So often in the world of traditional men’s luxury, the suit or the shoes garner all the attention. All too frequently, it seems that even the most stylish men to walk this earth invest all their energy in the latest suit, the latest cashmere sports coat, or the latest pair of flannels. This, by all accounts, is a shame. It has long been The Rake’s belief that to achieve a truly elegant look, each individual component of an outfit should be treated with the appropriate degree of respect it deserves. Much maligned but of paramount importance to creating a harmonious look then, is the perilously precise relationship between shirt collar, necktie and the lapels of one’s coat.
Few understand this relationship better than the great bastion of timeless British shirtmaking that is Turnbull & Asser. Now 131 years old, readers will doubtless be well acquainted with the firm’s long and illustrious history. Many readers will surely also be aware that over the past couple of years, the house’s reputation as a stalwart of luxury British ready-to-wear clothing has been firmly re-established, with the work of Head of Design, Dean Gomilsek-Cole firmly repositioning the house as a contemporary British outfitter with no small amount of personality and panache about it. Expansions in the house’s English shirting offering, London-made ready-to-wear tailoring and in their intriguingly conceptual, invigorating sartorial experiments have all caused rather a stir in recent seasons.
We at The Rake have followed this transformation with enthusiasm, but equally heartwarming is the continued importance that the house places on bespoke shirtmaking, which has been retained as an integral part of Turnbull & Asser’s identity, inextricably interlinked with its history and with its superior ready-to-wear shirts today. When earlier in summer then, I found myself thinking about a few new shirts for the autumn, there was simply nowhere else to turn to. T&A will take bespoke orders in most of their London or New York stores, but visiting the new store on Davies Street in Mayfair makes for an especially pleasant experience, tucked away as it is in an elegant spot at the bottom of Mount Street. Moreover, should you choose to frequent this particular store, you will find yourself in the reassuringly capable hands of a T&A stalwart, Mr James Cook.
James, (who like all the best artisans escaped being photographed for the purposes of this article), manages the Davies Street store and bar the venerable Steven Quinn, is one of the company’s longest serving employees in the bespoke department. He has, in other words, been styling and fitting bespoke shirts for the best part of twenty years. His manner is gentle and gentlemanly, and one feels as though he’s come to the right place as soon as he’s walked through the door. James is there, not only to measure-up and fit, but also to carefully guide T&A’s bespoke clients towards those shirts that will serve them most richly over time. It’s a mysterious art form, and there’s more to a bespoke shirt than you might imagine. Quite apart from the aforementioned weight of a particular cloth, or the way it travels or breathes, the shirt is the garment that sits next to the skin, making the colour tone and handle of a shirting fabric arguably even more significant than that of a suit or jacket.
The collar likewise frames the face more closely than anything else, and makes for the natural focal point of one’s outfit, but it also has to sit seamlessly beneath the lapels of a coat – meaning that the perfect balance must be found between the shape of collar and depth of collar-stand to yield a shirt which flatters the face, but which sits in harmony with one’s tailoring. The shirt should furthermore sit as close to the body as possible, whilst offering a free range of movement and flattering one’s silhouette, without pulling or catching on any particular bony lump or fatty expanse. Pleats, yokes, plackets and buttons must all be discreetly weighed up and thought through, and if a pattern or stripe is at work, that must likewise flatter the wearer and his figure.