LAWTON: Seductive Shirts

The upper echelons of traditional bespoke tailoring are experiencing a refreshing dimension of shirtmaking with the exciting designs from LAWTON. 

LAWTON: Seductive Shirts

In 2022, a special female British bespoke tailor named Kimberley Lawton, as part of London Craft Week, delivered a workshop at the V&A titled Fashion Masculinities: Demonstration by LAWTON. Formerly, along with Joshua, she was one part of Dobrik & Lawton, who were the youngest duo to have a space on Savile Row since Edward Sexton and Tommy Nutter in 1969 – a rather historic feat. 

Back in 1970, it was a time when aristocratic Haute Bohemian characters were colliding with Rockstars in the flamboyant fashion boutiques of Cale Street and Kings Road. There is the iconic picture of George Harrison walking hand in hand with Patti Boyd outside the Granny Takes a Trip boutique, donning a floral jacket inspired by William Morris designs. However, the Swinging Sixties sartorial revolution remained largely isolated from Savile Row. Many individuals in the counterculture yearned for the faultless craftsmanship of Savile Row, mixed with the risqué street fashion of Carnaby Street. Thankfully, Savile Row saw its first new company in over 100 years, and that was Nutter’s of Savile Row, the iconoclastic tailoring firm founded by Sexton and Nutter, who would more than accommodate this tailoring mood. 

Elsewhere, in Beauchamp Place, ironically the street where Sexton moved his atelier for nearly 30 years, there were two ladies called Deborah Wood and Clare Bewicke, using the appellation for their firm of Deborah & Clare, who, like Sexton, decided to inject some avant-garde innervations into traditional bespoke designs, but this time as shirtmakers. What set them apart from the aforementioned boutiques was their refined craftsmanship using superior cloth. Indeed, the legacy of Deborah & Clare is adored in the V&A, where there’s a selection of masterpieces on display, to educate the public on important pieces made during the Swinging Sixties. 

Bryan Ferry, ca. 1975.

At the height of summer 1970, in Miami Eric Clapton found himself gazing over the blue water, knowing his life was at yet another crossroads. Before this contemplation, a friend had gifted him a book named The Story of Layla and Majnun. Written by the Persian poet Nizami, it was the tale of two lovers whose romance was denied by objections from Layla’s father, which resulted in Majnun falling into a tangled web of unhappiness. Clapton had moved to Florida, intending to live with anonymity and produce an album that would somehow win back a lost love. The lady in question was the aforementioned Pattie Boyd, George Harrison's then wife. 

In August of that same year, The Allman Brothers were also in Miami, performing at a concert, and although Clapton was Duane Allman’s icon, the former snuck into the show to witness Duane’s burgeoning and rare guitar-playing talent. After the show, the two guitarists met, and the next day they were jamming together at Criteria Studios. Present at the sessions was Tom Dowd, a distinguished producer at Atlantic Records, who described the scene in the studio as "a four-way conversation; the guitars were talking to each other, and the heads were talking to each other.” 

Eric Clapton and Pattie Boyd, 1976.
Duane Allman Anthology’s cover.

This collaboration was instrumental in the Clapton-formed band Derek and the Dominos recording Layla. Incidentally, Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger were regular clients of Deborah & Clare, and on the front cover of the Duane Allman Anthology (Guitar Recorded Versions) book, he was wearing a sublime art-deco-inspired printed shirt, which was apparently made for Clapton but found its way onto the body of Duane. Later, Clapton invited Boyd to his apartment in Kensington, London, and told her, ‘I’ve got something for you to hear’. He put on a cassette, and it was Layla. At the end of the decade, Clapton married Boyd in Tuscan, Arizona, but the crux of this story is the influence of personal artistry in love. 

Not since Deborah & Clare has there been a British female tailor whose vision has fostered a barometer of subversive change in a male-dominated industry. As of 2022, Kimberley Lawton, who has been trading from her eponymous house, LAWTON, has carved out an aesthetic that masterfully combines the sharp elegance of the art deco movement, the best parts of costume design from Hollywood’s Golden Age, and some of the louche aspects deriving from certain subcultures. And this is all entwined with her methods of bringing a couture-like influence on bespoke creations back to life. 

Kimberley Lawton.

In the sphere of sartorial suit-making, even to the untrained eye, LAWTON’s creations leave one in no doubt that she won two of the most prestigious awards for bespoke tailoring during her degree course at the London College of Fashion. In LAWTON’s archive is a single-breasted two-button Zoot suit in pink for him, which is a testament to her rare talent. But along with her skilled bejewelled hands cutting cloth into mesmerising end products, she has an innate urge to explore the parameters of sensuality and subculture through her highly-inventive work. It was inevitable that a project expressing these desires would emerge, and LAWTON's inaugural shirt collection marks this moment. 

Speaking with Lawton, it emerges that it was the scarcity of women’s shirts benefiting from a strong collar that convinced her to choose made-to-order shirts as her next milestone. Working with luxury fabric mill Thomas Mason in Italy, the voluptuous rouge noir shade of the long point poplin cotton shirt is the result of a six-month bespoke dyeing process, making it unique to LAWTON – a recurring virtue of the House. At very different stages of his life, Mick Jagger embraced this sybaritic shade. He exuded pure hedonism when he lounged intoxicatedly on a sofa at Studio 54 for Bianca's birthday party, wearing a red two-unbuttoned shirt underneath a white suit. The other moment in this shade of shirt was styled for a slimmer silhouette, with black pants and a tie, but blended with a lustrous blue pinstriped jacket – which sounds like a faux pas but emitted a genteel yet eccentric poise. This is the wide-ranging potency of this shirt tone, especially if fitted with a floating canvas construction into the collar and cuff to maintain the strength of its shape, from which LAWTON’s design certainly prospers. For men and women, the long point collar shirt is also offered in a 120/2 weave cotton twill, and exhibiting a soupçon of danger, the noir version is enticing. 

Photography: Faye Fearon.
Mick Jagger lounging intoxicatedly on a sofa at Studio 54 for Bianca's birthday party, wearing a red two-unbuttoned shirt underneath a white suit.
Ingrid Bergman, 1930.

Returning to the Golden Age of the silver screen, there existed then a small troupe of leading ladies whose independence was evident in their clothing choices. People scrutinised Katherine Hepburn's pant-led outfits for being unladylike and Ingrid Bergman for expressing an androgynous edge with her fitted suits and short curls. However, today people rightfully cherish these outfits for being ahead of their time. If you inspect with a broader mind than most people in the 1930s, you will gush at the individualism and good taste as they wore a white open collar shirt, sometimes underneath a jacket or on its own. In addition to the long point collar shirts, and equally reflecting the LAWTON aesthetic, the introduction of three white-hued open collar shirts in a variety of superior fabrics, including twill, linen, and seersucker, are destined to boost for both men and women the seductive compartments of your wardrobes this summer. 

Photography: Faye Fearon.
Photography: Faye Fearon.

The technical prowess at LAWTON is unrivalled, and when it comes to the collar point and collar stand, her savant-like expertise allows the open structure to create a sophisticated, seventies-inspired stance upon fastening. The minimal single-button square cuff, wrapping around the wrist, seals the design. As with the long point collar designs, it is adorned with mother-of-pearl buttons, an attribute that only high-calibre shirts carry. The open-collar shirt creates an aura of maturity but, depending on how louche your demeanour is, the addition of jewellery and also your choice of shoes or pants can easily extend your look one way or another. The off-white shirt arriving in a sumptuous seersucker, which is revered for its breathable properties, is an extremely appetising creation for the long summers spent on the French Riviera. 

The made-to-order shirt collection from LAWTON is in a way not unexpected, but for her followers old and new it is reassuring to witness a traditionally trained bespoke tailor pushing the boundaries of couture-like clothing creations in a sphere that often lacks such inventive inputs. 

Photography: Faye Fearon.