- Film by Mr Steve Harries
The creative director of Kilgour, Mr Carlo Brandelli, doesn't look entirely at ease as he sits in a lavishly upholstered lemon-yellow antique armchair, amid an elegant Mayfair salon. But with work underway on a major refurbishment of the Kilgour shop on London's Savile Row our interview has to take place in a borrowed room that says more about that famous street's history than its future. The room's Georgian architecture is not the natural habitat of a man who has an unrivalled determination to lead British tailoring into a future as glorious as its past. The architecture favoured by Mr Brandelli, who is a design aficionado, is very different. He offers "Gropius and Mies", meaning the pioneering modernists Messrs Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, when asked whose work he most admires.
Architecture is never far from Mr Brandelli's mind, which also moves freely between the disciplines of fashion, sculpture, product design, film, graphic design and communications. He fondly looks back to the time when, "It was in people's nature, at the end of the 1950s and 1960s, to be really multidisciplined." In particular he's a fan of Mr Bruno Munari, an Italian sculptor, product designer, author and illustrator of children's books, and Mr Carlo Mollino, a radical Italian architect and furniture designer.
Chic, stylish, modern men don't really want to stand out, they want to assimilate to their environment
However, the artist who currently interests him most is the Russian constructivist Mr Naum Gabo, of whom Mr Brandelli says, "The things he was doing between WWI and WWII were unbelievable. He's been influencing the new collection a lot. He was using traditional techniques with modern materials, and I feel I've always done that." The traditional techniques are a given, as Kilgour is a Savile Row tailor with its roots in the 19th century, and the modern materials are a result of Mr Brandelli's willingness to reimagine what men's clothes could and should be in the 21st century.
He says that he starts each collection with, "A blank sheet of paper". It's this approach that explains the clothes he's wearing on the day we meet. He's in a bespoke suit, which is made to Kilgour's exacting standards, and yet cut in a new and unique style. The jacket, which is made from lightweight grey flannel, is quietly distinguished by the narrow shoulders, and the absence of any exterior pockets or visible buttons. "It's fly-fronted," explains Mr Brandelli. "That gives it a contemporary air. Buttons draw your eye, but by hiding them the jacket is seamless when you look it up and down, which makes the wearer look taller and hence more elegant." The same logic explains the absence of an out-breast pocket, "Eventually they slightly open, which adds bulk to the silhouette. They're superfluous."
The way that Mr Brandelli treats colour is just as severe. He believes that, "Chic, stylish, modern men don't really want to stand out, they want to assimilate to their environment. There's a particular colour palette that belongs to the city: grey, white, black, navy." The Kilgour aesthetic is rigorous, and minimal, and the colours follow suit. "I don't use bright colour," says Mr Brandelli. "I think guys want to be in the background, discreet and quiet. It's the idea of subtlety."
A V-neck T-shirt worn under a one-button jacket is a classic Kilgour look, and the scarf adds a layer for the evening. It's a contemporary way to understand a Savile Row brand
Subtlety runs throughout the Kilgour collection. One notable example is a remarkably sophisticated denim suit. Mr Brandelli explains, "What's interesting about denim is the colour, the fabric and the workwear feeling. However, a lot of guys don't like the informality of five-pocket-jeans when they're working, so in the collection there are flat-fronted trousers and a matching jacket that use the fabric but in a more formal shape."
If the emphasis he places on tailoring and fit makes Mr Brandelli sound like he has a regimented approach to style then meeting the man gives a different impression. The day of our interview he's wearing his Kilgour suit in a way that's as relaxed as it is elegant. It's not an outfit that would necessarily pass muster with Savile Row's old guard, who might be alarmed by the presence of his sneakers, and the absence of a shirt and tie, but that's rather the point. "Under this jacket, which is bespoke, I'm just wearing a T-shirt and a scarf, because I want to feel the bespoke work on me," explains Mr Brandelli. "A V-neck T-shirt worn under a one-button jacket is a classic Kilgour look, and the scarf adds a layer for the evening. It's a contemporary way to understand a Savile Row brand."
Kilgour has a history that stretches back to 1882, and has dressed some of the world's most stylish men, including Messrs Cary Grant and Fred Astaire. However, the house adopted an entirely new, forward-thinking approach in 2003 when Mr Brandelli started his first, six-year stint as creative director. Although Kilgour temporarily returned to a traditional outlook in 2009, the designer resumed his role last year, and once again he's leading Savile Row into the future.
The first fruits of his labours take the form of the collection of clothes that appear in our film, above. He says, "These are classic pieces that have evolved with the DNA of the brand. It's all new work, because we started everything from scratch, including reworking the spot as the house pattern." And where does Kilgour's illustrious history fit in to this? "The past is incredibly important in the make-up of the brand," says Mr Brandelli. "But you should always move forward."
Styling by Mr Dan May, Style Director, MR PORTER
Words by Mr Mansel Fletcher, Features Editor, MR PORTER