Following the success of our Wedding Dress adventure, the Bride has appointed me to assist her intended in his selection of tailor for the Wedding Suit, a task I accepted with pleasure and a little apprehension, because although they have been an item for some three years, Tim doesn’t live in London and to be candid, I just don’t know him very well. And how to manage a process I know so little about?
Unfamiliar with tailorish ways, I decided to begin with who and what I know, ask my smartest male friends for advice and forge ahead with an itinerary for Tim’s next London visit, Saturday 14th May.
Tim and I meet for breakfast at the appropriately named Breakfast Club by Hoxton Square, Shoreditch and we discuss The Suit. Tim doesn’t know what to expect and I tell him he has, ultimately to love the result. Amanda has to be happy, he says. I agree but add that the success of my job relies on him being so at one with the suit that he should barely notice wearing it on The Day. With bemused eyes, he smiles and we settle into an easy companionship, the blueprint for what evolves into the loveliest day.
Philip Start is always immaculately turned out, with a casually alert demeanour and wide smile. Today we find him in a beautifully cut electric blue wool suit, his black-frame spectacles emphasising a handsomely intellectual face that creases into a warm welcome as we step into Mr Start, his tailoring emporium on Charlotte Road.
We’re ushered into the elegant, relaxed lower ground floor space, which is lined with a well-edited selection of shoes, suits, fabric bunches and a scattering of accessories. Philip sends for coffee “in cups not takeaway” from the Bottega Prelibato on Rivington Street (arguably the best beans in EC2), and we settle in.
Philip quizzes Tim on the wedding: when, where, temperature, style, formality. Tim responds as he wanders the space picking up and examining a shoe here, a tie there, inspecting the collection of shirts and suits. I watch Mr Start almost imperceptibly scan his client top to toe, toe to top, side to side and back again. Philip is taking in Tim’s way, his posture and personality and guides us to the definitive design, fabric and some jazzy satin lining for this most important suit. We also discuss and agree a second suit, needed for the honeymoon and beyond.
While Tim’s vital statistics are meticulously noted in case we decide to settle on Mr Start’s made to measure, Philip asks where else we’re heading on our foray into men’s formal fashion. The name of our next appointment prompts an expression I can’t quite read and the comment “well, that’s a whole different thing.” What can he mean?
We find out within about twenty minutes when our cab sets us down at the end of Meard Street in Soho. At number six, the slight figure of John Pearse seems to fill every inch of his atelier, where we find the most rock and roll of tailors propped up against his counter, conversing easily and charmingly with a glamorous Italian couple.
In the old days, a customer may enter a tailor’s atelier , ask for something he saw there and be told: “Its been spoken for”. Of the few exquisite garments on view, no two are the same, no detail identical. This “whole different thing” is the world of bespoke.
John Pearse is simultaneously friendly and distant, casual and assertive. His measured movements seem to have grand effect somehow and behind the apparently scant attention, you become aware that very little escapes his notice.
John asks about the wedding and informed by our two hours with Philip Start, we have a better idea of what we want. He produces swathes of beautiful light wool and cashmere. He disappears into deep cupboards, climbs to high shelves and delves into drawers, emerging with brilliant and rich linings. When the burst of activity stops, he stands still, cups his chin, swings one ankle over the other and fixes his eyes on Tim.
The Pearse beam dissects his client’s body into wafer-thin slices and in about a minute using just four or five words, he describes the suit, summing up with “oh, and it’ll be fabulous.” Then he smiles, and is on the move again, apparently taken up with something else and leaving us to our own devices.
Tim and I confer; he confesses readily to having no capacity for visualisation so we ask John to sketch something. With some amusement, he draws a rough suit jacket on a scrap of paper and when asked for any other images of stuff he’s made, unearths a folder saying: “I only really keep the more esoteric things,” and reveals cuttings of his work defining the figures of some of the world’s most rogueish men of music and letters.
Agreeing to make contact in a few days, we take leave of the enigmatic and brilliant John Pearse and make our way to Hix on Brewer Street to digest our findings – and some of the best British food in London. The Scottish waitress here is friendly, informed, calm and lovely, providing service apposite to the quality of the menu. Tim finds a Pinot Noir from Oregon, where Amanda is from and which she loves, but in her absence we order a full and fruity Montepulciano, one of my hot favourites. Ten out of ten to the Hix wine buyer.
Lunch is thoroughly relaxed and congenial; Tim and I review our day and agree that the very successful meetings have raised different options. We debate the merits of each approach and settle on a draft ideal scenario, to be confirmed – or not – by our final appointment, Timothy Everest in Bruton Place.
We arrive on the dot of 4.30pm, to be greeted by Julian who announces “I’d offer you a glass of champagne, but we finished it yesterday.” He asks us about the wedding suit and proffers some swatches, which he says are “nice”. “Its his wedding,” I say. “Can’t we do better than nice?”
Things pick up when Julian finds some fabrics more in tune with our sense of occasion, but a regular customer arrives and they become involved in the business of a new suit or two. While we wait, I discover my iphone is nearly out of juice and Julian kindly removes the Everest ipod from its sound dock so I can charge my phone.
By the time the other meeting is concluded, we’ve identified some fabrics and linings. Tim finds something, which I agree is exuberant and lovely. “But you can’t have it,” I tell him (it’s the wrong colour). Julian joins us to embark on a debate about the suit’s shape, form, price and timing and tells us that Everest “has more bespoke business than we’ve ever had,” so it might take longer than usual – although it’s entirely possible in our still generous time frame not least because Everest’s bespoke is made in Spitalfields.
We head out into Bond Street for a quick spin around the Ralph Lauren bespoke floor but find Tim’s “regular guy” isn’t there and the prices a percent or few higher than the independent tailors we’ve already engaged with.
Tim and I make our way to Claridges where an elegant Amanda is waiting with some Very Cold Champagne – and a new hat for Ascot. Flushed with success, we describe our day and present our decision: a bespoke wedding suit from John Pearse and a made-to-measure honeymoon suit from Mr Start, giving us the perfect outcome with clever people we like and trust.
With Start measurements already in the book, we can press the button on the honeymoon suit immediately and schedule just one fitting before delivery. The Pearse number will get going when Tim returns to London in a couple of weeks but will take less time to make because it is crafted “round the corner” in Soho.
Superficially, Tim and Amanda’s wedding is providing me with fabulous and interesting days out, beautiful restaurants and sophisticated cocktails. Responsibility notwithstanding, the matter of orchestrating their sartorial splendour is tremendous fun.
The greatest pleasure however, is that in the process, I’m getting to know my friends better than ever and glimpse the layers of love and affection that exist between them. When it comes to friendship, you really can’t get more privileged than that.
© Giovanna Forte
- Maker’s mark: A new generation of artisans are reviving arts and crafts (independent.co.uk)
- British Style Genius (tweedvixen.wordpress.com)