East Ender: James Turner

Tailor and talkie-addict James Turner takes The Rake to East End London, where he shared an address with the Kray Twins and learned everything he needed to know about style.
East Ender: James Turner
Sitting in Pellicci’s, a coffee-soaked, seen-it-all, movie-set of a café in Bethnal Green, London, James Turner looks simultaneously completely at home, and completely out of place. “I’ve been coming to this caf since I was about four years old,” he tells me over coffee, “and I grew up in this area. The Kray twins used to come here, and a scene from Legends was filmed here. The Pelliccis came from Florence in 1898 and have been here since,” he gestures at the third-generation owner. As familiar as he is with his surroundings, James also happens to look like he’s stepped off a time machine that’s brought him from 1950s Hollywood to the East End of London on a Thursday morning. Unruffled, immaculately turned out and with a twinkle in his eye, he could be starring in the latest Hitchcock movie alongside Eva Marie Saint - which is, of course, the whole idea. “I love clothes, and tailoring. I got that from my grandfather. He always liked his clothes, was always cleanly shaved with a nice tidy haircut – and he loved the movies. He loved Westerns, Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn. We used to watch them together, and I never forgot seeing Cary Grant glide across the screen in Notorious and thinking from a very early age I wanted to do something with clothes.” “There’s few actors who have that matinée idol vibe – Joaquin Phoenix, Jean Dujardin and George Clooney, they have that next-level sultriness. Charisma has a lot to do with it, it’s the way you carry yourself.” Practicing what he preaches, he adds with a wink at our photographer, “just like you, Jamie…”. His grandfather taught him the importance of paying attention to his appearance, from shaving (“go down, across, up – that’s it”), to polishing his shoes. “He’s a mechanic, and when you come from a poor working class family like mine did, there was always a strive to escape that,” James explains in his distinctively Cockney accent. “People think everyone from this area is a bit rough around the edges, but it’s not true.” People also seem to forget that many styles adopted today came from money-strapped younger guys, often in college; the three-roll-two jacket, the penny loafer and Oxford bag trousers were all shortcuts to modern elegance that became mainstream.
James’ shirt is a classic Oxford design of his own, with a tall pointed collar and pleated cuffs (turned back once, an intentional sartorial twist). Worn with a dark blue woven silk vintage tie his grandfather bought in 1962, the pairing captures the timeless essence of James' style.
I almost detect a blush when I ask James about his ring. “Without going into too much detail, it was a gift from a lady friend and I like to keep things – especially things people bought you out of the goodness of their heart.” More of sentimental value than anything, James describes himself as a “big animal person”, explaining the polar bear insignia, and revealing a romantic side that his Hollywood counterpart would be proud of.
James is true to his own style manifesto, even down to his shoes - Bass Weejuns represent a seminal moment in men’s footwear in the 1950s, when they were adopted by young people and catapulted to staple status by their easy wearability and comfort. They, too, look just as great today as they did 70 years ago.
Outside Pellicci's, where the Kray Twins were regular customers and Legends was filmed.
“This watch doesn’t actually work,” James laughs when he examines it. “I saw it in a vintage market in Camden and loved the rose gold and brown leather strap. I’ve always been more into a leather strap than a metal bracelet.”
Inspired by the American sack suit, James’ jacket stands out, eschewing the more traditional British hourglass. “It’s a little more French than American, because it does have darts but no vents. I always tend to go for greys – they make a good base for just about anything, and the wool/cashmere blend is beautiful.”
Nevio Pellicci, third generation owner of the café. On arrival at Pellicci's he joked with James,
Despite being what he describes as "a travelling tailor and classic menswear stylist", James is living proof that quality comes before quantity. “Lots of people that think that because I work in menswear and love vintage, I have lots of clothes. I have a capsule – all you need is six solid pieces you can mix and match. Making beautiful things takes time, so there has to be a sacrifice somewhere.” James’ clients understand his aesthetic, seeking him out for something that elevates vintage design from old to ageless. “One client wanted to recreate the Kilgour suit made for Cary Grant in North by North West. That was a challenge, because that kind of blue-grey cloth is quite unusual these days.” Co-star Eva Marie Saint told Grant’s biographer that “Hitchcock made everyone in the picture dress in a classic style… He didn’t want the picture to date because of the clothes.” Not only did the suit survive several attempts on Grant’s character’s life, a hotel-grade press, a car chase, the scaling of a building and a fight with a crop duster plane, it also survived 60 years as one of the most talked about suits in cinema. With Paul Newman’s chin, Grant’s parting, Phoenix’s jawline and Danny Dyer’s edge, it would be easy to assume James is assuming a role, his wardrobe a dressing up box, but in adopting the values perceived in these characters, he overcomes that assumption. He’s sharply dressed, quick off the mark and despite being born in the wrong era, doesn’t seem remotely lost. Rough around the edges? Hardly.
“Black Eyewear makes these amazing glasses inspired by the jazz era and names each model after a jazz star – these are the Coltranes. Not too many people know about them so they still have that secret quality,” says James of his eyewear. “I always go for tortoiseshell sunglasses.”
“It’s so difficult to find things that work with that 1950’s style; obviously everything is a lot slimmer now, and trousers sit a lot lower. These are by Scott Fraser Simpson, which is the best place I’ve found for this style; they’re almost Hollywood tops, with the high waist and narrow turn-ups.” To James, tailoring should be something that makes you feel effortlessly comfortable, so he hopes that the current movement away from the slimmer fit will stick around.
The Rake, James Turner, Jamie Ferguson