Russell Nash takes us on a tour of London’s menswear district.
Russell Nash is no stranger to dressing up. After training at the Sylvia Young theatre school – alma mater of several EastEnders cast members – he worked as an actor for two decades. Now a Blue Badge Guide, Russell needs to be noticed, so he has taken up the tradition of being a ‘modern gentleman’, and has created a bespoke tour to match his sartorial style. “London’s menswear district covers about 20 roads either side of Piccadilly; at its heart is Jermyn Street, the only road in the world exclusively dedicated to men’s fashion,” Russell explains. It is the home of the made-tomeasure shirt, most famously tailored at Turnbull and Asser, who make James Bond’s shirts for the 007 films. “Watching over Jermyn Street is the statue of ‘Beau’ Brummell. The Regency trend-setter changed men’s clothing for ever. In the early 1800s Brummell rejected the foppish fashion for brocades and breeches and styled himself as a dandy. Wearing a simple dark jacket and trousers, he popularised the men’s suit.
“During the early 1900s, King Edward VII was considered the smartest man in Britain. As Prince of Wales, ‘Bertie’ believed it his duty to show off the best of British tailoring. A rather vain man, in his 30s he started losing his hair and so began sporting homburg hats. To accommodate his bulging waistline he wore plus fours and would leave the bottom button of his waistcoat undone – some people say he started this fashion. “Edward’s grandson Edward VIII was regarded as ‘the best-dressed Englishman of the 20th century’. He liked clothes and they suited him. His informal fashions were much less ‘buttoned up’ than the rest of the royal family and his elegance was mimicked by Hollywood stars such as Fred Astaire and Cary Grant – soon the whole world was dressing like the king. When Edward died in 1972, the auction of his wardrobe was one of the fashion events of the era.
“Both king Edwards were customers of Mayfair’s street of suits, Savile Row. Bertie was the star client for the street’s original tailor, Henry Poole, who made his name by clothing the high society of Victorian Britain – from Dickens to Disraeli. Two centuries later, Henry Poole remains at the heart of ‘the row’, providing exclusively bespoke menswear tailoring from its reassuringly oldschool, wood-panelled shop.
“By the 1960s, aristocrats’ sons were set against wearing ‘daddy’s clothes’. Savile Row was in trouble and one man saved it from extinction, Tommy Nutter. The Rock and Roll suitmaker dressed three of the Beatles on the iconic Abbey Road album front cover (not George, who wore denims). Elton John toured the world in Nutter suits and the
Jaggers wore the tailor’s clothes at their wedding. “Nutter trained the first black tailor to open a shop on Savile Row, Ozwald Boateng. The son of Ghanaian immigrants, Boateng’s trademark style is bright colours – his mother dressed him up in a purple suit when he was a boy – and an Edwardian cut. Boateng has brought fashion brand marketing to Savile Row by encouraging actors and celebrities to wear his suits and has designed clothes for film and TV shows The Matrix, Miami Vice and Tomorrow Never Dies. “The James Bond films have become a menswear shootout. American designer Tom Ford has paid for the rights to dress 007. But I am a purist, and much prefer the relaxed sartorial style of ‘M’ played by Ralph Fiennes, whose singlebreasted suits are cut by Timothy Everest – another Tommy Nutter protégé.
“Richard James ruffled a few Savile Row collars when he opened on Savile Row in the 1990s – his background is in fashion, not tailoring. James pioneered the ‘new bespoke movement’ of suitmakers on ‘the row’, and is credited with starting the current men’s trend for skinny suits and tight-fit jackets. “This year, Kathryn Sargent became the first woman to open a shop on Savile Row. Though there have been female apprentices on the street for a long time, traditionally the fittings have been done by the gentleman tailors who make the suits. It will be interesting to see how traditionalists of this bastion of masculinity react to change.”
So does Russell shop on Savile Row? “Ten years ago I treated myself to a made-to-measure herringbone jacket from Gieves and Hawkes. It’s expensive, but worth every penny. You can pay nearly as much for an off-the-peg designer suit, which has no individuality. “Dressing well is cool again. Look at all the big name rappers, at Eric Clapton, or Dave Vanian from The Damned. They are rockers in three-piece suits, Beau Brummels with tattoos. The first album I ever bought was by Adam Ant, the original Dandy Highwayman. Now Dandyism is back in fashion. We should celebrate it.”