What about an outrageous shirt and a surreal tie? Have I gone mad? Not really. Every so often even an old fuddy-duddy like me has a hankering to stray away from the immaculately tasteful products to be obtained on my favourite London streets (Savile Row and Jermyn Street) to explore some less conventional sartorial creations. Italians are the ones who have the talent for carrying off the unusual with the most flair. So off I tripped to the urban jungle of… Knightsbridge. Not as silly as it sounds, because just a couple of streets west of Harrods is a shop which offers gentlemen clothes from Italy which can fairly be described as ‘cutting-edge’.
Angelo Galasso used to be a banker. A rather unusual banker. A banker who designed and made his own clothes. One day he decided that counting money was less fun than sewing. 15 years later he has 70 shops in Italy. And now he has shops in London. (To reach his original studio in Rome it was necessary to press intercom 8, so that is the name of the company – Interno 8, pronounced Interno Otto). I had been to Beauchamp Place only once before in my life – to buy, of all things, a fireplace. This time I walked along the street with a mixture of feelings quite new to me on a shopping expedition: excitement and trepidation.
Number 42 is a pretty little place, the sort of confection of glass, lightwood and spotlights often nowadays used for decent restaurants of the modern sort. The young lady assistants (Italian and English) are young and attractive. And the clothes are extraordinary.
Signor Galasso was himself on hand to explain to me his approach. I summarize it thus. Fashionable women have had it all their own way for too long. It is time for men – of the affluent, intelligent sort – to be treated as fashionable beings in our own right. Why should we chaps not enjoy a touch of extravagance and a soupçon of flamboyance? But all must remain firmly within recognisably classic style. Clothes should delight and surprise, not frighten.
I looked around to see what he meant.
Here was a tie the end of which could be folded out to a width of about 7 inches. There was a shirt with two attached collars, the one on top of the other. I picked up another tie – or was it two? No, it was one – but with two fronts, made of contrasting silks. Some cuffs were cut to Art Deco angles. Another seemed to have a watch sewn into it. (In fact, a circular piece had been cut from the cuff, allowing the watch face to be visible but covering the strap – a conceit first devised by Signor Galasso for the President of the Fiat motor company.) Collars were sometimes predictable – cutaway, pointed and button-down – sometimes anything but. I stared at one particularly high beast. It fastened with not one, not two, but three buttons.
Each of the 73 styles of shirt is named – some rather off-puttingly to my ear. (Does anyone really want to wear a ‘James Bond’?) But, with ready-to-wear prices starting at £79, they are good value and are excellently made by the workers back in Rome. I thought I should opt for the made-to-measure at £160, so that my venture into this New World would be entirely to my taste. (I have never worn a wrist watch, preferring to sport a half hunter in my outside breast jacket pocket, so I did not go for the £198 polso horlogio.) Remarkably, the complete process from measuring to delivery takes only 3 weeks – scarcely credible to those of us used to the much more modest speed of English bespoke.
My choice? Well, in for a penny… I just could not resist the outrageously high collar. But I reverted to type for the cuffs (standard double, so that I can wear my Father’s gold cufflinks) and for the fabric (smooth cotton in a mid-blue check). I decided to pass on the cavalloto (‘little horse’) – a piece of material which fastens under the crotch to keep the tails from riding up – a bit too continental even for my new adventurous self. I left the shop as I had arrived: both excited and agitated. Was this sort of thing really me? Was I degenerating into that saddest of all creatures – the trendy ancient?
Before I could blink it was ready. The trepidation was unfounded. My Shirt from the Eternal City is beautifully constructed and delightfully theatrical. But what to wear with it? Needless to say, none of my ties would fill the huge space at the front of the giant collar. So a double-ended beauty in black and gold (£95) it had to be. So now I have my outrageous shirt and my surreal tie. No, not everyday wear. Nor will they replace my Jermyn Street and Savile Row standards. But I now have a flash of Italian magic for when the fancy takes me.
If it ever takes you, I can heartily recommend a saunter down Beauchamp Place and a chat with the pretty ladies of Interno 8.
19 Conduit Street, London W1S 2QR, England.
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