BESPOKE COUNTRY SUITS
HENRY POOLE & CO.
A visit to a tailor on Savile Row should be an occasion of calm and serenity. Here, of all places in the desert of this noisy and nasty world, we should find an oasis of civilization. Yet today, sadly, this is not always the case. There is at least one tailoring establishment on the Row which has transformed its premises into something like a discothèque. Such ‘progress’ might appeal to some. It does not appeal to me. But there remain some certainties in life, thank Goodness. One is that Henry Poole & Co. (founded in 1806) will never succumb to the temptations of such vulgarity. This is the firm, after all, which can justifiably claim to have begun ‘Savile Row’. To enter number 15 is to be surrounded by the Tailoring Virtues – decency, respect for tradition and fine craftsmanship. Today’s cult of scruffiness – to my mind, the result of moral, intellectual and physical laziness – has no adherents here. Small wonder that I was keen to have my country suit made at Henry Poole.
I must not, however, give the impression that this most prestigious of tailors does not embrace the present time. The charming Mr Angus Cundey (pictured) – the Chairman and Joint Managing Director of the company – is a descendant of Henry Poole himself. His son, Mr Simon Cundey, is also a Director. These gentlemen know, as did their distinguished ancestor, that tradition and progress need not be mutually exclusive. Thus the shop has recently been re-ordered, in a subtle and most pleasant way, with a proper respect for history. The eagle of Emperor Napoleon III now has its own alcove, and the gilt-framed Royal Warrants of other former customers (I stopped counting at forty) now adorn the walls in a less haphazard fashion. The basement under the shop and the next-door basement have also been secured as workrooms, so that all the tailoring can now be done on the premises. Indeed, if you look down from the street, you can now often see work being done on some very grand Court uniforms. (Remarkably, there are also plans to make it possible for those who visit the Henry Poole website to search for and to select materials. Samples of these will then be posted to the enquirers. Is this not moving with the times?)
My own choice was made in the old way, by looking through some of the 6,000 or so fabrics which can be seen and handled in the shop. I was guided by the excellent Mr Alan Alexander (pictured), the senior cutter and Director, whose expertise would be crucial in the making of my bespoke suit.
Forgive me, dear reader, if I pause here for a moment to comment upon this word ‘bespoke’. Its origin is simple – deriving from the action of the customer in choosing a piece of cloth, which was thereby ‘bespoken for’ – but it has recently been the cause of some controversy. There are nowadays, largely for commercial reasons, those who use ‘bespoke’ as a synonym for ‘made to measure’. This is a pity. Traditionally, ‘bespoke’ has meant far more than that. In particular, it has required certain techniques in the making of the garment which have been (and are) inevitably time-consuming and expensive. In particular, these have involved the making of paper patterns for the individual customer and the canvassing of the garment by hand, with a floating canvass and not the cheap substitute of a fused interlining (used widely in garments by lesser tailors). To lose this meaning of ‘bespoke’ would be a serious loss. Be assured that at Henry Poole only bespoke tailoring in the traditional sense is countenanced.
So let me proceed to the choice of my material. I must admit at once that I am not one of Mother Nature’s country people. Still, there are occasions when I visit the countryside and I thought that I really did need a suit for such circumstances. The hosts and my fellow guests are off jumping hedges in pursuit of wild animals and I am left to sit about with a few back issues of Country Life and a snifter of single malt. I need to be wearing a good suit, if I am not to look out of place in the Morning Room. Such a suit need not be heavy – indeed, I determined that it definitely must not be heavy, for hunting boxes even in the remotest of locations are heated like greenhouses these days. But it should look as if it could protect me against a force ten gale. Mr Alexander came up with the perfect cloth – green, with a subtle over-check in lines of black, yellow and red and with a weight of only eleven ounces. It was appropriately named, ‘The Glorious Twelfth’, and was made by Porter & Harding in an appropriate place, the capital of North Britain, Edinburgh. Looking at it, I knew that it would also fit in jolly well with all those country suits which surround me each year in Whitehall on January 30th – outside the Banqueting House, at the annual Commemoration of the Martyrdom of King Charles I.
A three-piece suit seemed appropriate. (This meant that the price would be £3,229.43, including V.A.T. A two-piece suit would have been £3,004.87.) I decided upon a single-breasted jacket, with peaked lapels. An extra outside ticket pocket would be on the right side, a single vent would be in the rear and the lining would be red, of the brighter sort. The waistcoat would be single-breasted, with 6 buttons (5 to fasten), a strap and buckle to the rear and an extra (vertical) buttonhole for the chain of my pocket watch. The trousers would have turn-ups, a button fly, straight side pockets, no back hip pocket, a front inside lining, double pleats of the English sort (i.e. facing inwards), a ‘braces back’ and buttons for braces – as always, the front ones outside and the back ones inside (to protect the seat leather of the Royce when I drive jacket-less).
Mr Alexander asked whether I would like the distinctive features of a country suit. I rejected the three cuff buttons, going instead for the usual ‘city’ arrangement of four, all to be working. But I accepted the ‘swelled’ edges to the jacket and waistcoat and the raised side seams to the trousers. If you look carefully at the pictures, you might be able to discern the effect of these country features.
In due course the first, second and third fittings came and went. The length of the sleeves was adjusted, the waist of the trousers and the waistcoat was taken out and the fit around one shoulder was improved. Then, when the perfectionist demands of Mr Alexander were satisfied, it was finished.
I could not be more pleased with the result. As I hope you can see from the photographs, this suit has about it a touch of grandeur. I have been told that it makes me look a little like Evelyn Waugh – which, doubtless, is why I am imitating the great man with the grumpy expression I am wearing in the full frontal view. The fit is first class, and the suit is remarkably comfortable to wear. In every respect it exceeds the high expectations I had at the outset. The workmanship is of the very best. The carefulness with which the buttonholes have been constructed is a joy to behold. And it delights me, at each wearing, to note that the stripes of the check have been aligned at the seam across the shoulders. (There are those who criticise me for advocating this particular harmony. But when I look at what the tailor has achieved, such criticism seems entirely irrelevant.)
It had been my intention to keep this suit for those occasional expeditions to the country. It will certainly be at home in any country house. But I know that the temptation will be too great: it will be also seen on the streets of the city.
My visits to Savile Row for the making of this suit were expeditions of pure pleasure. For what I always found at number 15 Savile Row was an atmosphere of civilized calm. And civilized calm is what I feel when I put on my new country suit. That is why I offer my thanks to Henry Poole & Co., Bespoke Tailors.
HENRY POOLE & CO.
2 piece suits from £2,808.10, including V.A.T.
3 piece suits from £3,018.76, including V.A.T.
Visits are made to various cities in Europe and the U.S.A. (Ask for details.)