NEW & LINGWOOD
Life’s defining moments are often to do with firsts. I recall with absolute clarity the first occasion I tasted fried foie gras; and the magical instant I first saw the interior of a church designed by George Frederick Bodley. Each was a revelation and each had the quality of a fulfilled dream. And so it was with the first time I bought a shirt from New & Lingwood.
I had arrived in Cambridge in the autumn of 1968, expecting to join the elite of my generation and eager to learn from its sartorial perfection. Naïvety begets disappointment. I soon realised that most of my contemporaries were interested in their appearance only to the extent that it legitimized their revolutionary credentials. D & S (Drab and Scruffy) was the uniform of the day. The Sixties were not swinging. They were sagging.
But a few brave souls withstood the fetid tide, and I soon learnt that (almost without exception) they patronised a tiny shop on King’s Parade, opposite the main entrance to King’s College. Thus was I led to the Cambridge emporium of New & Lingwood. I think I paid five guineas for that first shirt – a plain light blue cotton poplin tunic with (of course) separate collars. It made me feel so resolutely NOT part of the cultural and intellectual upheavals going on all around me that I returned time after time to make further purchases. I was buying armour – beautifully made and well-fitting armour – with which to ward off the assaults of the dreary and the second-rate.
So let us jump a few decades. Sadly, the Cambridge shop closed years ago. (Did the Philistines eventually win at my alma mater? That is for others to judge.) But New & Lingwood’s shops in Eton (opened in 1865) and London (1922) are still – Laus Deo! – in robust good health. (The Eton connection is important, for the firm supplies the outfits for the College’s 110 sports teams and 67 societies – and old boys are often properly loyal to a firm which has looked after them so well.) So I have recently taken myself along to 53 Jermyn Street to recapture some of the excitement I enjoyed as an undergraduate. This time it would be my first bespoke shirt from New & Lingwood.
At the Jermyn Street end of the Piccadilly Arcade, the premises on both sides bear the New & Lingwood name. Upstairs in the larger shop I found Sean O’Flynn, shirtmaker, who has been with the firm for 18 years – which is extraordinary, as he looks only about 25 years old. (Working here must impart a Peter Pan bonus.) Sean explained the procedure. Having made my choice from the rolls and samples of cotton poplin all around, I would have my first shirt made in this very spot (to his measurements) by a lady called Margaret. This I would wear and wash, and any consequential fine-tuning would be incorporated into the rest of the shirts, made in the London workroom.
The usual initial order for bespoke is 4 shirts. I began with 2: a pink bengal stripe and a red widely spaced bengal stripe, both with cutaway separate collars and surgeon’s (i.e. separate) cuffs. Prices begin at £150 (including VAT), and move up to £190 for Sea Island cotton and £230 for silk. Good value. After 3 weeks the first shirt was ready. No problems, so the second was soon with me as well.
The shirts are splendid. Full-cut around the chest and waist (as I like), very long in the tail (as I also like) and with two little details which particularly please me. First, Sean suggested I try an extended band (a ‘lock band’) on the separate collar at its front fastening. This wraps round further under the collar and prevents any tendency for the band to push up under my tie. And second, not mentioned but just done automatically, the edge of the cloth by the buttons which fasten the cuff to the arm of the shirt has been shaped to follow the line of the buttons. Delightful.
Since the early 1990s New & Lingwood has been under the guidance of a South African gentleman named Anthony Spitz. Clearly, he is determined to maintain the standards and traditions of this most English of firms. You will have some idea of the man when I tell you that he still drives the lovely dark blue Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow II he bought new in 1980. He has plans to open a New & Lingwood shop in New York. But, until then, persons of taste and discernment in the United States will be pleased to know that Sean visits the Big Apple, as well as Washington and Boston, each year. (The shop will supply details.)
New & Lingwood was part of one of my defining moments back in the 60s. Now it is back with me again, and I am glad.