their day, very few have the universal appeal of a Hollywood icon such as Cary Grant. There are many exotic blooms such as Cecil Beaton and Bunny Roger who strived to stand out and be noticed but they didn’t possess a personal style that still speaks to men in the 21st century. Cary Grant combined strength, style and effortless chic and I think that is what makes him an icon of Savile Row tailoring. There’s an old adage that it should take ten minutes to notice that a man is well-dressed. When the suit overwhelms the man, he has not learnt the essence of Savile Row style.
If you think of the most prominent characters that define the history of Menswear their names would be…
History has to collude with men who make an impact on the future of bespoke tailoring. Without the indulgence of the Prince Regent (the future King George IV), a commoner such as George ‘Beau’ Brummell would never have been given the opportunity to dictate the future of the suit and set the blueprint for the contemporary lounge suit. Without an overbearing father such as King George V, the Duke of Windsor would have never had a standard to rebel against and declare his independence through his clothes. Without World War I and the toppling of Europe’s monarchies, Hollywood movie icons such as Fred Astaire, Gary Cooper and Rudolph Valentino would not have stolen the world’s attention and become the glass of masculine fashion. Of the Savile Row tailors, I have to say that Tommy Nutter introduced fashion to bespoke tailoring in the late 60s and early 70s and inspired the peacock revolution of Neo-Dandies. Today it is a hard call to identify the men who are moving tailoring forward. So many Hollywood stars are paid to wear designer labels and don’t promote Savile Row on or off screen. But of the ones that do I have to credit Ralph Fiennes, Colin Firth, Jude Law and Bill Nighy for flying the flag for British bespoke.
Are you sentimental regarding your clothes?
I am ludicrously sentimental about my clothes. I remember so many wonderful evenings, photo shoots and book covers in which I wore my Huntsman puppy tooth three piece, my Anderson & Sheppard grey flannel and the many cocktail suits cut for me by Sir Tom Baker. The tragedy is that the first thing to go is the trousers so it’s a lesson to us all to order two pairs of trousers for every coat. Bespoke suits are a huge investment and are basically a sartorial biography. Like a favorite perfume, you put them on and happy memories come flooding back. I can probably tell you every party I’ve attended wearing my Spencer Hart midnight blue Moxon cocktail suit. Every time I wear it I know I’m in for a good time.
Do you have a favorite pair of shoes?
I always feel ready to be on parade when putting on a Cleverley black leather Jodhpur boot for Royal Ascot. I have a favorite pair of Tricker’s green velvet evening slippers that suggest fun is to be had and have just taken delivery of an ink blue leather pair of Bally brogues that it is always a pleasure to take for a walk around Mayfair. Then of course there is the pair of Gucci tobacco suede loafers that I’ve been replenishing since my 20s that make me feel like I’m on holiday even if working. I’m a great walker around central London and don’t have much truck with pointy shoes that leave you crippled. A robust shoe ensures that you’re always on the good foot.
What’s next on your Christmas shopping list?
If only it was as simple as providing a Christmas shopping list that friends and relatives choose from like a wedding list. If I was buying purely for me I would ask for a dozen Simonet Goddard linen handkerchieves from Anderson & Sheppard’s No 17 Clifford Street shop, a mink lined Diaghilev collared bespoke coat from Henry Poole & Co, a pair of Shaun Leane gem-set cuff links and a new walnut handle City umbrella from James Smith & Sons. If I was being terribly greedy I’d ask for a brace of bespoke shirts from Budd in the Piccadilly Arcade and a Fair Isle sweater from Guy ‘Dashing Tweeds’ Hills. I think I missed my vocation being a personal shopper. Men are allegedly allergic to shopping. I find it one of the great pleasures in life.
Any big plans that you can divulge for the future or project that you are currently involved in?
2013 will see me working with Thames & Hudson on a grand, glamorous monograph about Henry Poole & Co and developing a TV series about my new book The Perfect Gentleman for BBC Worldwide. It is also the 60th anniversary of HM The Queen’s Coronation so I hope to be commentating for the BBC on this historic occasion. I think 2012 has been tough for everyone in the luxury goods industry and we’re all banking on more optimism in the next twelve months.
Lastly, if there was anything that you could have done differently, what would that be ?
I could write an essay about what I would have done differently. What I would not have done is miss the opportunity to spend a lot of years becoming part of the Savile Row bespoke family. It has been a pleasure to spend time with such remarkable people and a privilege to promote the incredible work they do. What I have learned working with historic firms such as Henry Poole, Gieves & Hawkes, Huntsman and Anderson & Sheppard is that one plays a walk-on roll in the history of companies who will endure for many decades if not centuries more. I think many people care less and reap more rewards from superficial relationships with work related colleagues. I have had nothing but a wonderful time dallying on Savile Row for the past decade.
*Pictures courtesy of Mr. James Sherwood.