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Bown's Bespoke - Evening Dress Wear - James & JamesI had no idea the Duke of Windsor was such a tiny chap.  But there he was (or rather, there his suit was), just by the door of the fitting-room – scarcely knee-high to a grasshopper.  Now, whatever one thinks of this particular dead Royal – and I certainly am no fan – you have to admit he was a decent dresser.  Money was never a bar when it came to adding to his wardrobe: as long as it was the best, he would have it.  So when I visited the tailors who made this particular suit jacket in 1963 for the former Edward VIII, I knew I was in an establishment of quality.  (Note I refer to the jacket.  The said royal gentleman insisted on having his trousers made in the United States.  But, as we know, he tended to like things American…)

Life is full of little paradoxes.  Strange that one of the best of London’s Savile Row tailors is not on Savile Row at all, but on the parallel (and, mercifully, quieter) Old Burlington Street.  But there it is, at number 11 – the august firm of James & James.

Another paradox: this quintessentially English establishment was founded by a Swede.  Sven James came to London in the 1920s to work for one of the city’s most prestigious tailors, Frederick Scholte.  (Mr Scholte was a man of firm opinions.  Having had a few problems with those in the musical profession, he told his front-of-house staff to keep them out of the shop.  An assistant came into the cutting room: “There’s one of them there musicians in the shop, sir.”  “Send him away !” commanded Mr Scholte.  Thus was ejected one of the world’s greatest conductors, Arturo Toscanini…)

Now Sven’s son, Eric James, runs the business with Yvonne Nichol. And I venture to suggest there is not a pleasanter and more friendly welcome to be found in the whole of tailoring. I really enjoyed my visits to their premises.

So why was I there ?  For a dress suit.  We all need one, and my last was made for me when I went up to Cambridge thirty years ago.  Now wear and tear and too many decent dinners have required its replacement.  Off-the-peg dress suits look so ghastly that a proper bespoke job is a wise investment.  Besides, only thus can you dictate the precise style for your figure and your taste.  Did I want a shawl collar ?  Not likely.  Or a notched collar (the sort usually found on a normal suit) ?  Not really.  What I desired was the old-fashioned peaked variety – wide and high – with a single-breasted jacket and a proper dress waistcoat with a ‘bib’ opening to show off my starched shirt fronts.  The silk facings would not, of course, be of satin silk, but of the traditional ribbed silk variety.  And the material had to traditional, too – English, all-wool, a decent weight (say, 14 ounce) with a barely perceptible herringbone weave.

Did all this cause Mr James to raise his eyebrows ?  Not a bit of it.  He simply sat down, took out his pen and sketched a suit with exactly the details I had specified.  I was impressed.  Then he reached out and unrolled the very cloth for which I yearned.  No wonder the great and the good flock here to spend their pennies.  And media folk.  Some of the smartest suits on our televisions screens – think of the actor John Thaw playing Kavanagh QC – have been made by James & James.  Prices start at £2133 (including VAT), with my 3-piece dress suit coming in at around £2,400.

After three fittings and much delightful conversation, I finally trundled along to Old Burlington Street with a bag containing a dress shirt, wing collar and bow-tie.  I strongly recommend such a dress rehearsal, so that the effect of the whole ensemble can be judged.  In this case, for example, it resulted in tiny adjustments to the waistcoat to ensure it covered the bottom of the starched shirt-front.  A minor alteration but an essential one.

All complete, I stood next to the Duke of Windsor’s suit and admired the cut of my own.  I do not suppose I would ever have been invited to one of his parties.  But dressed by James & James I feel quite grand enough to imagine I might think about abandoning a throne or two…

NOTE: James & James have now joined with Davies & Son, and are to be found in Savile Row (details below).


James & James Bespoke Tailors
At Davies & Son

38 Savile Row
London W1
Telephone +44 020 7734 1748

Francis Bown 2004
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