HENRY POOLE & CO
There is too much emphasis on sunshine nowadays. I certainly like to see the sun, and I frequently travel many hundreds of miles to have it warm my face. But I do not think I would care to live in a place which was constantly warm. Climatic variety has formed the British character. I doubt that we would have possessed the largest empire mankind has ever known, if our small island had been bathed in warm sunlight every year from January until December. The changing seasons nourish our minds as well as our bodies, and sow within us the aspiration to achieve great things. We need our autumnal and winter coldness. And then there are the real joys to be had on chilly days, which are not confined to staying inside next to a roaring fire with the prospect of a decent lunch of roast beef. No, there is sartorial pleasure to be had, too – not only in the donning of a stout suit and a good pair of brogues, but also in the wearing of a wonderful overcoat. I have just acquired such a garment, which is now, without doubt, the most elegant overcoat in my wardrobe. It should come as no surprise to you, dear reader, that it was made for me by one of the finest tailoring firms in the world, Henry Poole & Co.
Number fifteen Savile Row has been refurbished. There was nothing wrong with it before, but now it has been given an extra note of pleasing sophistication. No brash novelty has been allowed to intrude – such would certainly not be Henry Poole – but the lines are now cleaner, and behind the glass the gold bullion of the uniforms and the copperplate lettering of the warrants seem even more impressive. Both speak of a history which goes back to 1806 (the leather-bound ledgers date back to 1846), and descendants of Henry Poole himself still run the business. How splendid that is, and how wonderfully British. In my photograph, Mr Angus Cundey stands next to Mr Simon Cundey: father and son determined to maintain the standards of their famous ancestor.
You will wish to know about the Warrants of Appointment. I have looked at them all. They tell us that Henry Poole has made for 10 Kings, 3 Queens, 5 Emperors, 12 Princes, 3 Royal Dukes, 2 Khedives, 2 Shahs, 2 Tsars and 1 Maharajah. Such persons require the best, and that is what they have found here.
I thought I would have a grey overcoat – or, to be more precise, a grey topcoat. What is the difference between an overcoat and a topcoat? My cutter, the admirable and expert Mr Alan Alexander (pictured) – who is also a director of the firm – explained to me that it is a question of weight. An overcoat is made from a cloth of 22-26 ounces, and a topcoat from a cloth of 17-20 ounces. Clearly, one needs both in one’s wardrobe, but I wanted a coat of the lighter sort, for my first priority was elegance.
However, I did want it to be long. In terms of appearance, I thought the longer the better. But there was a constraint. I have had very long coats made before, and have found that they have caused tripping on staircases – not an activity to be countenanced at my advanced age and state of decrepitude. So it had to be exactly right. Mr Alexander appreciated my concern and ensured that the length was perfect.
Grey sounds a dull colour, and I admit that it can be. But, as I searched through the vast range of samples Mr Alexander brought to me, one cloth spoke for itself at once. I thought a herringbone pattern would be the thing, and there it was: its crisp alternating lines of black and white giving the impression – from a few feet away – of a light, variegated grey. It was wool and made in England by J. & J. Minnis. Its weight was 18/19 ounces. I had found the cloth; now it was time for decisions about the style.
It would be double-breasted, with two buttons to fasten, an outside breast pocket and straight side pockets with flaps. At each cuff there would be four buttons, all of them working, as I have a serious allergy to sham buttonholes. (The photographs show how beautifully these cuffs have been made. They are examples of the finest craftsmanship in tailoring.) Inside, the lining would be in scarlet, for I do like a bit of excitement when I am dressing for the outdoors, and there would be a ‘poacher’s pocket’ on the left lower side. (This compartment, measuring 10 inches wide and 12 inches deep, is very useful for stowing my scarf and gloves when I arrive at a restaurant.)
Two important matters now arose: the buttons and the collar. That the buttons would be made of real horn could be taken for granted. (Henry Poole would not consider using anything else.) But should they be black or dark grey? We tried both against the sample and decided on the latter. A collar in black cotton/silk velvet seemed a good idea, and Mr Alexander suggested that this should be recessed. This meant that the velvet would be put over the standard collar about half an inch from the edge, and could therefore easily be replaced or discarded once it began to show signs of wear. I agreed.
Prices for topcoats and overcoats at Henry Poole start at around £1,925, including V.A.T., depending upon the material selected. My coat, with its velvet collar (for which an extra charge is made), would be £2,180.
Soon the call came for the first fitting. For your interest, I have included a photograph of the coat at this stage. It was already a fine piece, but, of course, there were many adjustments to be made, including shortening the overall length and adding to the length of the left sleeve. I noticed, with considerable approval, that the herringbone lines had been aligned across the shoulders. If, like me, you take delight in these small details of skilled workmanship, you will enjoy your visits to Henry Poole. Two more fittings followed, with Mr Alexander’s expert eye dictating numerous changes here and there. To my delight, a ‘waisted’ effect was achieved. (I know very well that only the most brilliant tailors can resurrect my vanished waist in this way.) The shoulders were brought in, the left side of the collar was made to lie correctly, and so it went on. This is one of the important aspects of true bespoke tailoring, for these corrections are needed for a perfect fit.
Then all was ready. I was, and I remain, absolutely delighted with this topcoat. It has drawn many compliments – the first from the publisher of a Brazilian fashion magazine, who came into the shop as I was about to leave. She insisted on taking my photograph, so I expect I will soon be a celebrity throughout South America. I am sure the good people there will be as taken as I am by the cut and style of a garment which embodies everything which is good about Savile Row. Note particularly the effect of the recessed velvet collar. Does it not speak eloquently of the continuing panache of our finest tailors?
The fit is marvellous, the length is exactly right and the ‘feel’ as I slip into the coat is uplifting to my spirits. This coat does, indeed, make me rejoice when there is a chill in the air. Everyone should have such a topcoat. Then there would not be so much emphasis on sunshine.
HENRY POOLE & CO
15 Savile Row, London W1S 3PJ, England.
Telephone +44 (0)207 734 5985
Fax +44 (0)207 287 2161
Bespoke overcoats from £1,926, including V.A.T.
Visits are made to Vienna, Paris, Hamburg, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Tokyo, Luxembourg, Zurich, Geneva, Palm Beach, Pebble Beach, New York, Chicago, Boston, Houston, Dallas, Washington DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta and New Orleans. Ask for details.