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Gentleman's Attire

To pretend to be a gentleman, go to London and get suited
Jonathan Kandell
From the Print Edition:
Dennis Hopper, Jan/Feb 01

Over the years, Michael de Cozar, head concierge at The Ritz London, has handled some unusual requests by hotel guests. There was, for example, a Frenchman who wished to buy a double-decker bus to use as an outdoor bar in his Provence country home.

An American equestrian enlisted Mr. de Cozar to have her English saddle flown by Concorde to New York in time for her performance in the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden. And a British expatriate, who hoped to bathe in his native Brighton waters but found himself too busy in London to travel to the Channel, had the concierge arrange to transport enough barrels of Brighton sea water to fill his tub at The Ritz.

All these feats give me confidence that Mr. de Cozar is just the man to help with my own quest: living the life of an English gentleman during an extended four-day weekend in London. Perhaps not mission impossible, but difficult nonetheless in this era of Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair when stuffiness is passé. Even the Tory opposition leader, William Hague, sounds like a populist, embracing a philosophy he calls "kitchen sink conservatism."

Travel magazine articles seem to favor London hotels with a cool, minimalist décor more appropriate to South Beach, and food critics concentrate on London restaurants that artfully serve up Mediterranean fusion cuisine to patrons clad in designer T-shirts.

But I want the London my father told me about, a place that I can recognize from a Rex Harrison black-and-white movie. To pretend to be an English gentleman means staying at a hotel that opened in the Edwardian era, devoting time and money to clothe myself in bespoke apparel, dining at wood-paneled restaurants on chops or fish good enough to devour without sauces, wangling an invitation to a private club, and attending an annual event that draws the royals (since I arrive in May, the Chelsea Flower Show will do).

For lodging, The Savoy or Claridge's would be as agreeable, but The Ritz is a shorter walk to the main activities I have in mind: getting fitted for a suit on Savile Row, shirts on Jermyn Street and shoes on St. James's. I start with the suit store. After visiting all three establishments suggested by Mr. de Cozar, I pick Anderson & Sheppard Ltd., partly because it looks like the sort of place that hasn't changed much in a century and partly because its managing director, David M. Williams, plays upon my insecurities and pretensions like a maestro. "If we don't think we have what you want, we will suggest a different Savile Row tailor," says Mr. Williams, making me think that I would do anything to want what they have.

The store's signature style is a comfortable look with a natural shoulder line, or in Mr. Williams's words, "a timeless classic" -- which is the best possible slogan for selling clothes that are supposed to be as suitable today as they were at a cocktail party 30 years ago. Mr. Williams queries me about my sartorial needs before going any further. Since this is my first custom-made suit, I want to get as much wear out of it as possible. So, he suggests a mid-weight cloth, about 11 to 12 ounces per yard, that can be worn in New York nine months out of the year, and something in charcoal gray that I can use both day and night.

We look through the large bolts of fabric that take up most of the floor space (other Savile Row shops, with a more contemporary concern for the rental price of a square foot of West End property, offer customers book-bound swatches of cloth -- or "bunches," as they are known in the trade). I pick out a subtle herringbone that will end up costing me $2,500. But this is a suit that's supposed to last a lifetime -- a credible claim now that I'm past 50.

Next comes a half hour of measurements -- about a score for the jacket and seven for the trousers. "We are looking at the ?configuration' -- for example, if you have a slight stoop," Mr. Williams explains. "Remember, this is an item that will live and breathe with you." It's the first time I think of a suit as a vital organ. An initial fitting, in three to four weeks, will be only enough to "see the style we are aiming at -- the silhouette -- but the shoulders and sleeves won't be there yet," says Mr. Williams. Four weeks later comes a second fitting -- "Essentially, the finished product," he explains. A week afterwards, there will be a "final look," so that the entire process adds up to at least eight weeks. Fortunately, the store representatives make several visits a year to New York and other American cities, where they reserve suites in the best hotels to receive clients for fittings.

But the "final look" usually takes place on Savile Row, just in case something is amiss. Simon, a London friend, tells me of an instance when a tailor decided during a final look that the shoulder stitches weren't quite right -- and immediately tore off the sleeves. He makes it sound as if an officer had his epaulettes ripped away moments before stepping in front of a firing squad.

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