Savile Row

Timothy Everest, Richard James, Mark Powell, John Pearse

Timothy Everest

"Obviously we're not for everyone," says Timothy Everest, 37, speaking about his line of bespoke suits. "But there's a man who has been buying expensive designer ready-to-wear and now wants something more—suits that have a contemporary feel but offer the quality, individualism, and comfort possible only in a custom-made garment."

A wide range of men fall into this category, and Everest includes among customers movie stars like Tom Cruise, politicians in the new Labour government, and defectors from the "old" Savile Row. What they get is an updated interpretation of a quintessential English gentleman's mode of dress: an elegantly lean cut and a superbly confident but slightly eccentric mixing of patterns and stripes that displays no overt attempt at coordination and yet works beautifully.

Everest, who started his own business in 1991, learned his craft as an apprentice to the late Tommy Nutter, a legendary Savile Row renegade of the previous generation. (Three of the Beatles wear Nutter suits on the Abbey Road album cover.) Something else Everest appears to have picked up from his mentor is enormous personal charm. "Tommy was very modest, very down to earth," says Everest, but he could be describing his own manner with clients: courteous, soft spoken, uninsistent, yet full of vitality, enthusiasm, and humor.

"I try to demystify the whole custom-tailoring process and make it more accessible," admits Everest as he shows me around his business premises, a small, sparsely but comfortably furnished Huguenot townhouse on a cobblestone street in the City district of Spitalfields—in itself a maverick location. ("I opened as far away from Savile Row as I could," he laughs.)

"We try to be about more than just clothes," Everest continues, "encouraging customers to sit and chat. We share information with them on good restaurants, hairdressers, shoemakers, specialty shops, and art galleries—places that possess aesthetic principles and business practices similar to our own. The nineties are about building up relationships."

Timothy Everest Limited, 32 Elder Street, London E1 6BT; 44-171-377-5770; fax 44-171-377-5990. Bespoke suits, which need three to four fittings and take about eight weeks to complete, start at $1,625. Everest is available for appointments in the United States at Dormeuil (for which he is design director), 21 East 67th Street, New York, NY 10021; 212-396-4444. Ready-to-wear suits, shirts, and ties are available in the States at Barneys New York.

Richard James

Richard James is the only member of the "new" Savile Row who's actually on that famous thoroughfare—right next-door to the venerable Anderson & Sheppard. The two tailoring shops are a study in contrasts: the latter somber and baronial with bolts of dark cloth stacked on tables and a moosehead on the back wall; the former a dazzling white loftlike room with shelves of tropically colored ready-to-wear shirts, a central table displaying lusciously bright ties, and along the walls racks of suits—some admittedly dark and conservative, but many featuring candy-colored pinstripes or large-scale windowpane plaids in hectic tints. All exhibit James' signature cut, which is quite waisted—almost like a hacking jacket from Huntsman, another of the Row's more forbidding establishments.

But under the blithe, jazzy exterior of a Richard James' bespoke suit beats a classic Savile Row heart: The construction, for instance, is pliable and forgiving in the light-and-airy A&S manner. ("Yes," says James, "we've softened up the structure a bit by doing away with some of the canvases and interlinings.")

What's more surprising is that James, 45, is not himself a tailor: He comes from the world of men's high fashion and mounted his own ready-to-wear runway shows in Paris during the 1980s, but he was always an ardent admirer of traditional British tailoring.

"Moving to Savile Row is about turning away from fashion," he says. "My custom-made suits are for men who understand the advantages of bespoke clothing but don't want to be told what to wear in that snobby, old-fashioned Savile Row way which says: 'Either take our style or leave it.' "

James' unstuffy sartorial attitude and pleasing personal demeanor—one of low-key amusement—have drawn a new, younger bespoke customer to the Row, which is essential since the English tradition of fathers bringing their sons along no longer holds. (The Queen's furnituremaking nephew, David Linley, is a client.) "We appeal to creative professionals," says James, "people who are sick of the globalization of fashion, who want to look distinctive."

Richard James, 31 Savile Row, London W1X 1AG; 44-171-434-0605; fax 44-171-287-2265. Bespoke suits, which need at least two fittings and take about eight weeks to complete, start at $1,950 and are available in London only. Ready-to-wear suits, shirts, and ties available at Bergdorf Goodman; shirts and ties at Barneys New York.

Mark Powell

I've never been a gambler," protests Mark Powell with mild indignation, putting aside a recent issue of Harpers & Queen. The glossy women's magazine used a full-page portrait of "fashionable tailor" Powell to open "Men Behaving Badly," an article on modern rakes that accuses him of many dissolute activities, gambling among them.

Warranted or not, a reputation for being a hell-raiser clings to the immensely affable Powell. Part of the problem is his affection for British gangster chic—he sometimes adopts the sharp racketeer style Michael Caine sports in the English crime movie Get Carter, and he's notorious in Britain for having made the imprisoned East End mobster Ronnie Kray a suit for visiting hours. That this stocky 37-year-old Cockney also happens to look and sound eerily like Bob Hoskins' ex-con in the noirish Mona Lisa only compounds his bad-boy image.

But Powell is much more than a purveyor of larrikin nattiness. Of all the tailors who comprise the "new" Savile Row, he is the most overtly romantic—a dandy, really. He draws freely, if subtly, on the Edwardian and Regency pasts—an elongated silhouette here, a high-buttoned coat there—as well as on the 1960s and 1970s. (In fact, his knowledge of historical dress is so encyclopedic that he's frequently asked to create archival ensembles for the cover of George magazine.) What keeps his superbly tailored garments from looking like costume is his understanding of cut and proportion, the immutable elements in classic gentlemen's garb. "Unless you search out those unchanging components, you end up with clothing that won't age," he says, "clothing that goes out of style."

Powell is self-taught and, as with many of his tailor contemporaries, he acknowledges Tommy Nutter—"What a great expansive personality"—as an enormous influence. He first opened up shop in 1985 and moved to his present atelier, which with its dark woodwork and original yellow walls has the atmosphere of an Edwardian gentleman's club, in 1996. It's in Soho, close by Carnaby Street, an appropriate location since Powell believes that we are experiencing another sartorial upheaval: "Look around, we're in the middle of a major tailoring revival," he states confidently. "The British suit is the future."

Mark Powell & Co., 17 Newburgh Street, London W1V 1LE; tel/fax 44-171-287-5498. Bespoke suits, which need at least two fittings and take about four weeks to complete, start at $1,380. Powell is available for appointments in the United States; call for information. Bespoke shirts and shoes are also available. Ready-to-wear suits, shirts, and ties are available in the States at Barneys New York.

John Pearse

is the godfather of new British tailoring—albeit a very laid back one. His voice, which is calm and cool with more than a hint of world-weariness in it, washes over you gently, a waft of the mellow 1960s. Sitting in his bright, airy storefront showroom on a quiet Soho lane, Pearse, 51, chats about Granny Takes a Trip, the fashionable King's Road boutique he ran in that heady decade, selling velvet coats and pony-skin shirts to the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Mick Jagger (who's still a client). But Pearse's roots were in bespoke tailoring—he'd apprenticed with Hawes & Curtis—and after a detour into filmmaking he returned to them, opening his current business in 1986.

The ready-to-wear clothing that's displayed in Pearse's Meard Street shop is extraordinarily diverse—everything from the most orthodox gray flannel, three-piece suit to a striking pinstriped denim jacket with a very wide long-roll lapel and an almost comically baggy pair of matching trousers.

But as Pearse admits, when it comes to bespoke suits, his bread and butter is at the conservative end of the style spectrum. "Bespoke is really a whole different garment," he says. "It's completely one-on-one, and each piece is unique." Doubly unique in Pearse's case because he's something of a specialist in vintage fabrics, scouring the country for remnants of cloth that are no longer in production. They lend an inimitable aura, a hard-to-define sense of authenticity, to the beautiful traditional suits he makes out of them.

Given Pearse's personal style (he appears to regard visitors to his shop with amused detachment), it seems fitting that Jack Nicholson is a regular customer.

John Pearse, 6 Meard Street, London W1V 3HR; 44-171-434-0738; fax 44-171-287-3862. Bespoke suits, which need two fittings and take about six weeks to complete, are available in London only and start at $2,111. Ready-to-wear clothing is not available in the United States.