The Tailor Who Shook Up Savile Row
How Mr Richard James’ sleek tailoring (and shop) modernised what was London’s stuffiest street.
You may have heard it: apparently, the 1990s are back. But let’s take a moment to remember the fact that the 1990s were not just about oversized sportswear and cagoules, British tailoring was also having a moment, as a new generation of talents brought a designer sensibility to the 300-year-old institution known as Savile Row.
Chief among them was Mr Richard James, whose sleek, modernist box of a shop was distinguished by the fact that not only could you peer into it, but it was also, quelle horreur, open on a Saturday. This represented nothing less than a revolution at the time on Savile Row, where business practices and style had not changed since the Edwardian era. A rival from one of the older firms sniffily told a newspaper: “Frankly, they won’t last five minutes,” words which Mr James then cheekily emblazoned on his shop window.
Twenty-five years later, the brand is still with us doing what it does best: sleekly tailored menswear that’s grounded in the principles, form and craftsmanship of Savile Row, but with a modern design sensibility that expresses itself primarily in unusual colour combinations and fabric choices.
To celebrate this British brand’s 25th anniversary, MR PORTER has teamed up with Richard James on an exclusive capsule collection: “We’ve played around with some of the greatest hits and given them a bit of a remix,” says the brand’s creative director Mr Toby Lamb, who started on the shop floor while still a student at Central Saint Martins school of art in London. Richard James was famous for creating camouflage suits in the 1990s and that’s present in the collection’s midnight-blue camouflage tuxedo jacket and matching camouflage jacquard silk slippers. “It came from a bespoke customer, who actually didn't really like dressing smartly but was obliged to wear a suit for the opera,” says Mr Lamb. “That’s why he commissioned a tuxedo in camouflage. We got the DPM (disruptive pattern material), from a cloth merchant in Soho, and ended making them for Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman to wear on the cover of George magazine, and also, Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart for a Eurhythmics tour.”
The brand’s signature use of colour is also manifest in this collection: “We’ve always used colour sparingly and modestly, usually, as a little pop, a surprise, or as a lovely accent. In this collection we’ve used midnight blue for the tuxedo jacket and a burnt orange on a suede bomber jacket.”
One of Mr Lamb’s favourite pieces is a washed cotton chambray evening shirt: “It’s a classic piece but executed in an unexpected way because of the chambray; it’s gone from formal to casual. And that’s something we’ve always done, even with our casualwear. We apply the same thought and technique to our casualwear as we do our tailored pieces.”