Style: Another Nutter on the Row: Richard James, like Tommy Nutter before him, is shaking up Savile Row with his range of designer clothes, says Roger Tredre

THE NEW boy on the block did not get off to a good start. Richard James could not work out how to switch off the burglar alarm outside his shop on Savile Row.

He stood in the street looking up at the alarm with an expression on his face that might best be described as sheepish. To his dismay, the old guard of the Row took a disturbing interest in the volume of noise filling up their street.

The tailors gathered on their front-door steps in the lunchtime sunshine to see what the fuss was all about. 'Oh my God,' wailed James, 'they're going to hang, draw and quarter me.'

Bernard Weatherill, former Speaker of the House of Commons and president of his family's tailoring business, came out of his shop opposite and looked James up and down. It seemed highly unlikely that either man recognised the other. James certainly did not know who Mr Weatherill was until he was told later. He clutched his head with both hands: 'Oh, no. It wasn't really him, was it?'

In Savile Row, the celebrated bastion of English men's bespoke tailoring, new boys are few and far between. James, 39, is stepping where few have dared to tread before. To make matters worse, he is not even a tailor. He is one of that new-fangled breed of chaps who call themselves - wait for it - 'designers'.

In the late Eighties, Richard James was a hot name in men's fashion circles. He was one of a trio of British designers who staged fashion shows in Paris that excited huge international attention; the others were Paul Smith and Katharine Hamnett. He was rather like the naughty schoolboy alongside Paul Smith. He shared Smith's love of English eccentricity, but he pushed it that bit further, with a range of colours and clashes of fabrics that had rarely been seen before in men's clothing.

James, one always thought, was in danger of being sent to the back of the class. But the store buyers (from New York, Los Angeles, Milan, Tokyo) loved his work. What then happened was a chain of incidents that is wearily familiar to anyone in the fashion industry. James expanded faster than his means allowed, orders mounted up, cash-flow problems developed - and the naughty schoolboy was indeed sent to the back of the class, by his creditors.

This is ancient history now. But moving from fast fashion into the exclusive echelons of Savile Row is not quite as dramatic a switch as it sounds, for he has always considered himself a quintessentially British designer and greatly admires classic British tailoring.

We gave up on the burglar alarm and left it ringing, going round the corner to the cafe at the Museum of Mankind ('It's good, it's cheap, the people are nice') to talk. I had been warned that he liked to drink at lunchtime and that he was garrulous beyond belief. He did not disappoint. 'I don't want you to quote me as slagging off Savile Row. I don't want to end up being the vulgar person in the Row,' he said. 'I love it, everything about the place. I love those old gentlemen with nipped-in waists and narrow trousers. I love everything about English tailoring.

'If there is a difference, it's that I believe that while you should respect the past, you have to push forward, too. People get grouse in Sainsbury's now, not on the moors.'

James will sell ready-to-wear clothes and also provide a made-to-measure service in the best Savile Row tradition. He wants to soften up the structured Savile Row suit, doing away with some of the canvases and interlinings that give the suit its rigidity, and experimenting with colour, fabric, and pattern.

'The true English style is much more eccentric than the French and Italians seem to think. There were some crazy fabrics about in the Thirties and Forties. The idea that the English are always dressed in brown is total rubbish,' he said.

I returned to the shop this week for its opening, and found him darting about with enthusiasm, showing off his lightweight tweed jackets with overchecks of burnt orange and apple green, and soft pink cashmere cardigans to be worn with roll-neck sweaters (the new male twinset). There were multi-coloured square ties, shirts in blue and lilac, and a wonderfully comfortable alpaca overcoat. ('There are more on the way,' he promised. 'I'm still waiting for deliveries.')

There was also some fine and restrained tailoring. James, the arch-colourist, quixotically says he wants to dress head-to-toe in charcoal grey.

Where does James the designer part company with the tailors of Savile Row? 'I'm not keen on the fuddy-duddiness of Savile Row, that snobbery that says you have to wear this type of jacket with that type of shirt,' he says.

'Savile Row does have a problem. The fathers are not bringing their sons anymore. Maybe I can change that because I'm not blinkered. I know about Comme des Garcons and Yamamoto and the other designers. Maybe I can be a catalyst to bring a new generation to the Row.'

The parallel with the late Tommy Nutter is striking. When Nutter opened up shop in Savile Row in 1969, he was like a breath of fresh air, selling a wide-lapelled and big-shouldered look that brought a new kind of customer to the area. He dressed Mick and Bianca Jagger, Eric Clapton, Diana Rigg, Twiggy, even the Beatles (there are three Nutter suits on the album cover of Abbey Road).

The old stalwarts of the Row gave Nutter no more than six months, and watched in amazement as his business flourished. Now the tailors are more wary about writing off James, who could be a worthy inheritor of Nutter's mantle.

Henry Holland, managing director of Kilgour, French & Stanbury, positively welcomes James's arrival. 'It's good news for Savile Row. I hope that like Tommy Nutter he livens up the place and brings in a different type of customer.'

An even warmer welcome has come from Anthony Hewitt, the tailor opposite at number 9. His workshop is making James's made-to-measure suits, and also helping with the manufacture of his ready-to-wear clothes. It is the combination of new-boy design skills and old-school tailoring excellence that really promises something special (Tommy Nutter had a similar partnership for many years with the tailor Edward Sexton).

Hewitt, 57, has worked on and off for years with designers. 'I've always had a deep appreciation of what they're trying to do. Richard's arrival in Savile Row is very encouraging.'

The Row has felt the recession as much as the high street. Earlier this month, Wells of Mayfair, a company dating back to 1829 and once one of the Row's largest tailors, went out of business.

Hewitt is more recession-proof than others in the Row, with a strong following of British customers to counterbalance his export business. Prices for immaculate hand-stitched suits start at pounds 850, and James's made-to-measure suits will be similarly priced. This is a lot of money, but it is a long-term investment: the suit that Hewitt wore for the Independent photographer was six years old, but looked as if it would last for ever.

Richard James, 37a Savile Row, London W1 (071-434 0605). Anthony J Hewitt, 9 Savile Row (071-734 1505).

(Photograph omitted)

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

    £14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

    Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

    £13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

    Day In a Page

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there