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Log for Francis Bown

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Bown's BEspoke - Suits - Dege & SkinnerBravo! to the man who has just given me back my waist.  I feared that twenty years of foie gras and indolence had lost this bodily feature to me forever.  But no.  The alchemist’s stone has been found and my perfectly proportioned frame can once again delight an admiring world.

Robert Bailey is my hero’s name.  Has this fine young fellow from Hook in Hampshire had me perspiring on the running track or eating lettuce leaves for three months?  Not a bit of it.  Mr Bailey is neither a personal trainer nor a dietician.  He is something far more important to one’s appearance and one’s well-being: he is a cutter at one of Savile Row’s finest and most prestigious firms of bespoke tailors, Dege & Skinner.

I suppose that when the young German tailor, Jacob Dege, came to London in 1855 to seek his fortune, he little thought that the business he founded ten years later would, in a new millennium, bring such delight to an ageing (and expanding) gourmet.  I feel grateful to him and rather sad that anti-German sentiment should have forced him to resign the chairmanship of the company in 1917.  His son attended Merchant Taylor’s School and there met a lad called Skinner.  The Skinner family has been involved since 1915.  Now Michael and William Skinner are in charge, a father and son partnership which can boast that it is the only firm in the world entitled to make the officers’ dress jackets for the King’s Troop – and in Britain you cannot get much higher in the patriotic stakes than that.  (It is William who travels to the United States, Japan, Europe and the Gulf States to service overseas clients – the shop will supply detailed itineraries.)

Such military connections influence the house style: a higher back to the trousers and (the cause of my particular delight) the severely waisted jacket.

Bown's Bespoke - Suits - Dege & SkinnerAs Mr Bailey took my measurements for a two piece single-breasted suit (prices begin at £2,200, including V.A.T.), I observed – propped up in the corner of the fitting room – a double-barrelled shotgun.  For customers who fail to settle their accounts?  No, for those who need to examine the fit of a shooting jacket.  Suddenly I found a wide leather belt was being fastened round my waist – mercifully, not too tight.  This had never before happened to me in a tailor’s premises.  What was going on?  Apparently, the procedure is used to measure for a military Sam Browne belt.  Here it helps to establish the natural position of the waist – all important for the balance of the coat and the magical waisted look.

Another first.  Photographs were taken – front, back and sides – to help judge my natural stance.  They would assist the skilled hands - which would be spending 70 hours cutting and sewing to produce my suit (here in Savile Row and in the workshop round the corner in Clifford Street) - to make those tiny, crucial adjustments to accommodate my particular shape.  Cut and workmanship are matters of real pride at this level of tailoring.  But so are the little details.  Buttons are, of course, all real horn.  The four on each cuff comprise two opening and two sham, a traditional arrangement. All the canvass used is made from natural horsehair.  Tape is sewn round the inside rear of each trouser leg turn-up to prevent the shoe rubbing through the suit cloth.  The back of the trousers is dovetailed for braces.  The pockets are pure stiff cotton.  And then there is the contribution of the bees…

As a youth one of the small tragedies in my life was that I could not abide the taste of honey.  Such a healthy, wonderful substance.  But, more to the point, my father was an avid beekeeper, and it caused much sadness that I refused to consume the fruit of his hives.  Now, at last, I feel I have made some small amends.  For the silk used to make the buttonholes of every Dege & Skinner suit (including mine) is covered with beeswax – brought directly from the apiary run by Mrs Michael Skinner.  It provides water resistance and extra durability.  Father would certainly approve.

Bown's Bespoke - Suits - Dege & SkinnerAs he would, I think, of my choice of cloth, for he was a man of solid and worthy tastes.  Faced with the hundreds of cloths in books and rolls around the front of the shop, I chose a 14 ounce wool worsted flannel made in Huddersfield (where else?) – a lightish grey with a distinct chalk stripe.  This cloth pushed the price up slightly – by a hundred pounds.  For the jacket lining I proved a fickle jade, changing my mind from scarlet (too restrictive for shirts and ties) to light blue (likewise) to dark grey (too dull) to medium green (perfect with everything).

Over the next weeks I became accustomed to the journey to number 10 Savile Row.  You will not mistake the shop.  Apart from the name, it is certainly possessed of the best dressed window in the Row.  Some other tailors in this street of bespoke seem to go out of their way to display clothes with all the refinement of charity shop rejects.  Not Dege & Skinner.  Elegance attracts, and if you pass by you will long to go in and answer the siren call of beautifully shaped jackets and colourful shirts (for the firm also makes fine bespoke shirts).

Robert Bailey is a perfectionist.  When all seemed well to me, he would repeatedly wrinkle his brow and insist on yet another modification to what already looked jolly good.  But it was worth the wait.  The final result is magnificent: a suit which is supremely comfortable and which manages to both hug my figure and yet somehow transform it.  An example of bespoke tailoring which is delightfully flattering.  Did I say flattering?  Let’s change that to ‘revealing of the inner man’.  Because my inner man has always had a waist.  And now – thanks to the tailoring wizardry of Dege & Skinner – it is there for the world to see.


Dege & Skinner Ltd

10 Savile Row, London W1X 1AF, England.
Telephone +44 (0)207 287 2941
Fax +44 (0)207 734 8794
USA Toll Free: 1-800-200-3744

Open: Monday – Friday: 9.15 a.m. – 5.15 p.m.

Francis Bown 2004
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