Close
Conde Nast Traveler Concierge.com

« In the Channel Islands, Feudalism is for the Birds | Main | Soggy Olde England »

May 16, 2007

In London: Goodbye Cargo Pants, Hello Savile Row

Bespoke_80days
Now in London, the author says goodbye to cargo pants

The overnight ferry from Guernsey arrives in Portsmouth at 6 a.m. I got up, therefore, at 5:30 a.m., and when I looked in the mirror that morning, I thought of one man: Laurent Derame.

You will not remember Laurent because I never told you about him. He is a French hairdresser who lives in London and I met him in Mongolia, as one does. It was dusk, I had just returned from my excursion into Hustai National Park where I saw rare Mongolian wild horses, and there was Laurent, standing outside his ger and sipping a glass of white wine. "I found a lovely bottle of Bordeaux in the bar," he said by way of introduction. "Would you like a glass?" It was practically a rhetorical question.

Lookingbad_80days
"80 Days or Bust" face

Laurent and I shared a few glass of Bordeaux that night and traded travel stories. I had cause to think of Laurent in Russia and by the time I hit Turkey, my thoughts turned to Laurent every time I looked in the mirror. The problem was my hair. It was getting long, and in my case that means bushy and rounded and quite unsightly. In Greece I emailed Laurent. I would be passing through London, I told him. Would I be able to get a haircut? Mais oui.

And so the setting of our friendship changed from a ger camp four hours out of Ulaan Bataar to a trendy salon in Mayfair called Michaeljohn. He looked just as he did in Mongolia: smiling and well groomed, but no wine this time. His assistant, Sophie, washed my near-80-day old lid then escorted me to Laurent's chair, where the master set about pruning it into back into acceptable form. He cut away hair growth from the Midwest, the South Pacific, China, Mongolia and Russia, and left a shapely coif none of which, I figure, was older than Moscow.

Gettinghairwashed_80days
Keep the dreads

This was just the first act in a vanity-themed day in London. The next stop was just down the road, on a street called Savile Row, which you will know as the world's throbbing heart of bespoke tailoring, where gentry have been coming to buy fancy outfits for something like 200 years.

Bespoke is a fancy word for made-to-measure, and I have owned a grand total of one bespoke suit in my life. The problem is that I didn't own it for very long. Here is the short version of what happened: In the summer of 2001, my wife and I were engaged to be married. I didn't want to wear a tuxedo to my wedding because a) the world "tuxedo" is a very tacky word b) I'm not in the habit of wearing pants with racing stripes running down the side and c) a good suit looks better than a good tux. As fate had it, a friend worked at the Toronto office of Ermenegildo Zegna who could get me a bespoke Zegna suit for a very good price. I got the suit, I got married, but then, less than a year after the wedding, I got robbed.

It was a break-and-enter, and one of the possessions that was stolen was my bespoke suit. (Getting robbed is a miserable experience, no doubt, but getting robbed by a thief with good taste makes it a tad more bearable.) I promised myself that I would one day own another bespoke suit. That day, I thought, wouldn't come for a very long time. But here I was in Mayfair, freshly coiffed and with an expense account. Now seemed as good a time as any.

Meandlaurent_80days
Laurent Derame, my compadre from Mongolia

The question, of course, was which tailor? Men have been coming to Savile Row to buy suits since the early 1900s, and as is often the case in England, many of the tailors appear to still be living in the century. These people make nice clothing, make no mistake. But to pull off a traditional Savile Row suit you need to run an investment bank, order £200 bottles of red wine at lunch and start sentences with "I say old boy...," even when talking to your wife.

Luckily, a new store had just opened called Richard James Bespoke. It sits just across the street from the Richard James flagship store, which is where the fashion-minded junior investment bankers shop for clothes. (English men don't start dressing and talking like their fathers until their mid 40s, at which point there's no turning back.) A lot of celebrities have their suits made by Richard James, and a few of them are people I actually like--Paul McCartney, Daniel Craig, Richard E. Grant--and one or two I'm not so fond of, like that idiot from Oasis.

Meandrichardjames_80days
Richard James and his new client

Measurement_80days
Taking the measurement--who knew that Mongolian goat was so fattening?

For a man who's crafted suits for men far handsomer and wealthier than myself, Richard James is both friendly an downright approachable. We began by reviewing rolls of fabric. Pinstriping was decided against right off the bat. The idea of a blue suit was floated and struck down. Richard suggested I might look good in a fabric called sharkskin, so named not because, like the hide of a shark, it has a sheen but manages not to have a shine. It was medium grey and I held a section of it against my arm and liked the way it looked.

What distinguishes a bespoke suit from one that's off-the-rack is the same thing that distinguishes a fine raw-milk cheese from a Kraft single. One is handmade, the other comes off a line. The idea with bespoke is to craft it from the ground up with wearer's body in mind. Thus, the measurement process is as much about taking down the lengths arms and legs as it is diagnosing bodily quirks and anatomical asymmetries. The good news was that  I was "even on the shoulders," which meant that neither shoulder sloped more than the other, an affliction that affects roughly half of all men and results in a suit's buttons not matching up with the holes. But that's not to say my shoulders were without deformity. They were, in fact, "square," which is a polite way of saying I have bad posture. On a regular off-the-rack suit, square shoulders causes that little nub of cloth to bunch up between the shoulder blades. More alarmingly, I was a size 40 in the shoulders, but my body tapered to 39 inches at the chest-I'm not much of a weight lifter. Curiously, I appeared to be longer in the torso than most men of my size.

The suit itself would be hand sewn one floor below, a process that would take roughly six weeks. Itching for more immediate satisfaction, I asked Richard if I could try on an already-finished suit, just to give me some idea how I would appear in the final product. He brought out a grey suit-slightly darker than my own-along with a shirt and tie, and I stepped into the changing room.

Newly attired, I stepped out and asked Richard how I looked. Here is a man, after all, who's seen the likes of Ralph Fiennes, Jude Law, and Tom Cruise in a suit. "Like chalk and cheese," he said, and by this he didn't mean that I looked like chalk or like cheese, or like some combination of the two. It's an English expression based on the idea that cheese is far preferable to chalk, and in Richard James's estimation, I looked like chalk when I walked in, but now I looked like cheese. Coming from him, it meant a lot.

Posted at: N 51 30.674 W0 08.437

Comments

excellent activity - a nice suit should always be in one's waredrobe. sorry about the burglary. btw, you should of tried to get a suit in hong kong. they have excellent tailors there.

Hi Mark,

I've been reading this blog since the beginning but haven't really commented; however, I've enjoyed it immensely. In fact, it's become something of a habit to check for an update to the blog right after I check my work email!

That said, it occurred to me that you must be getting close to day 80 (which I'm sure you're ready for, but the rest of us will be sad to see this end!). How many days do you have left on your trip?

"that idiot from Oasis." Nice try; "justindr660" can't be monitoring otherwise you'd probably have another "Eurotrash" thread on your hands. Hopefully you haven't left London yet: try and find an Eel-and-Pie shop and do a 'foodie' entry a la Italy (OK, so UK ain't like Italy but it'd make a picture - Note: get 50 pts for explaining "Liquor")

Mark,

You are an awesome writer ! I simply love and admire your blog. Its is the best form of travel writing.
I do not blame you at all for four personalized impressions about germans or eurotrash. I think it takes guts to write what you do, way you do and that happens only because you are sure of what you are writing.
Thank You !!

Pls keep writing. I am not sure if I am moving out of India this summer but I sure would get enough excitement out of your blog.

Smita

Upon your return, I will come by your house leave your backdoor open and place a trail of Reese's Pieces up to your closet containing this new piece of high class POMey schmata.

Upon your return, I will come by your house leave your backdoor open and place a trail of Reese's Pieces up to your closet containing this new piece of high class POMey schmata.

Upon your return, I will come by your house leave your backdoor open and place a trail of Reese's Pieces up to your closet containing this new piece of high class POMey schmata.

What if I like Kraft singles?

England, still day dreaming and reading on......

I am very satisfied with Pinky Tailor Bangkok.. www.pinkytailor.com
They have many materials to choose from and there workmanship is really good ! .. so if you guys have a chance to visit Bangkok then don't forget to visit his shop and email me how you think his shop is at quiero_las_nubes@hotmail.com

click to post a comment >

About this blog
The editors at Conde Nast Traveler answer questions and share travel secrets, tips, and dispatches

Twitter: CNTraveler
RSS: RSS Feed
Email: Daily updates

WEEKLY TOPICS
RECENT COMMENTS


UPDATES ON TWITTER

TRAVEL BLOGS
Featured in Alltop

Prices and other information were accurate at press time, but are subject to change. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.

EXPRESS SIGN-UP Sign up for one of our exciting panels and receive the latest news, travel offers, and event invitations from Condé Nast Traveler and our valued advertising partners.

http://www.cntpromo.com/ex.asp
Traveler Magazine

My Concierge.com

Advertisement

Advertisement

I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its User Agreement, Privacy Policy, and Mobile Terms and Conditions.

 
iPhone App:

Create personalized postcards out of your favorite travel photos!

Learn More ›
Subscribe to our free RSS feeds:

Get the latest destinations picks, hot hotel lists, travel deals and blog posts automatically added to your newsreader or your personalized homepage.

Learn More ›

Special Advertisement

Contests, Sweepstakes & Promotions