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Fashion: Beauty of bespoke

Hardy Amies defines Savile Row tailoring and Ian Garlant is the design director. James Sherwood met him
It would be misleading to say Ian Garlant, design director of Hardy Amies Menswear, is "in fashion". Garlant breathes the rarefied air of a discreet salon within Sir Hardy Amies's 14 Savile Row headquarters. In it hangs bespoke suiting commissioned by men dedicated to the Garlant touch. These men are not the New Labour pop stars who patronise the 'new generation' Savile Row tailors nor the musty old buffers who've worn tailored tweeds on Scottish grouse moors for a century. To borrow from Miss Jean Brodie, Ian Garlant's clients are the creme de la creme. And their taste level goes way beyond Gucci ready- to-wear.

"They tend to be on the youngish side, in their twenties and thirties," says Garlant, of the following he has built up for Hardy Amies bespoke. "They have their own money and it tends not to be old or grand money. I don't see modern men interested in the English country gentleman style. They are interested in being seen as successful, smart, sexy and rich."

Hardy Amies does not advertise. Standing in cream linen slouch pants, expertly cut lean linen frock coat and a fine white cotton shirt, Garlant is advertisement enough. At 35, he is half a century younger than his mentor Sir Hardy Amies. Sir Hardy, now 88, abdicated in favour of couture design director John Moore and Garlant. "We are uncannily alike," says Garlant, who originally worked at Hardy Amies as a student before becoming Sir Hardy's PA. "We are both show-offs, but in a benign sort of way. We are both passionate about what we do. We both have a very English approach to mixing the low key and the flamboyant. The main difference is the social aspect. Sir Hardy was a snob in so far as that's how you got ahead. You either played the game or you didn't get anywhere. He had to be a snob."

Garlant vehemently denies that his clients are aristocratic or upper class. "The diversity is utterly fascinating," he says. "They share an international lifestyle but there are no class barriers. When a client comes to me, we have an initial meeting, which goes along the following lines: 'What is your life like? When are you wearing this? How are you wearing this? What with? Which country will you be in? What else do you have in your wardrobe...?' I like clients who have a sense of who they are and what they want out of life. They don't want someone else's idea of how a 'gentleman' would dress."

Hardy Amies bespoke is essentially haute couture for men. But, unlike Paris's couturiers, Garlant does not produce biannual collections of extravagant confections to seduce the international media. He discreetly designs for individual clients behind closed doors. To understand the value of a Hardy Amies suit, you have to weigh the pounds 1,000 minimum price tag against Prada or Gucci off-the-peg for roughly the same price. Nobody's suggesting that Hardy Amies is less elitist than Italian designer suiting. But the quality is infinitely better and the suit could quite possibly outlive the wearer.

"There are two schools of tailoring round a person's figure," says Garlant. "For example, if a man has one shoulder lower than the other you can either cut the shoulder of the jacket to correspond or you can balance up. I do the latter. I like to create a garment with a shape all of its own; you become the shape of the garment when you put it on. The old school would say that is bad tailoring." The man with the low shoulder would probably say that it is sartorial psychiatry to mask the body's imperfections.

There should be a Government health warning attached to the Hardy Amies bespoke label. Bespoke clothing is almost as addictive as heroin. Once you've had that first hit, nothing else will compare to the sensation. Off-the-peg suits can be taken up and taken in but they will never mould to the body like oil on water. Take one of Garlant's single-breasted jackets. The waist is the fulcrum of the body. The shoulder is the balancing point from which the garment hangs. Like a piece of sculpture, it can give the waist a sinuous curve where one patently does not exist. The shoulders sit elegantly and symmetrically whether yours stoop, hunch or hang unevenly.

The client at Hardy Amies bespoke may use safety as a starting point. He may want damage limitation that off-the-peg can't provide. "It is interesting how many men start off being very conservative," says Garlant. "I have to persuade them to push the boat out a little bit. One of my Japanese clients started off with a very sensible, correct, responsible suit. It was modern but uncompromising and smart. The next piece I made him was a black linen jacket with a Ghillie collar. This may not sound extreme but the lightweight jacket was more daring for him. The guy looked amazing. There was nothing fashion victim about him. He looked a million dollars."

Garlant's work doesn't slavishly follow menswear fashion, but the fashion cycle has turned to his aesthetic of quiet luxury. "These are high-maintenance, luxurious pieces," he says. "I'm now working with satin fabric for shirting but reversing the fabric so the sheen and softness is on the inside of the shirt. I think that is the message for menswear in the Nineties. It is not ostentatious, and the luxury is a carefully guarded secret between the garment and the man."

Hardy Amies, 14 Savile Row, London W1 (0171 734 2436)