The people behind the world’s finest wardrobe essentials

Turnbull and Asser Davies Street team

The modern-day gentleman is chivalrous, astute and respectful, but he’s also well-dressed. In light of this, we ventured behind the scenes of three of Britain’s most eminent purveyors of gentlemanly style.

John Lobb - Bespoke shoemaker and ready-to-wear specialists

Paula Gerbase Creative Director for John Lobb photographed by India Hobson
Artistic director: Paula Gerbase / by India Hobson

You don’t have to be equated with fashion circles to know that shoes are one of the first things people notice about you. Frida Giannini, former creative director of Gucci for nearly a decade, exclaimed passionately: “the first thing I notice about a man are his shoes. Then I look at his watch.” This statement is important for two reasons: 1) during her tenure at Gucci she oversaw some of the most acclaimed collections in the brand’s history, and 2) she’s a woman, and let’s be honest, women know infinitely more about style than us gentlemen do. It’s fitting then, that the new artistic director of John Lobb, one of Britain’s most storied shoemakers, is herself female.

John Lobb originally began life on London’s Regent Street in 1866, offering bespoke shoes for the capital’s well-heeled elite. The bespoke element has always been core to the brand, which expanded to Paris in 1902, opening them up to a wider European audience. It wasn’t until Hermès came on board in 1976 though that John Lobb went worldwide. Since their ready-to-wear collection was unveiled in 1982, John Lobb has opened stores in the USA, the Middle East and Asia, but perhaps more importantly, their fastidious attention to detail and uncompromising quality has remained. Throughout their 150 years, the brand has innovated in their role as market leader and now, with Paula Gerbase at the creative helm, they are set to reach new heights.

John Lobb leather shoes

“Having studied at Central St Martins and trained on Savile Row, the contrast of those two environments informed the foundations of my own brand, 1205, which I continue to creative direct alongside my role as artistic director of John Lobb.

“John Lobb not only has a storied history but an absolute commitment to quality, integrity and continued development of innovative technique. The finest leathers and elegant shapes are used, as are iconic details, subtlety, and masterful technique, contributing to the highest form of boot-making.

“From the outset it has been about innovation and absolute prowess of technique, and we continue to invest in these core values – with innovation and technology comes the expert use of specialised machinery. However, the process of shoemaking itself in terms of the steps it takes to craft a quality shoe or boot remains largely the same.

“There are 190 steps in the making of a pair of John Lobb shoes. Once the finest leathers have been selected, the full-grain leather starts its journey in the clicking room, with various sections cut by hand. Once the leather has been cut, it makes its way to the prep room, where the highly skilled hand-sewing processes take place, as well as any decorative punching on the toe. The next step, the closing room, is where the various elements of the upper are brought together.

“The completed upper is then transferred to the Assembly and Lasting Room, where the shoe begins to take shape, before heading into the Making Room where the signature Goodyear stitching process imbues the shoes with their Northampton-made durability. Only after this can the shoe proceed to the Finishing Room, where many of the finer artisanal elements are added, before the finishing touches are applied.

“The time it takes to produce a single shoe depends on the style of shoe or boot that is being made, however the journey of a shoe through the production process takes some weeks, and many man-hours of painstaking labour.

“We have over 100 people working in the Northampton factory today and continue to invest in the development of local craftsmanship.

HRH Prince of Wales and HRH Duchess of Cornwall at John Lobb Northampton factory
HRH Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall visits John Lobb St James’s

“Inspiration for the ready-to-wear collections comes from the heritage of John Lobb and the house’s history of innovation and movement.

“The Autumn|Winter 2015 collection celebrates the legacy of Lobb’s heroic walk. In 1851, a farmer’s son by the name of John Lobb set foot on what was to become an exceptional journey of accomplishment. Aged 22, Lobb left his home in rural Cornwall and walked to London, carried only by his handmade boots. Honouring the rituals of bootmaking, John Lobb’s renowned seamless whole-cut patterns are key, with wraparound lines evoking the horizon of Cornish moorland. There is a focus on contrasting texture and tone, seen in a wraparound seamless back boot as well as a single buckle shoe with a lightly curved strap.

“The process, the quality, the craftsmanship, the knowhow, the expert use of the finest raw materials and, finally, the human element sets us apart. The collective and very personal knowledge present in the John Lobb Northampton factory and bespoke ateliers is unrivalled.”

Key Facts

– Each RTW pair takes 190 steps to complete

– Bespoke shoes take an average of 50 hours to complete

– The iconic “William” shoe was first designed in 1945

– Famous clients include Prince Charles, Andy Warhol and Frank Sinatra

– John Lobb holds three Royal Warrants

Turnbull & Asser – Bespoke shirtmaker and clothiers

Steven Quin and James Cook Turnbull and Asser
Retail director: Steven Quin. Mayfair store manager: James cook

When one talks of tailored clothing, suits often come to mind first, and perhaps rightfully so; there is no more important outfit in a man’s wardrobe that a well-fitting suit. The classic dress-shirt shirt should not be overlooked though; after all, Batman would be nothing without Robin.

A tailored shirt should complement both one’s outer layers and one’s body, conforming to the lines and angles like a Formula One car does the racing line. In this regard, Turnbull & Asser excels. In fact, they have done so for 130 years.

As much of a British establishment as the red phone box, Turnbull & Asser have made shirts for such exemplary figures as Sir Winston Churchill, Frank Sinatra, Sean Connery, Robert Redford and still to this day, The Prince of Wales, who graced them with a Royal WarrantThe elite level of clientele can, if nothing else, attest to the supreme level of quality that is synonymous with the British heritage label.

Whilst Turnbull & Asser offer ready-to-wear clothing, including an impressive selection of blazers, knitwear and trousers, it’s the brand’s bespoke offering that defines them. Based out of their Bury Street store, a stone’s throw from their beautiful Jermyn Street outpost, the bespoke team combine decades of experience and know-how with the deceivably effortless yet-almost-unobtainable art of making each and every one of their customers look damn good. In the vain hope of uncovering some of their secrets, I spoke to retail director Steven Quin and Mayfair store manager James Cook.

Sean Connery has a Turnbull and Asser shirt fitting by Mr Fish 1962
Sean Connery has a Turnbull and Asser shirt fitting by Mr Fish 1962

SQ: I’ve worked here for 33 years. I started in retail at a shop in Brixton when I was 17 years old, which was a great grounding actually, and then Turnbull & Asser was the next job in 1982.

SQ: When I first started here I was just packing the shelves and wasn’t even allowed to talk to customers for the first six months. I wasn’t allowed to write out receipts or anything like that.

JC: In May 2016 it will be 21 years that I’ve worked here. I wasn’t allowed to talk to anyone for three months, but we were allowed to be on the shop floor to watch and observe.

SQ: We’re not only a shirt retailer but a shirtmaker. We’ve made shirts in England for 60 years and that sets us apart from a lot of other retailers on Jermyn Street. We design a lot of our own fabrics so we have a ‘handwriting’ so to speak – they’re quite colourful and strong with a lot of character.

JC: When a customer comes through the door we have to asses what they’re looking for. Then we go through the collar, chest, waist and hips, before looking for their drop and what the angle of their shoulder is. Today there are lots of things you didn’t have to worry about years ago; watches, jewellery, how they would like their sleeves to be and whether they wear a jacket. Then we just go through the collar styles with them. Once we’ve measured them – that’s the difficult bit – we sit down and go through the cloths with them. It’s a very personal, one-on-one experience, and you get to know someone’s character.

JC: The customer should have their shirt for a good five years, maybe longer if they know how to look after it. We get them addicted and that’s why we have patterns, because everyone has the blue, white and classic stripes, but then they get into the patterns and they start collecting them.

 

Turnbull and Asser white shirt

SQ: If you sat down and had nothing else to do, you could make a shirt in a day. To be more realistic though, the manufacturing process takes about three weeks. Because of the kind of product we make, we don’t want to rush it. We don’t want to make them quickly. We want to make them with care and attention.

JC: You should always invest as much as you can in good quality. It doesn’t have to be the finest, the finest isn’t always the best; you just need a good quality fabric that lasts.

SQ: If you look at Winston Churchill’s pattern or patterns from the 50s and 60s, all shirts were cut straight because people didn’t take their jackets off. You never saw Churchill in his shirt sleeves, and you don’t see the Prince of Wales in his shirt sleeves – he keeps that old tradition alive. People do take their jackets off now, they go to the gym, and they want to show off the contours of their body. Whereas in the past shirts didn’t have much shape to them, now shirts have become more fitted and tailored.

JC: I don’t think shirts have really changed that much, rather we have changed. Years ago, film and media imitated life. Now life is imitating film and the media. As soon as you see a film, people want to have that look from that film.

JC: If you look at British cars, like the Aston Martins, Bentleys, Rolls Royces, there’s a solid beauty – they are built to last, whereas Lamborghinis and Ferraris are very gentle, they have to be in a garage every month to be looked after. And that’s the difference, we build things to last.

Key Facts

– Over 12 measurements are taken during a bespoke fitting

– Buttons are “shanked” on, meaning they should never fall off

– T&A shirts were worn by Connery, Moore, Brosnan and Craig in their respective James Bond films

– Sir Winston Churchill was rarely seen without his T&A navy polka-dot bow tie

– The Prince of Wales awarded his first Royal Warrant to Turnbull & Asser in 1980

Henry Poole – Bespoke tailoring

Henry Poole bespoke tailoring
Brand director: Simon Cundey

The suit has long been a staple of the gentleman’s wardrobe. An elegant, polished, and above all, masculine look, the modern “lounge suit” can be dated back to the early 1900s, when men were breaking free from the confines of Victorian dress, with its frock coats and silk waistcoats.

Early lounge suits were less formal but far more comfortable, and by the time the 1910s came around they were worn widely. The suit as we know it today has been worn, in differing variations, for over a century, but one constant has remained: Savile Row has been the premier destination for well-informed gentlemen since bespoke houses have occupied it from the mid-19th century, and Henry Poole & Co were the first, with both James and Henry Poole considered the “founders” of The Row.

A Henry Poole suit is the epitome of timelessness with their “house cut” boasting the enviable combination of high armholes, a nipped waist and strong shoulders, giving the wearer the impression of a definitively masculine silhouette. It’s no surprise then that Henry Poole has dressed such characters as Charles Dickens, Sir Winston Churchill, King Edward VII and Edward Fox OBE, over the years among others. To uncover their craft and decipher the art of bespoke, I spoke to brand director Simon Cundey.

A bespoke suit construction by Henry Poole Savile Row

 

“I’ve worked at Henry Poole & Co for about 25 years. My first real job came with the Ferragamo family on Bond Street. That’s where my enjoyment of menswear came from.

“There are the big three ‘looks’ of Savile Row. Anderson & Sheppard: the angles of their coat are quite soft and the drape of their sleeve length is very different to what we have here. Huntsman’s: the opposite, very square shouldered, it’s a snappy sort of look. And then we’d be in the middle I suppose. If you look back to Henry Poole himself when he started here in 1846, as well as his father, who were the first founding members of The Row, he invented the ‘lounge’ suit, and it’s that classic, balanced look which is what Poole’s all about.

“We’ve always tried to balance the body and the stature of the person we’re dealing with, but things do change; lapel widths change, button height varies in terms of the size of the gentleman, and the coat can change. We’ve gone from The Pretty Woman years of Richard Gere to Mad Men with the 60s revival. So two extreme looks of fashion, but Poole has always been that ideal suit you can just grab from your wardrobe quite happily.

“We’re very much proud of the fact that our entire suit making process is completed on site. We call it ‘pure bespoke’. You can walk into the showroom and see the cutter in front of you. Then, going to the back of the building, all the ingredients are put together there; the linings and hand silks. Then it gets taken downstairs to your coat, trouser and waistcoat maker.

Henry Poole bespoke detail

“The approximate time to make a suit is about 70 working hours, including the person cutting it out and changing the pattern (between fittings).

“We have about 3,000 fabric choices here. It’s about 80 per cent British cloth, varying from Irish donegal’s, Irish linens, Scottish tweed, Highland tweed, London tweed, cashmere, worsteds from Huddersfield, and then heading down to Exeter with a bit of flannel.

“You’d establish what kind of suit you’re after with a bit of help from ourselves about what sort of shape and drape you’d like. We discuss the weight; whether it’s summer-weight, winter-weight or year-round weight. We discuss the suit and whether it’s for business, or whether it’s a luxury suit, and then from there you’d meet your cutter who would measure you up.

“About two weeks after the initial meeting we’d have your first fitting for posture and your second fitting would happen about two weeks after that. We’d go over the smaller details like the drape, the shape and how much cuff you’d like to show on the sleeves. Then finally, two weeks afterwards, the dressing would take place, where we’d basically just check you over again to make sure everything is 100 per cent.

“Ideally, every gentleman should have about seven suits in his wardrobe to alternate. The ideal first suit would have to be in blue though. Probably a darker navy and perhaps a little bit different from a plain cloth; maybe what’s called a birdseye, a very classic London design. Style-wise, I’d probably go for a single breasted, twin-button with a notch lapel, twin-vented, with flat fronted trousers and no cuffs. Pocket-wise, I’d probably have two at the top, and two facing at the bottom for your cell phone or your business cards, and possibly now a ticket pocket too, straight on the side of the pocket.

“It’s more of the ‘upright’ sort of look that British suits gives you, a little more of a ‘body armour’ as you’d say in the business world. The Italians typically tend to be a little softer, with a little bit more flair and a bit more of a mixed up feel to it. It’s that sort of sharpness you get with a British suit that perhaps you probably don’t with an Italian suit.”

Key Facts

– A total of 3,000 fabrics are available for each bespoke client

– It takes 70 hours on average to complete a Henry Poole suit

– Henry Poole & Co was established over 200 years ago, in 1806

– Every single aspect of the suit making process is completed on site in their Savile Row showroom

– The house invented the “dinner jacket”, or “tuxedo” as it’s known in the USA, in the 1860s

(This article originally appeared in our Autumn 2015 issue, for more like this subscribe here.)

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