Style / October 2015

Edward's Scissorhands: The Story of Edward Sexton

One had the social cachet, the other a magic touch in the workshop, and together Tommy Nutter and Edward Sexton dragged Savile Row into the modern era, writes Tom Stubbs.…

When Tommy Nutter and Edward Sexton opened Nutters on St. Valentine's Day in 1969, it was the first new company established on Savile Row for 100 years. Despite 'happening' times, the Row was hardly a hotbed of innovation. Nevertheless, the hallowed location didn't daunt these two pioneers. The boys threw everything they had at their new business, not only because they were on a creative mission but because they needed to survive. Their special blend of artisanal elements and personalities created something unique, ingenious and breathtakingly chic. To tell the story of Edward Sexton the tailor, one has to talk about his partnership with Tommy Nutter - and the stylistic legend they produced together.

Sexton's devotion to craftsmanship is, in the first instance, fundamental. 'I was always drawn to working with my hands and sewing,' Sexton tells The Rake from an armchair at his atelier in Beauchamp Place, south-west London. 'I worked in the East End. I kept hearing the name Savile Row. I heard they did everything by hand and their clientele was quite different. It just hugely appealed to me. I thought, 'If I'm going to learn my trade, I want to learn it in the best possible places'.'

In 1956 he responded to an advert in Tailor and Cutter (a now defunct trade magazine) for an apprentice role, and got a job with a tailor he knew as Mr. Kingley (even to this day, Sexton does not know Kingley's given name; as he points out, things were more formal back then). Kingley worked for Harry Hall, a leading equestrian tailor, on Regent Street. After a year, Sexton became assistant cutter, and stayed a further two years.

He was attracted to the workmanship and reputation of Kilgour, who in turn were keen to benefit from his prized skills. 'Their clientele was Cary Grant and Fred Astaire, all the top international film stars and financiers, the best of the late fifties,' Sexton says. He divided his time between the cutting room and college, where he continued his schooling in cloth technology and pattern making. He grew and grew. Eventually he joined a company called Donaldson, Williams and G. Ward, where he met Tommy Nutter, a front-of-house par excellence.

Sexton and Nutter became friends, going out in the evenings for fun and general scheming. During this time, Sexton was honing his style on his personal customers. 'I developed a strong private clientele while moonlighting,' he says. 'The only way you get experience is going out and doing your own thing. Following your own dream and making the styles and designs you want, not conforming. It was a huge relief, being open-minded and creative. It gave me that kick up the backside to get out and do it.'

Then, as now, young people needed help to harness their energy and go it alone. 'Tommy was extremely handsome and charming,' Sexton says. 'He would go off in the evening and meet people socially - that's how we met Peter Brown, who managed The Beatles. There were others, such as James Vallance-White, who was a barrister in the House of Lords, and Cilla Black (who later introduced the Mersey Beat scene to Nutter style). Tommy's social life was really out there, he was meeting all sorts.'

Brown, Black and some other eyebrow-raising luminaries went further, and invested in Nutters of Savile Row. Sexton and Nutter worked on their ideas for a new look, and were heavily influenced by what they saw on the King's Road and Carnaby Street. At the time he was working on a combination of evening styles and the hacking jacket look he knew from Harry Hall. 'We took two jackets and created a style that was longer than average, waisted and flared. The rope shoulders were very narrow but square, with an extraordinarily wide lapel - a peak double-breasted shape lapel on our single breast jackets, which was very rare for that time.'

The outfits worn by Mick Jagger and Bianca Pérez-Mora Macias at their 1971 wedding were typical Nutter style. They cut for men and women from the outset. Twiggy, Cilla and The Beatles (including their girlfriends) would often be seen in their look, complete with parallel trousers (19' at the knee and 19' at the bottom). They defined the iconic image of masculine tailoring worn with panache by sexy women. 'It had all the bells and whistles,' Sexton says. 'It was our look. It was tremendously elegant, too, edgy but elegant. It was sophisticated, but totally revolutionary to what was being produced elsewhere.'

They transformed the 'Row' while they were about it, even becoming the first to feature dressed window displays where previously tailors had hung a velvet curtain. The walls (and curtains) were coming down. Fashion was very creative then, and it was fast and frivolous, too. There was a hunger for the new, but Nutters combined its vision with a respect for construction from the past. 'We'd take a big check and cut it to extenuate the waist, because the checks were broken,' Sexton says. 'It was extremely architectural. That's what my work is about today.'

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Tom Stubbs

Fashion Editor-At-Large