A NEW PEAK FOR EVEREST
Mission: Impossible, most fashionable movie of the summer, has spawned an unlikely new hero: the tailor Timothy Everest, creator of the film's discreet but impossibly sophisticated grey suits
Sunday 14 July 1996
Returning with Mission: Impossible are spy hero and style icon Ethan Hunt (originally played by Martin Landau, and now by Tom Cruise) and, more importantly, his celebrated razor-sharp suits. It is the latter which are causing the greatest excitement among audiences in America. When, during one spectacular stunt, Cruise loses his jacket - dark grey, soft chalk stripe - there were, reportedly, gasps of horror from male cinema- goers. No wonder that the man behind the scene-stealing suits - British bespoke tailor Timothy Everest - is being hailed as one of the film's heroes.
Everest is a softly spoken man with old-fashioned good manners that must have been out of place amid the chaos of the film set. None the less, he was clearly delighted with his work. "The brief was 'Nineties Mission: Impossible'," said Everest, who was brought in by the man acting as Cruise's stylist, David Bradshaw, fashion director of Arena magazine. "David wanted a flavour of the Sixties but to be very much of now."
So Bradshaw and Everest came up with the "Ethan Hunt" Grey Suit: a slick three-button jacket with narrow lapels and plain-fronted trousers. "Tone on tone" shirts and ties, also by Everest, in complementary blues and lilacs, complete the look. "It's all very Sixties-looking, all quite neat," explains Everest. "It's been something we've been trying to push for a while, and Tom looked fantastic in it."
Everest was particularly enthusiastic about the fact that the suits are grey. "The film-makers thought grey worked best on camera, so I was asked to come up with a series of shades. The nice thing is that they went for a soft paleish grey, which looked very fresh. The colour will probably be distorted slightly on camera; it may even have a mauvey tint. We urged them to go for something with a pattern, rather than completely plain."
Cruise was so taken with the suits that he kept them, and had Everest make him a few more. His wife Nicole Kidman already had some Everest clothes and the designer has now made some for the couple's daughter. "Nicole had just been to the shows, and she wanted me to make something up for Isabella for her autumn wardrobe, so that she could be a mini version of her mother."
Everest is no stranger to celebrity clients. He learnt his trade as the apprentice of Savile Row's previous great maverick, the late Tommy Nutter, whose business in the late Sixties and early Seventies attracted the big pop names of that time, from Cilla Black to the Beatles and Mick Jagger.
In 1982, Nutter was re-establishing himself in business following a break of six years. Everest was 21, working at a branch of Hepworths in Wales and scouring the local markets for second-hand clothes. "I'd always been interested in fashion." Then he saw an advertisement in the London Evening Standard, "Boy Wanted - Savile Row". He knew that this was his big chance. "I kept ringing up and pestering about the job and they'd say, 'Mr Nutter's with a client,' 'Mr Nutter's in a meeting,' 'Mr Nutter's gone away,' and eventually: 'Mr Nutter says OK, you can have the job.' "
Nutter had a profound effect on Everest's life in the five years they worked together, and Everest still holds his mentor in high esteem. "We got on very well, and we both had a similar sort of feeling for clothes: we always liked mixing things up." Another important tailoring skill that Everest learnt from Nutter was charm. "Tommy was very modest, always saying, 'I'm only from Neasden.' He was so down to earth and he always had time for people. He used to ask my opinion all the time. He'd say, 'Tim, what do you think? and I'd say, 'I don't know - you're Tommy Nutter,' and he'd say, 'No, what do you think?' I think in later years he was underestimated, and had greater potential than possibly he ever achieved. He taught me an awful lot." Tommy Nutter died last year. "I like to think we were very good friends," says Everest.
"It was great fun working with him, mixing with that calibre of people. John Galliano came on a work placement: he was with us, and at the National Theatre doing costume. He was not only amazingly talented but was a very hard worker. And he does a great Mae West impersonation. But he won't remember me: he usually used to refer to me as 'the boy'."
Everest's responsibilities were initially on the sales side, but he was very keen on sketching, and would leave his designs surreptitiously lying around. "Tommy would see them and say, 'Ooh, that's not bad. Well, maybe if you did this, it would be even better...' So eventually I was designing his ready-to-wear collections for him. Then I did all the production. I was very lucky to be able to do things, without having to go to college, that a lot of people wouldn't get the opportunity to do.
"Tommy used to tell fantastic stories," continues Everest. "I always think of his wonderful tale of Bianca Jagger coming in and saying she wanted a pistachio gabardine suit like Mick's. So Tommy sets about it, cutting it busted and everything, and she came back and she'd had all her hair cut off like a man, and she said, 'No, I want a man's suit.' So he had to do it all again, but apparently it looked fantastic.
"Apple Studios were opposite Tommy Nutter's showroom then," he adds, "and John Lennon and Paul McCartney rang him up one day and said, 'We've written this song, come and listen to it.' So they sat him in a big chair and started playing 'Hey Jude', and said 'What do you think?' And Tommy, who had a wicked sense of humour, said 'Well, it's a load of crap.' John and Yoko used to drop by all the time, too. Once, during a fitting, Tommy found them standing naked together in the showroom, in full view of the street."
By 24, Everest was designing the costumes for Elton John's world tour. This type of success can take its toll on a young man's ego. "I was terribly grand then," he confesses sheepishly. "I was offered a job as salesperson at Ralph Lauren, and I said: 'I can't do that, I know Ralph.' Of course I look back now and think, 'How pretentious.' But it was all part of that time." In retrospect, the best thing about his grander assignments was that, during them, "I effectively had to be Tommy Nutter - and that gave me very important insights for when I had my own business."
Everest was starting to get noticed by the competition. In particular, he was pursued by Malcolm Levene, a small menswear retailer who in 1986 persuaded him to join him and help with building up the business. "Of course, when I got there I thought, 'What have I done?' It really needed a lot of work." But Levene had every confidence that Everest was the man for the job. "Timothy could charm any customer, from a college professor to a streetwise clubber," Levene recalls. "He had a quirky taste but he always maintained his own unique look - without forcing that direction on his customers." Business doubled in Everest's first year. "We had a brilliant time in the booming Eighties," says Everest. "We used to joke about putting shopping trolleys in because we couldn't physically sell the clothes quick enough."
As the Eighties drew to a close, Everest began to see a change in the men's fashion industry. "I had noticed ready-to-wear clients were being much more discerning. Men were starting to get so much information - from magazines like GQ, Arena and The Face - that they were much more aware of what they could have. They'd come in and say, 'That's all very well, but why can't I have this fabric, or that pocket?' I kept bumping into people who wanted me to make clothes up for them." Everest could see a return to the kind of individualism that bespoke tailoring offered. "I thought that if we could demystify bespoke tailoring and make it more accessible, as well as really understanding what was going on in ready-to-wear fashion and being directional with it, there was possibly a market there. The recession had made quality and perceived value important again; if you were buying something it had to be a good investment. Bespoke suits fit into all that." Everest's own suits now cost upward of pounds 700, "because they last a lifetime".
Everest set up in business on his own at the start of 1991, in Princelet Street, in Spitalfields. "This is the story I'm going to bore my grandchildren with," he warns. "We started in one room of a house. We had one rail with four garments on and a telephone, no chairs, no furniture. I didn't even show my girlfriend round - she would have had a fit." Friends warned that it was the middle of nowhere and no one would come. But although "it was hard for the first six months", it was also fun. Designer Hussein Chalayan was a student on a work placement there. "We spent most of our time dancing to Sixties music, which I shouldn't admit, but we didn't have much work."
One of Everest's ambitions was to create and be part of a new tailoring movement. "There was Mark Powell in Soho, Richard James had just moved to Savile Row, Ozwald Boateng had been around for a while but people were just starting to hear about him, so it became more of a collective." Knowing journalists are always looking for new trends to write about, Everest enlisted the help of fashion PR Alison Hargreaves, who recalls: "When I met Tim, the passion he felt for the new tailoring movement was so inspiring. He was totally committed to it. He really believed that menswear had to move forward, and that people would be interested in the heritage of our tailoring tradition which was on the verge of dying out. We contacted the media, handpicking people we knew would be interested, and they all wrote about it." David Bradshaw of Arena published an article "rejoicing in the rites of bespoke tailoring"; he was impressed enough to bring Everest in for Mission: Impossible.
"When we started," says Everest, "I don't think we realised how big a potential the business had. Over the last three years it has gone from me and a student and six out-workers, to nine of us here and about 40 out-workers. And then we've got the production team and the ready-to-wear side, so there's about 50 people involved - quite a healthy little business." There are about 350 suits going through at any one time, "mostly grey, but we do make the odd suit in pink velvet or jackets in fake fur".
Pattern is Everest's forte. When we meet, Everest is wearing a Black Watch tartan suit with a cream checked shirt. "I very much like pattern, mixing stripes and all that. I love that very English eccentricity, where you get a confident, fairly elderly man who has put slightly mad things together that really work because he hasn't tried to co-ordinate everything; it's all slightly wrong but it works beautifully. That's very much what we're about. We have a slightly strange sense of humour that we like to show in our work. I think clothes should be fun."
Eighteen months ago, Timothy Everest moved to a wonky Dickensian house in Elder Street, a quiet, cobbled backstreet of Spitalfields. The house was once home to Bloomsbury painter Mark Gertler, who would no doubt have approved of its current decor, a rainbow of colours from darkest lavender and blue to bright orange for the ceilings. It's more of a studio - a workplace to which customers are invited - than a shop. It has a welcoming, almost homely feel, with plenty of bustling activity around the customers as they drink tea and sink back into the overstuffed furniture. In the cellar is a cobbler; up the rickety stairs are wood-panelled reception rooms on the ground floor, fitting rooms on the first and a cutting room at the top of the house. It is both beautiful and functional: Everest calls it "a house of work".
Ask who his clients are and Everest becomes evasive. "I'm very old-fashioned in that I believe a tailor shouldn't really divulge that information." When pushed, he tells me vaguely that his clients include "film stars, music people, businessmen and politicians". Who-ever they are, bespoke tailoring, and particularly bespoke cobblering, does not come cheap. Jason Amesbury, who trained for a decade at John Lobb of St James's, now hand- makes shoes in Everest's cellar. Starting at pounds 750 - a pair can take four months to make - they are hardly a necessity; but they appeal to the same taste for discreet luxury as Timothy Everest's suits.
Discretion is crucial to Everest's success. He likes to play down the exclusivity; his preferred word for the tone is subtlety. "Profile-wise we've kept a little quieter than our competitors, quite deliberately. What people seem to want to buy into is the subtlety of Timothy Everest. Subtlety can be quite unusual, it's sort of a new approach."
And not being in Savile Row is part of that approach. "The difference with our bespoke business is that we've elected not to be there. I love stumbling across new places; I like being surprised. That's why we don't have a name on the door and we're in a funny little street. You are part of something that isn't just about clothes: our customers all recommend each other; we try to get people all sitting here and chatting; customers call up and ask what's a good restaurant or exhibition, which is very flattering, and if I don't know, I try and ring up people who do."
His laid-back approach is unusual among the ruthless ambition of the fashion industry; doesn't he find the pace a little slow? "We've elected to take a slightly longer-term view. You do tend to think: 'Are we doing the right thing?', but it isn't a race. I want my business to last."
Next season Timothy Everest will launch a carefully planned ready-to- wear range for autumn, with a womenswear collection to follow in the spring. "You've got the craft and the tradition of Savile Row, but how do you actually move that on?" Over the past 18 months he has focused on defining what the Timothy Everest style actually is. ("Very structured, very masculine, very patterned," is his shortest answer.) Everest feels that this is an essential starting point. "I want the ready-to- wear to be very special and to be very us."
The first collection has already been even better received than Everest hoped, though as much through judgement as through luck. "Because I used to be a buyer for various shops, I've set it up so that it's a very easy collection to buy. It's almost like a wardrobe of clothes."
He plans to take the collection overseas. A recent trip to New York, to set up concessions in stores, proved very successful. "We went with a little bag of clothes and were tremendously well-received," he says, delighted. "Bergdorfs gave us an audience, and Grace Coddington, creative director at American Vogue, saw us and called in a lot of our ladieswear for fashion shoots." The Japanese fashion world is just as keen. "We've sold very well there. They really want that tailored look. The interesting thing is that in Japan, Timothy Everest is perceived to be so young. But the buying power there is at a much younger age and our customer base is probably, on average, 25. They've really latched on to the sort of look we do. It obviously suits the Japanese physique, especially some of those young boys who are so skinny - they look fantastic in it."
A fashion editor from one of Japan's most influential magazines recently observed: "Timothy is a Savile Row gentleman. He's of the future and of the present. He's not a designer - that is of the past." Everest is flattered. "I think he was talking about the broader picture. I don't think he meant that there is anything wrong with being a designer - just that there are things that are very passe about that completely over-the-top catwalk number. The Nineties and the future are going to be very much about real people and relationships - which is exactly what 'Timothy Everest' is all about."
After this summer, of course, it'll be about relationships and Ethan Hunt grey suits. Mission: Impossible shows the besuited Tom Cruise in a series of improbable scenarios, stunts and locations. Everest considers his suit "appropriate for all occasions". Is there anywhere you couldn't wear a grey suit? He stops to think for a second. "In the bath," comes the reply. !
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