EPISODE 13: THE BOY'S BESPOKE
Raising a son often feels like a battle between moulding his personality vs respecting who he is. You can't change the cards he's been dealt, but you can work on his faults and build upon his strengths. The points at which his innate talents and your interests intersect can be magical. I've seen (and envied) the glow around a jock dad and his athletically gifted son as they head to the park. Sadly, Nicholas, at age seven, is still too young to partake in many of my core competencies, such as getting into lager-fuelled political arguments or making methane deposits into the sofa while gorging on old episodes of Game of Thrones. So in the hope of finding some father-son common ground, Nicholas and I recently took two road trips - one to Philadelphia to visit Independence Hall; the other to The Bowery Hotel to see my tailor.
My wife, Honor, and I are not sure how Nicholas developed his precocious interest in American history, but at bedtime he demands to be read books about the founding fathers. The questions after the stories often demand thoughtful responses ("How could Thomas Jefferson write the Declaration of Independence and be a slave holder?"). Try tackling that one when your stomach is growling for dinner.
I was hoping the questions that arose from my ordering some new dinner clothes would be easier to handle. Nicholas had recently displayed an interest in designing his own clothes, having created a pair of custom high-top basketball sneakers on the NikeiD website. His new sneakers were chic: blue, green, orange with discreet initials on the heel. He decided to wear his one bespoke item - the sneakers - along with a blue and white broadcloth shirt, white corduroys and a blue blazer for our meeting.
Nicholas, at age seven, is still too young to partake in many of my core competencies, such as getting into lager-fuelled political arguments or making methane deposits into the sofa
As we rode the subway down to The Bowery from the Upper East Side, I explained what was going to happen: "Nicholas, I'm having a new set of dinner clothes made and there are going to be a lot of decisions I'll have to make, and you can help me. My tailor came all the way from London. He works on Savile Row. That's like a baseball player being on The Yankees. And, Nicholas, please do not bring up the Revolutionary War."
"What about the War of 1812, Dad? The British set fire to The White House during that one."
My tailor and I have been friends for more than a decade. We first met when I was a writer at GQ working on a story about craftsmanship, and Mr Stuart Lamprell was the star cutter in Timothy Everest's bespoke operation. Having grown up at Gieves & Hawkes, Stuart knew the old-school ways, but he also knew how to keep the look of his suits modern. When he went out on his own, I followed him. (stuartlamprell.co.uk)
During a busy day of appointments, Stuart could not have been more gracious when I arrived with a child in tow. He sat Nicholas down with a book of swatches, and together we explained to the heir how years ago Stuart had made a drawing of Daddy's body and how that pattern hangs in Stuart's London work space. Using the pattern, Stuart would make a rough draft of my new tuxedo jacket and trousers, bring the clothes to New York on his next trip, take the rough draft home, and make adjustments before bringing the tuxedo back to New York again for a second fitting.
'So if there's a drawing of your body, why is Stuart measuring you now?' Nicholas asked, as Stuart took out his tape measure. 'Because some parts of Daddy are not as skinny as they used to be?'
"So if there's a drawing of your body, why is Stuart measuring you now?" Nicholas asked, as Stuart took out his tape measure.
"Because some parts of Daddy are not as skinny as they used to be?"
"Like your stomach? Or your bottom?" I didn't like where this was going, so I asked Stuart to include Nicholas in some of the key decisions.
Nicholas weighed in on the colour ("Dad, I think black over midnight blue") and the style of lapel ("Don't get the shawl. The shawl makes you look like an old man").
On the taxi ride home, my son seemed more focused on where we would stop for a slice of pizza than on my new dinner clothes. So I assumed his first exposure to the world of bespoke tailoring had been a bust and there would be no need to bring him to the next fitting.
Then something unexpected happened. Even though I no longer get The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show treatment when I walk in the door from the office, Nicholas grabbed me the other night. He dragged me down the hall by the hand towards his room screaming, "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy?" There was a blue and white flash of pyjamas, the scent of Johnson's Baby Shampoo. His door slammed shut, and he yelled, "No peeking!"
A few seconds later he emerged with a hat. Not a store-bought baseball cap, but a stovepipe covered with red and blue stripes and white stars. He had made a facsimile of the hat that Uncle Sam wears in James Montgomery Flagg's WWI recruiting poster.
"I made this. From my old school shirts. What do you think?" I vaguely remembered that he had recently outgrown some of his school polo shirts. Clearly, Nicholas and our nanny had spent a good chunk of a rainy day making a cardboard mould, cutting the shirts into strips, stretching them over the cardboard and then gluing and stapling them into place.
"The hat looks fantastic," I replied.
"Wait, Dad, there's more," he said as he scurried back into his room and returned with a sketch of a red and blue tailcoat. "This is a Gansevoort coat. It's what I'm going to make next." He informed me that he and his grandmother, who lives a block away from us, would be going fabric shopping soon. "Dad, do you know where you can find brass buttons?"
Two interests - American history and looking great - were coming together before my eyes in a 21-gun burst of creativity. Seeing the hat made me feel better about all the things I had Nicholas yet to master, such as riding a bike or accurately throwing a baseball. As my right hand held what might be the first piece in Philip Treacy's next oeuvre, I tousled Nicholas' hair with my left hand.
"You're my son," was all I could say.
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