Saturday, 24 August 2013

Three-piece suit: Forward fitting

Generally the final stage in the bespoke process is the 'forward fitting', although (particularly with your first suit with a new tailor) you could actually end up needing more than one appointment to get everything perfect, and any decent bespoke tailor will be happy to accommodate - indeed they will probably want to, rather than let you walk out with a suit that's not quite right. The key thing with the forward fitting is that, at this stage, the suit is complete, with all the canvassing and internal structure in place, buttons on, pockets done - finished basically. This means that you can see everything together properly but are slightly more limited in the kind of changes that you can make. At this point, the sort of adjustments that can be made are the kind of thing that a really good off-the-peg store would offer for its suits: adjustments to trouser length and waist, tweaks to sleeve length (within reason, bearing in mind that the cuff buttons will now be on), and limited adjustments to coat waist and so forth.

I needed a couple of little tweaks, but it's looking fantastic. The trousers are (partly of necessity, so the waistcoat looks right, and partly as a style choice) high-waisted with a fish-tailed back and, because they're designed exclusively to be worn with braces, don't need to be tight-fitting so are looser than many of my trousers (but not in such a way as to be visible). This makes them extraordinarily comfortable.

Suffice it to say it looks smashing - I love the quite traditionally English fit of the trousers with their single pleat, and the bold peaked lapels on the waistcoat, while the cloth is (in my opinion) and absolute masterpiece: lightweight and smart but a lot more interesting than it first appears, it looks almost blue in the right light. Anyway, decent pictures of all this will follow, along with a few more details, and I also plan on doing another post or two on the bespoke process. 

Friday, 23 August 2013

Style Icon: Bill Nighy

An exciting landmark for the St James Style blog as we requested our first ever celebrity interview yesterday and were unceremoniously turned down. To be fair, I didn't expect much else but as someone in my life probably once told me "it can't hurt to ask". I thought of asking because I've only ever seen Bill Nighy in person twice and both times were on Savile Row. That made me wonder who his tailor is and led to a bit of Googling which resulted in the discovery that, off-screen, he is a man of considerable personal taste and style with some very interesting opinions on clothes. Famously, he owns dozens of bespoke suits but (equally famously) they are all navy blue, and that is almost exclusively what he wears.

I'd have loved to interview him, of course, but I can't really blame his agents for saying no. Anyway there's more than enough material out there for me to do a Johann Hari and just acquire quotes from elsewhere and pretend he said them to me...

I wouldn't do that though.

This interview with him on Mr Porter (oh, so they can get an interview, can they?) is interesting and I love the Jarvis Crocker quote which I'd not heard before. I wish, though, that I could have asked why he prefers single vented suits. These are less formal, but arguably less fussy and that seems to be what he prefers, with a 'simple' suit - two piece, 'not particularly styled', 'not a waisted jacket' and so forth. I can't say I particularly agree with all of his choices but that's not the point - I admire the fact that he knows what he likes and cares about how he dresses; that's what matters (and what people online so often forget in their search for some kind of objective standard of dress). As he himself points out in the interview, he doesn't compromise and I admire that too. No matter how much you like suits, I think it takes confidence to continue to turn up to Chamonix 'looking like the Blues Brothers' - it's so easy to dress down when you know that that's what everyone else will be doing, and Mr Nighy's unswerving commitment to wearing what he likes and knows he looks good in is a model for all men.

When I have seen him wearing suits of his own they're undeniably very elegant, and clearly bespoke - in one shot that comes pretty high in a Google image search the hand-stitched buttonhole is especially obvious. It goes to show that even with a suit that is 'not too styled' and without a waisted jacket bespoke makes an enormous difference. Actually, given his preference for this sort of thing and the search he mentions for a structured but softer shoulder, going bespoke is arguably more important. And, of course, as he says - it's desperately difficult to get trouser lengths right (and they must be right) without a really good tailor. Even good off-the-peg shops that sell unfinished trousers and pin them for you are going for a rough approximation, that you are then expected to assess and approve, and then hope that it's achieved when the trousers are hemmed. When you consider that with bespoke it can take comprehensive measurements and two or more fittings to get the trousers right, you'll see how inadequate that approach really is.

Anyway, despite all that, I didn't actually ever find out who his tailor is. In the Mr Porter piece he is wearing a Richard James suit but I imagine that was supplied by the stylist. He does mention John Pearse, a 'tailor to the stars' and a Daily Mail article (not linked - I don't link to the Daily Mail) mentions Dunhill, which offers a limited (but serious) bespoke service in a handful of its big stores. The only thing is, neither of those are based on Savile Row so that doesn't get me any closer to who he was visiting there. Or perhaps he just lives nearby, and likes wondering through!

Friday, 2 August 2013

Three-piece suit: Basted Fitting

Back to Cad and the Dandy on Monday for a basted fitting of my new three-piece suit with the double-breasted waistcoat. At the basted fitting stage, the suit (or at least the jacket; not always the trousers as they are much simpler) has been stitched together quickly using basting thread with no lining and a minimum of canvassing to give it just enough structure to wear. This allows the tailor to see it on the client and make, if needed, the sort of major adjustments that would be difficult and expensive to achieve once the suit is fully made up. After the fitting is completed, the suit will be completely disassembled so almost any change can be made at this stage without much impact. This is particularly useful with something like a double-breasted waistcoat where the exact shape and style is very much down to personal preference and is difficult to gauge until you see it on you. As it happened, I was extremely happy with what Philippa proposed, but had I wanted it to have a much narrower overlap, or deeper lapel line to show more shirt, both of these could easily have been managed.

It's this sort of thing, or the fact that Philippa waited to see the waistcoat on me before drawing on the shape of the lapels in chalk, that really make bespoke stand out. Sure, it's about 'fit', but decent fit alone can probably be achieved by many made-to-measure tailors. Real bespoke is about crafting a suit in three dimensions, on the person who will be wearing it, and as a collaborative effort between cutter and client. That is what achieves the best results. It's why the Savile Row Bespoke Association consider a basted fitting one of the mandatory requirements to describe your product as 'bespoke', and it's why that is one of the main questions I would ask any unfamiliar tailor in trying to determine what sort of service I would be getting.

As far as this particular project goes, I couldn't be more delighted. The cloth that (as she reminded me!) I was talked into by Philippa looks even better when I saw it in greater volume than just a swatch. When seen as a suit, the effect of the fairly unusual cheque softens into a really elegant deep grey that suits this quite formal and classic style perfectly. It probably goes without saying that the fit is terrific - of course a couple of adjustments are needed but that is the whole point of the basted fitting. Already, though, it's got that amazing fit around the chest, the high comfortable armholes and the collar that perfectly follows the back of the neck that I've never even got close to in non-bespoke jackets. It's already clear that this is going to be one beautiful suit, and I cannot wait to see it finished.