Strike a Light. January 2012.

Dear Rowley,

In tearing haste, I just couldn’t rest without giving you the second instalment of Letters from Piazza della Signoria as t’were. As you know I ¬†migrated to Florence this week for the bi-annual Pitti Uomo men’s fashion fair and promised to give you the scores on the fashion doors for the season. But first let’s give at least two cheers that Turkey wants to extradite Sarah, Duchess of Y0rk on a charge that could see her banged-up for 22-years and for Tesco losing ¬£5 billion off its shares. Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, no?

You know the old saying ‘a picture says a thousand words’? Well, if that were true I’d be out of a job. However, a group shot taken of the Anderson & Sheppard massive at large in Florence did give me pause for thought. I’d asked an extra at Pitti to take a picture of us all dressed in our best. Well, on checking the view finder it appeared I had finally reached ‘James Sherwood: The Blowsy Years’. The suit looked creased, the stomach a little too pronounced and the hair quit frankly lank. I could have wept.

So praise be for Guy ‘Dashing Tweeds’ Hills and his trusty lens. Quite unexpectedly, Guy took a snap of Edward Sexton and I sharing a cigarette. Look at those leg placements. It’s like a Helmut Newton shoot waiting to happen. When I grow up I want to be like Edward. He was the absolute star of Pitti this season as the guest of Chester Barrie for whom he has cut the most miraculous block for a ready-to-wear suit. Edward is a maestro of Savile Row bespoke tailoring: the hands that made Tommy Nutter’s creativity come to life in the late 60s and 70s. Though Tommy is long gone, Edward is still here and I think better than ever.

You know I am a great advocate for bespoke tailoring. But there are many young aspirants who wish to buy into the style of Savile Row without having the ¬£4000 to invest in bespoke. Chester Barrie has stepped in to a yawning great gap in the market for a handsome off-the-peg garment that has the spirit of bespoke and it is a tribute to Edward’s genius that he can persuade factories in Italy to go the extra mile to make checks correspond, shoulders stand proud and waists to nip in sufficiently to look handmade.

I might have known my old friend Chris Modoo was involved. Chris worked for many years with Ede & Ravenscroft. He styled my first Ascot morning coat for the BBC fashion coverage and I have had nothing but respect for the man ever since. Chris has a natural, instinctive ability to choose adventurous but appropriate cloth and accessorises like the Duke of Windsor. He, like Mr Sexton, is an obsessive and will accept nothing but the best. It was truly a privilege to be on the Chester Barrie stand with Edward. The clothes on the Stockman dummies looked fabulous but they looked even better modelled by Edward and Chris.

At Pitti there is always the pressure to go a little too far with your personal styling. There’s nothing worse than walking past a bank of Japanese bloggers cameras ready and not even merit a ‘saburo’ said with reverence. This season I was feeling rather blowsy and decided to err on the side of understatement. Thanks to Mr Hills’ photograph, I’m rather glad I did. You cannot go wrong in Anderson & Sheppard grey flannel with a zinger of a pink spotty tie and a cigarette. Makes everyone else look too ‘try hard’.

That said, I still think I’ve eaten all the pies over Christmas and went to see my guru – Gail at Capri (you know the rest) – who looked like the puss who’d got the prosecco over the festive season. All I need to do is cut the carbs and get back on the gin and slim diet for a couple of weeks and the weight will simply drop off. Of course you’re demented after seven days on the mother’s ruin but you have a waistline of a teenage Abercrombie model. Seriously, Rowley, I haven’t reached the Elizabeth Taylor stage yet as in ‘Liz darling, you know you’re fat when the crotch on your kaftan is tight’. But I can pinch more than an inch and if you recognise that line you’re older than I thought you were.

They were all in town for Pitti this season: Jeremy Hackett, Simon Carter, Timothy Everest, the delovely Mr Miller from Turnbull & Asser and Prince Michael of Kent who was staying with the Frescobaldis the night before the Hardy Amies show. There is nowhere more glamorous than Pitti when it is showtime. My favourite bit of Pitti – apart from Tabasco – is the late afternoon promenade around the backstreets when I go searching for hidden treasure. This season I struck gold.

I had an hour to kill so thought I’d revisit a fun wine bar behind the Palazzo Vecchio. En route, I walked past an antique print shop that had the most marvellous charcoal sketches in the window dated 1932 of fashion in fur. You know I’m a sucker for a flapper in fur so snapped up the best of the bunch and had her all packaged up for deliver to the wall in Bloomsbury Towers. Don’t you adore her? The chic of a white shirt underneath a pelt makes me melt.

Well, tomorrow is a fun day with my Thames & Hudson art director Pete and my editor juicy Jennie. We’ve got to make a big start on the layouts for The Perfect Gentleman. Doubtless it will be a lot of coffee, a lot of cigarettes and a lot of laughs. Well, strike a light…