Anderson & Sheppard Coat Part II
Two minutes and four seconds in, Pontiac boot down, music builds, and Tony Bennett clears his throat.
Regardless of what happens, and over the course of the next few hours, Henry Hill & his cohorts are despicable. The scene is set, and you will forever remember that opening.
Now, you have no intention of being a gangster, and although it is an iconic moment, it is only a film.
So why is it, each time I close the boot of my car, that song threatens to play in my head?
That’s the genius of Martin Scorsese. Using his medium, sound and vision to perfect effect. Giving you a taste of the story and hooking you from the off.
Whatever your medium, understanding and using it is the skill. Eking every last drop out of what is available to you, to create moments, which last far into the future and which drift in and out of your subconscious.
It is why extraordinary objects, artworks all, filled with emotion and outside of the normal and expected realm of emotional stomach flippers get to us.
We know and expect and are grateful for the major emotional moments in life, because they remind us of our mortality and that we are alive.
But, those tiny moments, the unexpected, those normal moments, aided, abetted and improved by the work and skill of others. Well they are the tonic to the bland and mundane.
Great chefs and restaurateurs know this. The theatre of the object and the setting. So do great painters, photographers, writers, all artists. They understand that the ability to pulse volcanic emotion into an object, a place, an idea, the whole package working harmoniously. This is what elevates and makes those who participate wish to return.
Great brands know this as well. From Ralph to Supreme, those that succeed know the importance of creating your own world and understand that it only succeeds if it makes sense, if it is right.
But a tailor, that’s a collective brand and a team of individual artists.
There’s that ‘authentic’ word that probably should be uttered at this juncture, but, authentic and its derivatives are catch all’s, often used to talk about clothing. One quick point, there is no such thing as inauthentic clothing, the sheer fact it exists makes it authentic. Oh and don’t get me started on honest, crafted, real and all other forms of marketing half speak.
When a brand is right, it applies to everything. From the store experience, the smell, the packaging, the staff, the temperature, the quality of the drinks on offer, the music (or thankful lack of), the till system, the receipt scenario, and the after care. Always the after care.
Bespoke is a three step consumer process. The before, the during, and the aftercare.
Outside of direct perishables, all retail should be a three step process, but often isn’t.
Bespoke by its very nature has to be.
Of the three, aftercare is perhaps where we ought to start. Oft ignored it is what keeps men coming back and weirdly, for our supposed world of service and consumerism, is least expected.
So two Wednesdays ago my day started simply, quick, stood by the bar espresso in Termini before walking over to a meeting.
After that I had a bit of time to kill. Time to kill is dangerous. Vital for the creative process, lethal for the bank balance.
Time to kill is usually where I end persuading myself that I will struggle to live another day without purchasing whatever particular trinket and bauble has caught my eye.
Thankfully I turned down Old Burlington Street and was saved. After a brief hand conversation with William Lo, through the window I was stood next to Captain Morgan’s portrait on the wall of Number 32.
Number 32 Old Burlington Street is Disneyland.
In your head imagine a British Savile Row Tailors, their offices, workrooms and fitting rooms, then look at 32, if it’s not the same then, your imagination has been dulled.
From the noise the bell makes as you walk in through the door, wood floor the colour of well-loved mink suede, walls which twist from turmeric root to blood orange as the light moves, walls dotted with pall mall portraits, and with the imposing (and other) Captain Morgan leaning against his horse.
One large window across the front, HRH Prince Charles’ Warrant painted beautifully proud, in the bottom left hand corner, two mannequins placed high, featuring the day’s specialities and natural light streaming. This is the place to study cloth. The light is true and fair. Many a poor pre-arrival decision has been averted by contemplation in this window.
The large sofa in the middle is surrounded by the papers of the day, plus the odd copy of Vanity Fair or a book sent in by a customer. Ben Schott’s latest Jeeves was top of pile when last in, confirming the passage about the heroes tailoring haunts.
To the right of the fireplace a selection of wool and cotton accessories, the precursor to 17 Clifford Street. To the left, a couple of shelves filled with order books, from Picasso to Jenkins. All are carefully documented, measurements saved, addresses stored. Of course there are the modern trappings of computer and phone, but these seem secondary.
As you turn right, you can see, right at the end, the test kitchen, 3 Michelin starred; the cutting room, bathed in light. Before you process towards the light, behind curtains a couple of changing rooms that Queen Anne would have kicked Inigo Jones for not providing her with, surrounded by banks and books of cloth, with commissions ready to go out hanging.
The cutting room, well that’s as imagined and more. Hanging patterns surround a stag’s head which gazes around a corner as the large tables cover the lighter, worn, wood floor. There’s that buzz, the electrical charge running throughout the room, shears moving swiftly and smoothly, chalk snaking their path.
At the back left hand side, stairs taking you down to works rooms and storage areas. Hardly visited but no less fascinating, this is where artistry and craft becomes reality.
It fascinated me the first time I walked in and it has fascinated me ever since. There is always something new to see, some new question to ponder, the truest sensory overload that needs repeat visits to soak up the atmosphere.
So there I stood, glass of water in one hand and chatting about life, showing photos, asking and answering questions, talking about dogs and then more importantly my new coat. Worn that day with A&S Boatbuilder in green, white Orslow 107s & Edward Green Dovers.
In the end I was there for nigh on an hour wandering about, taking photos, chatting with everyone, going through cloth books and discussing timings for a couple of things I had in mind. All of this as my coat had a press, a press they suggested. Because that’s the skill, knowing something before the customer, anticipating their next move, their next request catered for before the thought has entered their brain.
I stepped out that day full of the joys of a bright spring morning, ready to take the world on and further enamoured.
Earlier I mentioned Disneyland, to some that’s an idea of a dream holiday, to others a nightmare day out filled with people in animal costumes, but to my mind I see a core central idea which has morphed and grown but never lost that initial aim. Every part of the growth has made sense, it respects the tradition of the initial idea and strengthens it.
And that is what a great brand does. Yes there are plenty of fancy, well designed stores, but the product makes no sense. Counter to that plenty of brands filled with great product have lousy retail spaces, but truly great brands, have a store, factory, workspace which makes sense for the product, enables it to sing and to remove any obstacles preventing those who work there to carry out their jobs to best of ability.
That’s what 32 Old Burlington Street does. Yes, it’s a beautiful space, but a space in which everything makes sense and is filled with purpose.
It’s also back to what Scorsese knew that you have to have all the elements in place to draw and keep the viewer.
Before we get to the heart of the process, a quick aside on curb appeal, one of the topics which I’m often asked about. I don’t mean Phil & Kirstie suggesting how best to sell your house, but what makes a person of means stop and look through a window and what makes him walk through the door. Or perhaps a better way, what stops him from walking through the door. Because once in the door, the scene is set, and you live and die by your service and product.
As I’ve touched on previously, if this is a world where tailoring no longer is the expected daily uniform, then those selling it have had to be seen to change. Although there is an argument that many of the more casual commissions have always existed.
From websites, windows, mannequins to social media, tailors have had to engage with their consumers in ways unimaginable a generation ago. Long gone are the draped covered windows. The hush hush world of tailoring is open and progressive.
There is still a problem with getting guys through the door though. One of the issues is that if you are a successful individual, the lord of your own realm, then you expect certain things, and the unexpected or more aptly unexplored is not one of them.
Therefore, in another series, I will be talking with the key protagonists across the handmade sector in the hope of allaying some fears.
In the meantime…
Step 1: September 13th, 2018.
Through the door, scanned the room, kinda looks as normal. I’m ok. No two headed monster waiting to tell me to leave.
I’ve been in this room, a thousand times for a variety of things, but for some weird subconscious moment, given that day’s purpose, I was convinced a magical revolving door would eject me again.
“Would you like a drink Mr Jenkins?”.
“Water would be great, thanks, please, I’m happy with Daniel”.
“Of course Mr Jenkins”.
Glass of water in hand, what followed was a conversation between myself and Colin Heywood A&S managing director and head cutter Danny Hall about what I was looking for, my requirements, any general thoughts.
Nothing, that was the thing. I hadn’t thought about it, hadn’t allowed myself to. Partly because I wanted to trust in the professionals and partly because often instinctive opinions and thoughts are your truest desire.
Plus, I wanted to be led by the cloth. The cloth is key. It’s what takes something from merely a piece of 3D architecture to a familiar friend.
Going through the various books, using my years spent as a buyer trying to envisage how things would turn out & having my head turned by something I deep down had known I’d pick.
The new house Shetland standard tweed from Woven in the Bone.
Now I was aware of the Woven in the Bone cloth from genesis. I remember it being commissioned and seeing photos of it being woven, but only when you see it in the flesh do you understand quite how clever it is. Nothing is flat, it’s a riot of colour and texture.
Cloth picked, we discussed what I was looking for, something that was equally at home in both of my lives, country and city. Two button, notch lapel sports’ coat. A tool, grafter, but gracious. Something suited for persuading my peers that I’m now lord of the manor and persuading the dog it’s time to go home from the pub.
With my tweed draped regally over my shoulder I find myself inside the first fitting room, surrounded by mirrors and light. A room Queen Anne would have liked.
What follows is the taking of a carefully choreographed series of measurements. Both by Danny Hall, and although not making trousers this time, John Malone the head trouser cutter.
It’s a surprisingly peaceful experience, shipping forecast meets test match special. Followed by a couple of questions and a few compliments about my figure and time spent playing sport, normally I’m not one to turn down a compliment. Sadly, this time, thought it best to inform it is purely genetic misfortune. Then a more general chat, about life, dogs, people we knew.
And then, that was it.
Sign the book, sort out the necessary and first fitting in a couple of months.
Back out on the street, in a bit of a daze. What was that? A whirl? Turned out I had spent quite some time in there, but it was well and cleverly done and I felt at such ease that it seemed like mere moments.
Couple of months pass and a phone call from the extremely charming William Lo informing me that my coat was ready for its first fitting. So appointment made and there I was back in the fitting room awaiting ‘its’ arrival.
So, this is where Anderson & Sheppard differs from many tailors, in that what is usually fitting 2 for most others is first fitting at A&S. No need to make a dummy, you’re in the majors now.
Another chat about dogs, life, cars, the world.
Coat appears, and is slipped on.
I’m taken aback by how fully formed it looks and feels, whilst trying not to look, preferring the professional to assess with trained eye. But can’t help it. Neck looks pretty much spot on. The rest, well it’s kind of there, I know it’s a mass of thread, chalk marks, exposed collar, but I’ve paid a lot of money for things I thought fitted well in the past which come nowhere near this. That said, Danny isn’t happy, the chalk’s out, marks being made, comments noted, step backed glances made, angles discussed.
And coat is off.
I now spend an age contemplating buttons, I’d wanted to wait until had seen the coat one fitting in. Doing my usual routine, chatting and distracting everyone in the cutting room & eventually picking the button I saw first. Classic manoeuvre.
For the button collectors amongst you, we’re talking matt horn in a decent organic slightly cloudy honey brown colour. Think Daylesford meets Heytesbury Village shop.
Another month passes and the phone rings. Ready for final fitting. Hop, skip and jump later and as you may have guessed by now, I’m stood wearing the coat. Danny still not happy, it’s just a tiny bit out, to the naked eye perfect, but not a chance he’d let me out. Few more photos, bit more dog chat and, you know the rest.
This time when the phone rings, it’s a bit different, no more fittings, the coat is ready, finished, pressed, perfect.
So here I am, stood proud, slipping arms into a coat that weirdly feels like it has been made for me…
The 5 year old in me would happily wear it straight out the shop, but that’s not sensible, so into Turkish coffee brown A&S suit carrier and off I go into the night, with an understanding that I should wear it for a while and let them know how I get on and that it will change with wear.
In Part III, we get to that, the coat itself, what sets it apart and the art of those that made it.
Should you have missed it, Part I is here.