RUSSELL & HODGE
Penny-pinching folk will tell you that bespoke shirts are a needless extravagance. Do not believe them. By going to a good maker, you will be able to choose the exact pattern and style you want. The level of workmanship will be impressive and the fit will be exemplary. There will be an end to the ‘making do’ which is so often necessary with ready-to-wear shirts. And – most important for those of us who take a keen interest in these matters – you will be able to specify those details which transform the business of dressing from a chore into a delight. This is why I am so happy to be able to recommend to you the firm of Russell & Hodge.
Kerry Ford (pictured), the Managing Director, started the business about 20 years ago. Originally, it was in Jermyn Street, London’s most famous address for shirts. Now it is in Windmill Street. This is a convenient location – particularly if you like good food, for the Michelin two-star restaurant Pied-à-Terre is just around the corner in Charlotte Street, so a good lunch can be had after a visit to your shirt-maker. Mr Ford is an affable fellow, and rightly proud of the fact that every part of the process of turning the fabric into a finished shirt is done on his premises. Years ago, this could have been said of many bespoke shirt-makers, for it was quite usual to have a workroom at the back of the shop. Now, I think it makes Russell & Hodge unique. Once the material for your shirt is at Windmill Street, it does not leave until it has been transformed into a completed garment.
The type of cotton used for your shirts is of importance. Russell & Hodge use only two-fold Egyptian cotton (grown in Egypt) with a yarn count of 100+ or Sea Island cotton (grown in the West Indies) with a yarn count of 160-200. The former is used for day wear and the latter – which creases more easily – for evening shirts. These cottons are woven in the Acorn Mills, in Nelson, Lancashire – although some woven in Italy and Switzerland are also available. If you like to know about these things, the enthusiastic Mr Ford can tell you all about the proper finish which is applied to the hundreds of materials he offers, and how those who use cheaper fabrics are doing their customers a serious disservice. It will be no surprise to you that only buttons made from real mother of pearl are countenanced here.
I was a little surprised at how long it took to be measured. But then, Mr Ford is a thorough man and 15 separate measurements had to be taken and recorded. As we are here in the realm of proper bespoke, a paper pattern was then made, which was unique to me and from which my shirts would be created – each shirt going through the sewing machine twice to ensure strong seams. Shirts cost £145 each (including VAT), with a minimum first order of three. I chose four, all stripes – pink, yellow, blue and black.
Now we come to those details I like so much. The shirts would have long tails, for there are few things so irritating as fronts and backs which ride up during the day. The sleeves also would be longer than some might stipulate, as I like to ‘show cuff’ below the sleeves of my jacket. (Have you noticed that many gentlemen now wear jackets with sleeves that reach to their knuckles? This ghastliness seems to have come from the ‘designer’ suits, which are frequently so ill-fitting that they make me want to laugh aloud.) The cuffs themselves would be separate (‘surgeon’s cuffs’), attached to the sleeves by four buttons. (The pictures illustrate the arrangement quite well.) This enables the cuffs to be turned easily and gives them a pleasing weight and smart appearance. The collars would also be separate and of a moderate cutaway design. I usually wear white separate collars, starched very stiffly, but occasionally I do wish to wear a matching collar, so it is essential I have one for each shirt.
Clearly, there is no possibility whatever of finding off-the-peg shirts with all these features. Thus is bespoke not only desirable but necessary.
The yellow shirt was made first. I collected this and then wore it and had it washed a couple of times. This sensible arrangement allows for adjustments to be made after shrinkage. I found that the collar was slightly too large and that the sleeves were a little too long. I returned the shirt for modification, and, two weeks later, all four shirts were ready – expertly made, fitting perfectly and complete with all those special features. They also had a feature for which I had not asked. My initials were embroidered on the shirt label (pictured). I have never had this done previously, and my inclination would have been against it. But, now that it is done, I find I quite like it. And it is certainly useful for the laundry.
So, bespoke shirts are not a needless extravagance. They are an essential part of a gentleman’s wardrobe. But be sure that you go only to a maker who really knows what he is doing – like Kerry Ford at Russell & Hodge. Then you will never look at a ready-to-wear shirt again.
RUSSELL & HODGE
3 Windmill Street, London W1T 2HY, England.
Telephone +44 (0)207 580 7655
Fax +44 (0)207 580 7655
Bespoke shirts from £145
Minimum first order of three