As a modern day gent, one of the first things you should have in your wardrobe is a high-quality white shirt. And where better to get one from than 132-year-old house Turnbull & Asser, the shirtmaker who others have been measuring themselves against for over a century?
Thanks to its superbly-cut products, and having made appearances in the press and on the big screen since the Twenties, the historic outfitter has garnered a legion of fans and has dressed some of the most renowned figures in entertainment and politics, including Andy Warhol, John Lennon and Ronald Reagan. Here, we take a look behind this world-renowned menswear master.
The brand was founded in 1885 by John Arthur Turnbull (not Reginald Turnbull as common myth would have you believe) and Ernest Asser, who were, at the time, a hosier and a salesman, respectively. Originally opened as a hosiery under the name “John Arthur Turnbull” in London’s St. James’s (an area which played host to a cluster of top-end haberdashers and members-only clubs), the shirtmaker then changed its name to “Turnbull & Asser” in 1895.
Eight years later, following its booming business and the passing of John Turnbull, the company closed its shutters and relocated to the premises at 71 and 72 Jermyn Street – the location it still remains in. During the First World War, the label gained further fame having crafted the “The Oilsilk Combination Coverail and Ground Sheet” (which was effectively a 12 ounce raincoat which doubled as a ground sheet) for the British Military, and, in response to the fact that clothes began to become more informal throughout the Twenties, began to focus on aspects other than just dress shirts: from then until the 1970s, Turnbull & Asser expanded into clothing (both custom-made and off-the-peg) and sportswear.
Throughout the Sixties, T&A became the go-to brand for the Swinging London crowd thanks to its modern-fitting and boldly-designed garments, including its famous silk turtleneck shirt. Moreover, in 1962, the company garnered attention after having dressed Sean Connery’s James Bond in Dr. No.
“The Bond look was quite bold” says Paul Cuss, the man who cut Connery’s shirts, “Up until then, collars had been quite shallow, but for Bond we made them much higher with a medium spread. I think the first order was for seventy-two shirts made from Sea Island Cotton. For every scene, we made six identical shirts for Sean Connery.”
Connery’s dress shirts, with their turnback cocktail cuffs that were fastened with buttons rather than cufflinks, quickly became legendary within style circles. And so began Turnbull & Asser’s long-term relationship with the 007 franchise; most recently, Daniel Craig was filmed wearing a special edition white cotton T&A shirt and bow-tie in Casino Royale.
Following its success as a contemporary trendsetter during the 1960s, Turnbull & Asser then began to channel its energies back into more traditional clothing and also started to expand its presence across the Atlantic; it held court at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City, began selling ready-to-wear shirts in department stores such as Bonwit Teller and even opened a small store in Toronto, Canada in 1979. Today, alongside its three stores in London, the label also boasts an outpost in Manhattan.
In 1980, The Prince of Wales awarded his first royal warrant to the firm (the first ever warrant he ever gave), and today won’t call on any other shirt maker. Charles’ sons have also followed their father’s style cues and have been wearing T&A since childhood; notably, Prince Williams’ entire engagement photo outfit was bought from there.
Alongside the Royals, T&A also boasts a clientele that’s included the likes of Winston Churchill, Alexander McQueen and Eric Clapton.
The simple fact that the house uses the highest-quality materials found within British shores: its team of cutters and makers work in a factory in Quedgeley, Gloucester (here, workers will produce 70,000 shirts per year), all knitwear comes from a Scottish cashmere specialist and the silk (which is used for ties) is woven in Suffolk.
Moreover, the method of production (which is the same as it was 132 years ago) is in a league of its own; other brands aren’t even playing the same sport. In-store, T&A’s gentlemanly staff measure your torso, trace the resulting pattern on to a paper template and email the result to Quedgeley. Then, once the fitting is done, customers are given a plethora of design options. The collar options, for example, range from a Canonbie to a Regent and are made with a fused lining in order to ensure an unrivalled level of style and comfort.
The shirt is then crafted from 34 individual pieces of fine cloth and 13 mother of pearl buttons (all of which are sewn on with a fused wrap to guarantee that they never come off) and is made to go through rigorous quality checks throughout the whole manufacturing process.
The final design is a garment that won’t gape, pull or chafe, with buttons that never loosen and a collar that will always remains sharp and wearable.
Shirts aside, the label has also expanded its range and now has a portfolio that includes sleepwear, suiting, pocket squares, silk dressing gowns, velvet smoking jackets and other accessories.
Today, although many are convinced that high street retail is on the decline, it’s safe to say that Turnbull and Asser – a brand that has witnessed two world wars, six British monarchs and now Brexit – is here for many, many years to come.