Formal occasions do tend to give one’s life punctuation marks. Twice a year, Savile Row gathers at the MTBA (Master Tailors’ Benevolent Association) dinner at the Merchant Taylors’ Hall in the City to raise funds for members of the trade who may have fallen on hard times or are in retirement. Don’t think for a moment that I’ll qualify when the wolves are at the door but you are tempted to buy an extra ream of raffle tickets just in case. Let’s face it, living in London is a game of Snakes & Ladders. Your personal and financial stock rises and falls like a Cancan dancer’s drawers. One minute you’re climbing the ladder like a spider monkey and the next you’re flat on your asp.
I have attended the MTBA as a guest of Gieves & Hawkes, Anderson & Sheppard and latterly Henry Poole & Co since 2006. The winter MTBA is black tie. As it happened, on the night of the dinner I had been working at my art director Pete Dawson’s studio in Bermondsey laying out The Perfect Gentleman. Makes me sound like Mr Sourberry the undertaker in Oliver Twist, no? En route from Pete’s studio, I cross Tower Bridge and have the most marvellous views of my favourite building: the Tower of London. Reminds one to look on the bright side.
Anyway, the Savile Row family (Anda, Poppy, Audie, Louisa and Guy) had agreed to meet for cocktails in the Royal Exchange as has become custom so I had to change into my dinner jacket at Pete’s studio then hoof it across Tower Bridge to get to the Exchange in time. As you’ll see from the state of the bow tie, I dressed in considerable haste. But then again, don’t you always like to tie a rather off kilter bow to comfort and reassure fellow guests that you’re not wearing a ready-made?
The Merchant Taylors’ is one of twelve great City livery companies founded in the 12th century. Their Great Hall dates back to 1374 and is the largest and grandest in London. The finest view of the hall is from the King’s Gallery that overlooks it; so named because it was used by James I as a private dining room in 1607. Returning to dine in the panelled Great Hall biannually is I think a rare treat not to be taken for granted. As a guest of Henry Poole, I was on chairman Angus Cundey’s table and absolutely delighted to be placed in between Mrs Cundey and Fox Brothers’ MD Douglas Bordeaux. Mandy and I first met over dinner in Florence when we were presenting The London Cut and found we had a rather similar outlook on life after a bottle or three of Chianti.
It never ceases to amaze me that there isn’t a formal photographer at the MTBA dinner. You’ve got the royal family of Savile Row and arguably the highest concentration of bespoke black tie you’re ever going to see in one room at one time. Wouldn’t it make sense to take formal portraits and distribute them to the endless men’s style magazines and blogs who take such an interest in the minutiae of men’s formal dress? We’re missing a trick here. However, it was rather marvellous to continue an old MTBA tradition when, before the stroke of midnight, Keith and I sallied forth into the snow in search of a nightcap.
Now a couple of years ago, Keith and I found our way to the door of a burlesque club behind Chancery Lane called the Volupté. We toasted the dawn with Brandy Alexanders and had the pleasure of walking home in slightly dishevelled black tie as the tube disgorged dead-eyed City workers who stared at us like stunned mullets. Well, we found our way back to the Volupté and it was like the Delmonico’s scene in Hello Dolly. Always a pleasure to drink seriously good after dinner cocktails mixed by maestros of the art even though I suspect we’re old enough to know better.
This time last year, Savile Row: The Master Tailors of British Bespoke had recently launched and if I remember rightly I was tearing backwards and forwards to Pete’s studio working on the layouts for Fashion at Royal Ascot swearing blind that we’d never attempt to lay out a book in under a month ever, ever again. Shows how wrong you can be. To be fair, we’ve had two months to wrestle with The Perfect Gentleman and it has to be said the layouts are looking grand. We found a very handsome portrait of Terence Stamp in the Burlington Arcade for the final chapter of the book that got me thinking what a marvellous idea it would be to ask Mr Stamp to write the foreword to The Perfect Gent. He is in many ways a patron saint of Savile Row, Piccadilly and St James’s.
We still don’t have a cover for TPG. I’m thinking that we might be smart to echo the anonymity of the Savile Row grey flannel cover shot by Guy Hills. He took a terrific detail shot at the Tokyo London Cut exhibition of a black velvet coat showing a white Marcella dress shirt cuff and a diamond and white gold cuff link made for the show by Shaun Leane. I rather like the idea of a white cuff and a discreet link as the cover shot. If we are going to sell TPG and Savile Row (now in it’s third hardback edition) together, complimentary covers will make sense.
TPG passed the Mrs T test. We hadn’t seen each other this year so decided to book our usual birth at J. Sheekey’s Oyster Bar to tear a crab claw and peruse the page proofs. Mrs T has a very good eye and gave her seal of approval. This means an awful lot to me. Highlight of the week was a day working on the Anderson & Sheppard project but this will have to wait until my next letter darling. Much to tell.