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London: Men's Style

Shop Like A Man
Jack Bettridge
From the Print Edition:
Jeff Bridges, Sep/Oct 01

When a man is bored of London, he is bored of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.--Samuel Johnson

Especially when it comes to shopping for menswear. Paris, Rome and Milan may jump to mind first as pure fashion producers, but when a man is actually acquiring clothing, no place is so accommodating as the small area that comprises St. James's, Bond Street and Savile Row in London. A greater concentration of high-toned haberdashers exists here than just about anywhere in the world. All stand ready to outfit any gentleman's wardrobe with impeccable style and service of the first order.

From hat to shoes, every aspect of apparel is available in the shops that line these lanes or hide in little warrens called arcades -- and not just according to the fickle cycles of fashion that dictate what you can buy in any other city. In London, if you crave a proper ascot even when no one in his right fashion sense has touched an ascot in 20 years, you can still get a proper ascot.

That's not to say that London shopping is all the stodgy, replacement business of trudging back to the same store year after year to buy the same shirt your father's father wore (although tradition still exists). Current styles abound in London as young designers such as Oswald Boateng have trumpeted a rebirth of London's mod era. But it's not just the homegrown, for most every fashion designer around the world has set up shop on or near Bond Street, from Versace to Armani to Donna Karan. We key here on the uniquely English, however. After all, why cross the Atlantic to visit stores you have at home? Read on and see what life and London have to offer. (With apologies to Dr. Johnson, it's not always what life can afford, but what you can afford.)

Suit Pursuit

If you accept the notion that the business suit has been the predominant form of men's attire worldwide for the past 100 to 150 years, it's hard to argue against the idea that English tailors have wielded more influence over how gentlemen dress than anyone else.

Forgetting momentary lapses, such as the recent flirtation with dressed-down office attire, the world does business in a uniform that essentially came out of the tailoring houses of Savile Row. The British royals spread the style, Hollywood's nobility (Fred Astaire, Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, etc.) came to worship it, and the rest of the world imitated it in some way or other. Sure, French and Italian designers have had their periods of ascendancy, but they were basically working in a medium born in England.

While a sense of tradition has weighed heavily on English style, that is not to say that the whole island is mired in the past. On the contrary "cool Britannia" has made great fashion strides in recent years by way of young designers fueled simultaneously by new ideas and a reverence for classical looks. Any shopping trip in London deserves a look at what the local talent is cooking up for suits. Here are some of the fashion forward outlets of the high street.

Gieves & Hawkes, at the head of Savile Row, has a 200-year history of outfitting the royal family as well as the British army and navy (Gilbert and Sullivan consulted the store on the costuming for the original production of HMS Pinafore). Heritage notwithstanding, the firm is now devoting itself to adapting to changing styles and fabrics with a ready-to-wear line, called Gieves, aimed at the thirtysomething generation.

The store has always been known for its bespoke tailoring (which remains unchanged), but what is less known is that it developed off-the-peg clothing on Savile Row in 1926 and was one of the chief innovators in that direction. The latest incarnation of the Gieves & Hawkes look is the work of merchandise director James Whishaw, late of Calvin Klein. The gist is a modern look that plays off the shop's take on traditional English tailoring (longish jackets, tight waists, formed shoulders), while renewing an emphasis on color. The store itself is still one of London's most enjoyable in which to shop, housed as it is in the former Royal Geographical Society headquarters. What was once the galleried library forms the main emporium, with its surrounding balcony of suits. As well as suits, jackets and trousers, Gieves & Hawkes supplies all elements of menswear. Ready-to-wear ranges from about $650 to $1,700, a line called Personal Tailoring Department $825 and bespoke $2,800.

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