Suits You Sir March 2011

Dear Rowley,

I’ve been reading a superb new biography of all the Empresses of Rome from Livia to the fall of the empire and feel quite an affinity with the Empress Livia, Augustus’s wife. The lady allegedly poisoned most of her husband’s family to make way for her son Tiberius to take the throne. As Tacitus had it (frequently), ‘Augustus ruled the world but Livia ruled Augustus’. She was even said to have poisoned her husband by smearing poison on the figs in his garden. You see, he’d only eat food picked by himself because by that point he was on to her.

Livia lived well into her eighties – an extraordinary achievement when life expectancy was about thirty or even less if you happened to annoy the Empress. Her secrets were these: a glass of red wine every day, plentiful warm baths and saunas and an afternoon nap. What’s not to like about that? I’ve not missed a day in the old Holborn Health Spa since I joined. I spend an hour alternately swimming, steaming and toasting in the sauna with a few drops of Olbas Oil for the old sinuses. Tell you what Rowley, I’ve never felt better.

So when I popped into Huntsman for a fitting for my Royal Wedding suit, it was nice to encounter Guy ‘Dashing Tweeds’ Hills in the basement photographing product from Budd the Shirt Maker. Huntsman acquired Budd late last year and is sensitively turning the Piccadilly Arcade gentlemen’s requisites emporium around. The product is going to get sharper, the shirting is going to get more adventurous and the head cutter who has been at Budd for 40 years will continue wielding his scalpel. Anyway, Guy is an inveterate snapper and decided I was looking better than I had in previous months and banged-off a few rolls of my first fitting with head cutter Pat Murphy.

Call me vain – many people have – but of course I looked better than previous months when I’ve been positively haggard finishing Fashion at Royal Ascot: Three Centuries of Thoroughbred style and the Louis Vuitton Guide to London 2012. You know things are not quite right when you finish monkey typing in the small hours, crack open a bottle of vintage cava and caterwaul like a banshee to Cher’s You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me ballad from Burlesque with the refrain starting ‘I’ve been brought down to my knees, I’ve been pushed way past the point of breaking’. It’s not a good look. Pity the poor neighbours!

Anyway, that’s all over and as Derren Brown would say ‘You’re back in the room’. It is so lovely to have a week like the old days filled with idle hours on Savile Row, visits to the theatre and catching up on my reading and exhibitions. Pat has cut a masterpiece for the Royal Wedding BBC coverage. It is midnight blue with a very, very fine red pinstripe invisible to the naked eye until you get close-up. It is sober enough and will only pop when I get the shirt and tie right. It was lovely to hear Pat say that we didn’t need to do a lot more work on the suit. Pat has cut for me before and he really does produce a magnificent line. It helps that I’ve got more of a waist since the swimming kicked in and more robust shoulders for that Huntsman cut. The trousers are to die.

It is always lots of fun to spend time with Guy and Huntsman’s girl Friday Poppy Charles in the basement. We never stop laughing like drains; the main source of amusement this time being Budd garters to hold-up long socks. I strapped a pair on and must say did feel rather special stoating round London wearing garters. They do leave a mark on your calves that would be terribly hard to explain away should one be observed trouserless. It does happen, you know. Even more amusing was Poppy’s concept for shooting a still life of a pair of boxer shorts. She whipped out a stuffed cock and poked its head through the gap in the boxers. I will show you a picture of this poppycock with the next letter. It is genius.

I must say having a little leisure time is turning me into a right chav. On Saturday, I had a writing day so when I got back from the spa I just stayed in a Fila T-shirt, Nike cycling shorts and Nike trainers all day. It was strangely liberating I must say and entirely appropriate when I popped down the road to the Happy Fryer for a bag of chips. I already watch daytime TV with my afternoon nap – Deal or No Deal being a favourite. What next? I’ll be chewing gum, hanging out in parks and buying a pit bull. Still, it’s a life of contrasts when the evening holds a preview of Anne Marie Duff’s new play, Terry Rattigan’s Cause Celebre.