BESPOKE THREE-PIECE CITY SUITS
HENRY POOLE & CO.
My photograph brings together two symbols of the Best of British: a real Rolls-Royce and a real Savile Row suit. The former is my 1963 Silver Cloud III, made when the company was still truly British, and the latter is my three-piece City suit made by Henry Poole & Co. These two icons (for once, I think it is justifiable to use the term) are separated by half a century, but both embody in their different ways what we recognise as ‘the best’. In tailoring The Best is still British and it is still Savile Row. And Henry Poole & Co. is Savile Row. Certainly, the street would not have its tailoring associations if Mr Henry Poole had not moved his business there in 1846. Since then fashions have come and fashions have gone, but Henry Poole has remained the finest destination for any gentleman who cares about his appearance. Mercifully, the number of such gentlemen is now increasing once more. The idiocy of ‘dressing down’ (an evil plague which spread with alarming rapidity among persons in the City of London) has abated, and – mirabile dictu! – the three-piece City suit is increasingly the sartorial choice of those with taste and discernment. And for such a suit one can do no better than follow my example and go to Henry Poole.
Indeed, I would venture that the world offers few experiences more pleasurable than that of taking a brisk walk from London’s Piccadilly to the entrance of 15 Savile Row. Here resides the great firm of Henry Poole and Company. Livery tailor to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, recipient of the Queen’s Award to Industry, by special appointment to the late Emperor of France, Napoleon III, and holder, in the two centuries of its existence, of no fewer than 40 royal warrants, Henry Poole has an important place in our history. But it is still run by direct descendants of Henry Poole himself. In fact, Henry Poole & Co. is the only Savile Row firm to have remained family-owned and family-managed since its beginnings. I believe that goes a long way to explain why its standards have been maintained and why the welcome at 15 Savile Row is always so friendly and so courteous. My picture shows Mr Angus Cundey and Mr Simon Cundey, father and son, who maintain the family tradition. These are gentlemen of the Old School, and I salute them.
Another gentleman of the Old School is Mr Alan Alexander, whom you can see in the photographs of the fittings. Mr Alexander is a Senior Cutter and Director of Henry Poole. The relationship with one’s cutter is crucial in the matter of bespoke tailoring. On him do we rely for all that is important in the making of the suit. I have known Mr Alexander for some years, and I admire his knowledge, his expertise and his attention to detail. I rely greatly upon his advice. And he knows my own requirements – not only my shape and the manner in which I wear my clothes, but also those particular likes and dislikes which are my own. For example, he is well aware that I like to have the stripes ‘harmonized’ through the lapels and at the shoulders. This is something which, if it is not to distort the fitting of the jacket, is achieved only with considerable difficulty. But Mr Alexander can do it with the pattern he cut some years ago, which resides in the firm’s archives.
But first, of course, I had to select a cloth. Henry Poole has thousands from which to choose, but I had spoken on the telephone to Mr Alexander before my visit and told him that I was looking for a medium-weight cloth with a distinct stripe on a darkish grey ground. When I arrived, he had therefore already laid out various samples for my perusal. In some ways I find this the most difficult part of the proceedings, but eventually I settled upon a 10 ounce super 120, woven in Huddersfield by J. & J. Minnis from Australian merino wood with 1% Mongolian cashmere. It appears in a collection called ‘Savile Row Classics’.
I wanted a suit which would be marked by what I shall call sober grandeur. It needed to be impressive without being in any sense ‘flashy’, and traditional without giving the impression (which is not entirely a bad impression) of having been passed down from father to son. Let us therefore turn to the details.
The jacket would be double-breasted and would have 5 inch lapels. This is a larger size for the lapels than is normal nowadays, but I think it imparts gravitas. There would be straight side pockets, no rear vent, a scarlet lining and all four buttonholes at each cuff would be working. (Scarlet always lifts my spirits when I put on a jacket, and I have a horror of sham buttonholes.) I decided, upon Mr Alexander’s advice, to have a buttonhole in each lapel. As always at the proper Savile Row tailors, the buttons would be made of real horn.
It is worth at this point turning to the advantages of a three-piece suit. In certain sorts of weather I find a topcoat is too much, but a two-piece suit raises the possibility of a chill. This is when the waistcoat comes into its own. Of course, most interiors are now over-heated, so, once inside, if the heat becomes uncomfortable, I can – discreetly – take off the waistcoat and still be smartly attired in the remaining two pieces of the suit. In this case, the waistcoat would be single-breasted, with no lapel, with four pockets and a strap and buckle to the rear. 5 buttons would fasten, with the 6th to be left open. A hole would be provided for my watch chain.
The trousers would have a braces top (with the button on the outside at the front and on the inside at the rear), an extended waistband with a clip, turn-ups on the 18 inch leg bottoms, double front pleats and an inside lining to the front. The side pockets would be straight. There would be no hip pockets and no fob pocket, for I find such pockets irritating.
With these important matters settled, it was simply a question of attending the fittings so that Mr Alexander could make the numerous adjustments here, there and everywhere which are essential if a suit is to fit as it should. Eventually, it was complete.
I hope the photographs convey what a brilliant piece of work this three-piece City suit really is. I think I am not falling into hyperbole when I call it a masterpiece. It imparts to its wearer a sense of timeless elegance. The fit, the workmanship, the style are all first class. And the price? Three-piece suits at Henry Poole start at £3,900, including V.A.T.. (It is entirely typical of the civilized attitude which prevails at Henry Poole that the additional cost of the waistcoat is very modest. Prices for two-piece suits start at £3,540.) With the particular cloth I chose, the price of my suit was £4,064. Given the remarkable skill and care which went into the making of my suit, this is good value. It will give me pleasure for many years to come.
A three-piece City suit from Henry Poole is the Best of British. It is the (real) Rolls-Royce of suits.
HENRY POOLE & CO.
15 Savile Row, London W1S 3PJ, England.
Telephone +44 (0)207 734 5985
Fax +44 (0)207 287 2161
Two-piece suits from £3,540, including VAT at 20%
Three-piece suits from £3,900
The firm’s cutters make regular tours of Europe and the United States. Ask for details.