Ariadne and the Code of Modern Art

Angles, viewpoints, shadows and light, you can look at an art work and see a live or die passion play, performed by a convoluted and colourful troupe of Jackson Pollock’s dripping and erratically painted lines. You can see a fight to the death, a transient nightmare, if you know where to look. Modern Art is a labyrinth of metaphor and enigma packed within, what are often, very simplistic images.

Labyrinths can be seen everywhere, in the snarled paths of relationships to the difficult routes forged up, and down, the slippery ladder of success. Everyone at some point in their life needs an Ariadne though, with her guiding golden thread to help you safely find your way home. For those not entirely up to speed with their Greek myth, Ariadne was a Greek goddess who fell in love with Theseus, helping him out of the Minotaur’s clutches in the original labyrinth, thousands of years ago. He wasn’t thankful though, after promising to marry her, he betrayed and abandoned Ariadne on the Isle of Naxos, leaving her sleeping on the pebbly seashore. She is a cult figure for artisans who tend to wear their melancholy on their sleeves, and she is an excellent starting point when trying to unravel some of the riddles within Modern Art.

To Giorgio de Chirico, the Italian surrealist painter, Ariadne was a talisman, a recurring figure throughout his life’s work. In all of de Chirico’s pictures of her, Ariadne takes the form of a white statue, an image based on a sculpture of the goddess in the Vatican, reclining on a rock on the shore of Naxos, crossed legged and covered by crumpled robes, head supported in sleep by folded arms. de Chirico transports her from antiquity to a strange futuristic world of empty abandoned piazzas, where galleons sail on sand dunes in the distance and steam trains float through empty and darkening vistas. In “The Melancholy of a Beautiful Day” (1913) and many other of de Chirico’s paintings, which feature her, the statue is hemmed in by shadowy dark arches and colonnades, under which many distasteful characters may lurk. de Chirico said of this recurring motif that “the nostalgia of the infinite is revealed beneath the geometric precision of the piazzas.” This is a precise and claustrophobic world, an infinitely empty and lonely place without time, there is civilization to be seen, on a hill in the distance, but a dark figure, the only living figure in the painting, is prevented from reaching it by Ariadne and the long shadow she casts.

The shrouded and dark figure depicted is in fact a modern Odysseus, another melancholy figure from Greek myth, often prone to bouts of nostalgia. As Homer writes of him in the Odyssey, “he sat weeping by the seashore, as he had before, breaking his heart in tears, groaning, and grief. He looked out across the barren sea and wept.” Today the term nostalgia brings to mind warm and pleasant rememberings of times past, perhaps recalled in a rose tinted light. But the word actually springs from the Greek nostos, meaning home, and algos, meaning pain, it is a sense of loss  which runs from the memory of the things you lose as you progress through your life.  Emotionaly, this is where our shrouded Odysseus is in the painting, it is where de Chirico himself was when he painted it too, lonely, miserable, cold and alone in Paris, reminiscing back to his Italian upbringing.

A way out is on offer to Odysseus in The Melancholy of a Beautiful Day though, it is on the bustling hillside in the distance, blocked by Ariadne and her shadow. So why can she not be overcome? Because, unlike the arches, which represent nostalgia, Ariadne herself represents melancholy, that irremovable, invincible monkey on the back of any artist worth his salt. Melancholy is a great immeasurable, reasonless sadness, “a luxurious gloom of choice,” said Wordsworth, which some people harbour deep inside and struggle to be rid off. The statue of Ariadne, depicted by Chirico, is particularly melancholic because she is stranded in sleep, forever on the verge of waking up and discovering that she has been betrayed. To any observer she is stranded, constantly a moment away from heartbreak and because of the infinite nature of her sadness, the shadow she casts is impossible to cross, like the impossibility of removing  melancholy from a troubled soul.

The themes of melancholy, nostalgia and enclosure can also be seen in Francis Bacon’s 1975 surrealist masterpiece “Three Figures and Portrait.” Here the tragic, melancholy figure of Ariadne is assumed by George Dyer, Bacon’s East End wide-boy partner, who lived his life getting  drunk off Bacon’s money in Soho and committed suicide in 1971, a few years before this picture was painted. The all seeing, dead centre portrait which overlooks the three convoluted and seemingly spinning figures is almost certainly Dyer and it is also argued that the two broken bodies, who’s twisted and misshapen flesh turn around two visible spines, are also representations of Bacon’s boyfriend. Dyer is to Bacon in the 70’s, what Ariadne was to Chirico in the 20’s, a figure which represents loss and nostalgia for a time irredeemable. But Bacon does not show the same physical respect to Dyer as Chirico shows to Ariadne, because Chrico’s attachment to her is one of distance and psychology, were as Bacon’s attachment to Dyer is based on flesh, so he is portrayed through the prism of the gut wrenching mess of sex and Bacon’s own emotional reaction to Dyer’s self destruction.

Like in “The Melancholy of a Beautiful Day” and the depiction of Odysseus, here Bacon does a similar thing, placing a bird-like creature to the fore of the painting, with a human gnashing mouth and dripping entrails, in true Bacon style. This figure represents the Furies, the three winged goddesses of judgment from Greek myth, with one sat here in deliberation on Dyer’s brief thirty years, in all its differing shades. However the Furies are not always harbingers of judgment, they can also be protectors and guardians of the downtrodden in society, the persecuted, like gays perhaps, in Dyer’s day, when homosexuality could still lead to a life as an outcast and even prison time.

The claustrophobia induced by Chrico’s arches and shadows are replaced in this work by circles, inspired by Bacon’s interest in primitive radiography, when areas of treatment in diagrams were often indicated by yellow circles. Here the area of treatment is within the wide yellow circle, which takes up a quarter of the canvas, turning this space into a radiographer’s room, where the rays do not allow us to view the body from the outside in, but turn the body inside out, for the ultimate examination. An opaque sphere, in the left of the painting, offers the only area of redemption, an air bubble, in an otherwise poisonous room, the tiny confines of which being the only place where Dyer’s head is clothed and intact.

The emptiness of de Chirico’s Piazza squares are also echoed in Jannis Kounellis’s “Untitled 1979,” a large charcoal drawing which features a seemingly empty town. Perhaps it is the town which Odysseus can see on the hillside, if it was, he would be sorely disappointed, because it is just as lonely as his current position. To the right of the picture are five charcoal faces and above the townscape, a jackdaw and a hooded crow, struck by arrows, mid-flight. An Ariadne figure is no longer recognisable in human form here, instead she can be found in bricks and mortar, in the industrial chimney which rises above the town, smoke billowing from its brim. The chimney to Kounellis is a monument to the passing of the Industrial Revolution, nostalgia for a time lost, for a time when chimneys lined the sky and poured smoke into the atmosphere. The chimney is also representative of the creative mind, the toil of pouring heart and soul into art, with the pinioned birds representing the imaginative mind stalled, prevented from soaring, by fear of expression, something to be avoided at all costs, because creativity is the ultimate vent for nostalgia and melancholy.

Storyette H.M #2

 A photograph captures a mere moment in time. Something always precedes and follows an image and the events that precede a photograph tend to colour it. What are the secrets behind a feigned smile or a flirtatious glance in an unfitting direction? Why are there flowers on the mantelpiece? Who is that woman? Why is she crying? In some cases we don’t know how a photograph came to look the way it does and what confluence of events brought people together to pass in front of a camera shutter for a brief moment, before moving off into immortality, leaving behind an indelible footprint of a set of circumstances, which to them were everything, but to us are a mystery. We can imagine though and we can guess.

New York – New Year’s Eve  – 1967

1

Behold the customary loves and friendships,” Michael flipped over the page, “I am he who kisses his comrade lightly on the lips at parting, and I am one who is kissed in return.” He threw the book onto a chair. “Am I ignorant not to get,” Michael leaned over the back of the sofa to gain a better view of the cover, “Walt Whitman, because I don’t get Walt Whitman?”

Sally, his girlfriend of three years shouted from the bathroom, “That’s natural, you’re a student doctor, if you liked Walt Whitman there would be something quite wrong.” Their flat was a mêlée of the scientific and the artistic. She was a painter turned waitress who had filled the room with half finished canvases and sketch books while his medical journals and texts were left to take up any remaining space.

“I don’t like that comment,” he yelled back, “if I wanted to get Walt Whitman I would, I like poetry, when I’m in that kind of a mood.” Michael reached for his grey overcoat and mumbled underneath his breath, “I’m just not often in that kind of a mood.”

Sally, girlish and twenty-five walked in, her blonde hair tied back, she was wearing trousers beneath a brown coat, trousers like her hero Katharine Hepburn and trousers, more realistically, because it was freezing outside.  “What time are we meeting Archie and Margo,” she asked, “are we meeting them in town?”

Michael had sat down again and was mired in her book. “I introduce that new American salute, behold love choked, correct, polite, always suspicious,” he read aloud. “Always suspicious, does Walt Whitman know something I don’t?” Sally was used to his delaying tactics, Michael hated New Year and she knew it. “Come on,” she asked again, “when are we meeting Archie and Margo?”

He stood up and fastened the buttons on his coat, “I think I’m going to introduce a new American salute, something rude and distasteful, something Walt Whitman would love.”

“What time are we meeting them, we’re meeting them in town, aren’t we? Aren’t we?” Margo paused for an answer and stared into a large mirror covered in old tickets and playbills, lipstick red messages and bright reminders scrawled on the glass for memories sake. “Aren’t we?” she shouted again.

Archie appeared in the doorway a dark trench coat folded over one arm, he looked younger than he was and still had possession of a roundish baby-face.“You’re a Virgo aren’t you Margo?” Archie asked, “A Virgo?”

“Oh, Jesus, not again,” Margo replied, eyeing his reflected image in the mirror, “What time are we meeting Michael and Sally, Archie?”

“Only I was talking to one of my hippie friends today,” Archie continued, ignoring her question, fiddling with the cufflink on his left sleeve, “well I say hippie, no, he is a hippie, and he said that Uranus and Pluto, you know the planets?”

Margo spun around from the mirror to face him and shouted, “What time are we meeting Michael and Sally, Archie, stop fucking around?”

“Oh come on Margo, the planets,” Archie said, glancing upwards, “Uranus and Pluto, they’re going to be in direct conjunction, happens once every oh, thousand years.” Archie stretched his left arm into his coat and made for the coffee table and a bowl of fresh fruit resting on top of an old and curling copy of Vanity Fair.

“This apple, Uranus, stands for rebellion, vicious rebellion, ironically enough against power,” he leant down to pick up an orange, “and this orange, although it is exactly the same size as exhibit A, is Pluto, stands for empowerment and the radical, Karl Marx and long hair and Jefferson Airplane and things like that.” Margo rolled her eyes and picked up a glass of red wine resting on top of the wooden mantelpiece, she was ready to go, her coat was on, with its fur cuffs and collar, real fur, she was the type.

“They’re both going to mirror each other, this year, in your sign, Virgo, you are a Virgo, right, Margo? Margo?!” She failed to reply and stared at Archie. “And you know what that means don’t you, when this apple and this orange meet, collide even?” He stood, holding the fruit aloft, hopefully awaiting an answer.

“Fuck you Archie,” she said, in desperation, finishing the wine in a gulp, “I’m going.”

“It means revolution and crisis and riots and bomb squads and misery, that’s what it means,” he sank into the easy chair, creasing his coat in the process, “and you want to go out and celebrate, to whoop it up, to toast our own imminent demise,” he jumped upwards so his knees were digging into the dark leather, his feet facing outwards, his front against the leather back, balancing precariously, “oh Margo,” he laughed, “you’re so reckless!”

2

They had known each other for a year, Michael, still at college and about to return for his final months before he took up residence at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, had rented a small flat on the East Side with Sally. Theirs had been a powerful affair to begin with, but it had levelled out and settled into the mundane perhaps a little too quickly. Archie and Margo were still only acquaintances, thrown together as squash doubles and yet to reach the level of fully fledged friends. They were a little further down the path, both had jobs, Margo a secretary and Archie a rising star at an IRS office downtown. She was content, he was not content, she was happy with simplicity, he wanted more and exercised his energies on hopeless hobbies and wild schemes which always came to nothing. The two couples were friends because they were there, because friends were hard to come by and acquaintances old or new were always easier to keep than dispel. There was no inherent attraction.

“Don’t get Archie started on facts, useless facts I might add, we’ve already had the progressions of the cosmos acted out tonight, he doesn’t need the encouragement,” Margo shouted, guffawing at the end of the sentence. The four were having dinner at a restaurant before heading to Times Square for the New Year celebrations.

“The stars? Oh I love the stars?” Sally replied. She had opinions on everything and liked to express them, it was an unlikely mix him and her, too much chaos facing too much practicality.

“Not the science though darling, not the science,” Michael said, taking a sip of his wine.

“Michael’s into science, the clinical appraisals of things,” Sally added, “he is going to be a doctor soon after all,” she placed a hand on his knee under the table, “aren’t you?” He failed to reply but Sally continued, “No, I tend to hope there is a little bit of mystery in things, that everything can’t be summed up in boring chemicals and equations and particles and physics.”

Michael rolled his eyes, “She likes the horoscopes in the Post too, everything has been in the horoscopes hasn’t it, Sally?” She glared at him.

Margo who could sense trouble at a moment’s notice, but tended to like to dabble in it once spotted, changed the subject immediately, “Where’s the food? This is what happens when you don’t go to a top tier restaurant.”

“This is what happens when you eat out on New Year’s Eve,” Archie insisted forcefully, eyeing the peripheries of the room.

“I’m going to become one of those ladies who lunch,” Margo announced, ignoring Archie’s complaints, “at the Colony Club, with the Duchess of Windsor, I’ll go there in my pill box hat, pay over the odds and eat nothing.” Allowing her meddling nature to get the better of her Margo launched back into the previous conversation, “Hey, that’s what you were talking about earlier,” trying to disguise her poison with enlightenment, “wasn’t it Archie, horoscopes, tonight, wasn’t it?”

“Well,” Archie started, thrilled to get a shot at his pet subject, “I’m not usually one for predictions, but.”

”I like to think back to what I was doing this time last year,” Margo interrupted, shrilly regaining control after seeing Michael squirming in his seat, “and to try and figure out if I’m any more content now, than I was then.”

“I’m content,” Sally said almost innocently; she looked to Michael for support.

“What were we doing this time last year?” He asked her, turning in his seat to look into her eyes, trying to dodge the issue.

“We were with Alvy and Kate, here, don’t you remember, in New York?”

“I think I’m content,” Archie said to Margo, as Sally fiddled with her knife and fork, still unused.

“She’s pregnant you know now, Kate, she’s pregnant,” Sally whispered, looking up from the table.

Michael was surprised, “Pregnant, Kate and Alvy, it’s funny, they never seemed that close.”

“If you’re content, then I’m content,” Margo replied, placing her head on Archie’s shoulder.

“Well, I’m content up to a point, Margo, content up to a point,” he ventured, stiffening in his chair.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she snarled, her body snapping upwards like a dreadnought aligning its guns for battle. “Well, this is no time for complacency after all, is it?” Archie chuckled into her face, before bracing himself for the immanent bombardment.

“Everyone should just concentrate on trying to be happy,” Michael announced idealistically to the whole table. It was a sarcastic comment on his part, something which he wouldn’t normally have said, but he could sense an argument brewing and he loved to be outrageous under such circumstances. In reality happiness didn’t really figure on his radar, only survival.

Sally laughed, “Unlikely doctors orders those,” she said irately, “coming from you.” A waiter, his arms covered in plates piled high with steaming food caught their eyes and came within millimetres of their table, before changing his course.

Michael looked at his watch wondering how long it was worth waiting before casting a complaint.

“Are you trying to say you’re not happy Michael, are trying to say you’re not…” Sally started, before Archie, in full flight, moved his arm forward and almost knocked a glass of water into her lap. Sally stopped, acknowledging the near miss, while Archie continued, “Content, the world isn’t content Margo, this is going to be a hell of a year, I’m wise to be cautious.”

Michael seeing the mistake tapped Archie on the forearm, “Excuse me,” he said, failing to get his attention, “excuse me,” he repeated.

“What?” Archie responded indignantly, he hated being interrupted.

“Will you calm down, you almost drenched us!”

Archie scowled, he hadn’t noticed, “Sorry,” he said curtly before resuming his lecture to Margo.

“I just can’t believe that Kate is pregnant,” Michael said, sitting back, changing the subject, in an attempt to calm down, “Alvy struggled to walk in a straight line, never mind get someone pregnant, but then again I suppose it doesn’t take too much, does it?”

Another waiter dressed in black and white appeared on the horizon catching their eyes.­­­­­ “Are you trying to say you’re not content Michael,” Sally pressed, “are you content?”

“I’m perfectly happy with me and you Margo,” Archie continued, summing up, “perfectly happy, I’m talking about Pluto and Uranus, Pluto and Uranus, rebellion and.”

“Walt Whitman,” Michael shouted over everybody, “has anybody read Walt Whitman?”

3

“What do you do with it, come on, you must know, what do you do with it?” In the crush to leave the square Archie had found a blue plastic cavalry horn lying in a gutter, a novelty, a year’s end souvenir a man with a wooden wagon had been selling on 53rd Street along with a pile of Richard Nixon masks and some spinning bow ties.

“You put it to your lips and you blow,” Sally replied, sliding her arm underneath Archie’s as they walked. The couples had changed places, mixed in the crush by accident largely. Nevertheless the drink had loosened the ties of their traditional symmetry, so they were content, for the time being, to be in different company.

“They’re having quite a time back there by the sounds of it,” Michael said to Margo, they were quite a few paces in front of the others and Michael was walking briskly, trying to reach the subway and home in the quickest possible time, such was his desperation for the evening to end.

“Why are you even with her?” Margo drawled, she was drunk, ever-so, a combination of wine at dinner and numerous bottles, plastic cups and communal gulps of liquor in the street. “Why are you even with her?” Margo repeated, “You’ve hardly said a nice word all night.”

Michael bristled with an increasing level of contempt, he hated questions, he hated personal questions in particular, but he felt a little more at ease than he would have normally knowing this conversation would be expunged from memory by alcohol come the morning. “She’s probably on my side, I just hate rolling through the motions,” he explained, quietly.

Margo blatantly wasn’t listening, her concentration was focused on walking, but she managed to mumble, “Why don’t you just be nice,” as Michael moved on ahead to reach the subway.

“Michael you’re a fine man but you’re a dullard, you need some life breathing into you, I want you to have this,” Archie thrust the blue novelty trumpet towards Michael’s grey raincoat as he arrived at the station, swaying slightly as he did so, the drink hindering his balance, yet making his confidence bulletproof. “Blow in it once in a while,” Archie daringly continued, “it might make you feel better.” Archie and Sally, still arm in arm for balance’s sake if nothing else, giggled, as Michael took the horn.

“Come on Sally, you’re drunk,” Michael said, holding out his hand, hoping she’d clasp it, but he put it down again before she had the chance.

“Aren’t you a little drunky too Mickey,” she laughed, “oh don’t tell me, you’re a student doctor, someone might be giving birth,” she started shouting, “if anyone’s giving birth around the block Michael will help you,” she gasped for breath, “he’s not drunk!”

Michael closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath, pinching the middle of his nose between his thumb and forefinger, “Come on, I think it’s time for us to go.”

He waved Archie and Sally into the subway first and followed with Margo towards the metal escalators which led to the tunnels. “Are we home,” Margo slurred, suddenly springing from her drunken stupor, barley able to put one foot in front of the other.

The escalators had stopped, it was late, but despite the likelihood that the last train had already gone Archie and Sally tentatively set off down the metal steps one at a time. At the bottom Archie’s legs gave way and he sank to the floor, taking Sally with him, slipping into a mess of cigarette butts and colourful streamers. “I’m gone,” he sighed, as he fell towards Sally’s shoulder and she rested her head on the back of his neck.

Seeing the obstruction Michael sank backwards too, in an almost hopeless gesture, giving up to the metal grate below him. Margo followed, the floor being the best place for her. She nestled her head into Michael’s shoulder and said to him, her eyes closed and barley conscious, “Archie,” she sniffed, “stop being a bastard to Michael for God’s sake, he’s only trying his best.”

Michael placed a gentle arm around her shoulder and balanced the blue horn on the step in front. “Behold the customary loves and friendships,” he said to himself.

“What?” Margo whispered.

“Walt Whitman.”

Margo raised her head for a moment captivated by his words, “Bullshit,” she muttered, before slipping back into drunkenness.

“I’m so gone,” Archie repeated lower down the stairwell, “so gone.” He coughed, “You know Pluto and Uranus, rebellion and,” Archie searched for the words and then raised his voice when he had found them, “misery, well,” he paused for breath, “they’re going to collide.” He moved his head towards her elbow and then back up again, yawning, “It’s going to be big trouble.”

Sally fading into sleep just about heard,” You never said,” she objected, “you should have said.”

Archie smiled, finally comfortable, the left side of his face warm against her coat, “Well,” he replied, “everyone’s got the right to be happy, don’t they?”

 

 

A Conversation with Anda Rowland

Anda Rowland

It used to be the convention that gentlemen always paid their tailor last, which meant that often a tailor was never paid at all. Transactions were made by gentlemen’s agreement, sealed with a trusty handshake, and it certainly was not the done thing to chase an outstanding payment up, that would be far too embarrassing for all concerned. When Anda Rowland arrived at Anderson & Sheppard in 2004, the Savile Row tailoring house to just about every famous man ever considered elegant in the twentieth century, she discovered hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of unpaid bills, money which once collected, has been used to caress A&S into the twenty-first century. The shop, a century old tailoring mainstay, now resides in a chic new boutique on Old Burlington Street, it boasts a busy website as well as a blog after years of avoiding publicity, and the firm has just released a luxurious hard cover book “A Style is Born” detailing the brands considerable history, as well as its never-ending list of glamorous clients. To say Anda is thriving in this one-time male only universe is an understatement. Since leaving Paris and a job with Parfums Christian Dior to take over the reins of Anderson and Sheppard following the death of her father, the multi millionaire businessman Roland ‘Tiny’ Rowland, Anda, in conjunction with the firm’s managing director and legendary head cutter John Hitchcock, has rejuvenated the brand, overseeing a rise in profits after the doldrums of the American Gigolo styled 80’s and the dress down 90’s. “No customer,” it is said of the firm, “is ever rushed, in the old days, it was not uncommon for a gentleman to build a leisurely day around a visit to Anderson & Sheppard.” I spent a cold December afternoon within the snug grandeur of the shop and talked with Anda about the tailoring process, the art of changing the familiar and the current state of male elegance.

What types of people make up the Anderson and Sheppard clientele? Is it what you would imagine, the moneyed gentry for example, city executives and royalty? Or is there a much wider spectrum?  

There is a real mix. There are things which surprise people. The number of creative people we have as clients for example. People always think it’s a lot of finance and city types, but we have a lot of journalists, photographers and designers. We’ve always historically had actors, writers and songwriters, musicians and directors, that is very much this firm’s heritage. Some other firms have politicians or military men, or royalty. We have more creative people here.

Some people might come in, as one customer did a few years ago, and because he had a number of homes he ordered eighty suits, so he could have five suits here and five suits there. Very rarely you will have people who behave like that, people who are able to spend money to have an amazing wardrobe. And then right at a different end of the scale you have people who pay a hundred pounds a month into their account here and save up over time to buy a suit.

Oh, I didn’t know that, you can set up an account here?

Yes, we take a fifty percent deposit at the time of order, so they might save up over a couple of years by paying into their account, carry on with the fittings and order when they can pay the deposit, and when they can afford to pay the second fifty percent, they come and fetch the suit. So you get two ends of the scale, you get people who say I want one really lovely suit that they can enjoy and are seduced by the involvement and the process and the quality. And then we have other people who are just in a different league financially.

A lot of times with men it is not only the quality and the fit, but the fact that there is a value in it, you can bring the suit  back for repair and changes, and really get years of wear out of it, which you can’t with ready to wear shop bought garments. With a lot of people it’s the convenience too, because once you’ve had something made here you can phone Colin or James up and say “I’m interested in a grey or chalked stripe, and I don’t want the stripe to be too wide,” and they will send you a selection of cloth based on what they think you might be interested in and you can say “that’s the one.” We already have the pattern (the shape and measurements of your figure that the cloth is cut to match) so you can come in and get it fitted and try it on. So customers don’t have to shop around and worry about the fit, convenience is really what brings people back, as well as the quality and the experience.

The snug grandeur of the front of house

Why have you always attracted creative people? What is it in the style of cut which brings them to you?

When the firm was founded in 1906 and certainly in the 1920’s a lot of the other Savile Row firms, the more traditional firms, didn’t really take an interest in actors, they didn’t want that kind of trade. What separates us from many other firms is that we have a very distinct cut, which is the soft shoulder and the high arm hole, the English drape, as the style is called. This necessitates the sleeve being sewn in by hand, because you need to cut a very high arm hole, you need some room in the sleeve to move, so the sleeve is actually bigger than the armhole, which is why it needs to be sewn in by hand, not by machine. All of this means the clothes actually stay on your back when you’re moving around, so if you’re an actor, or if you’re Fred Astaire, who was one of our iconic customers, you need that suit to move with you, and you don’t want to be thinking about where the shoulder pad is going, as shoulder pads tend to have lives of their own, and when people sit down, and they’ve got the suit buttoned, the suit rises up, because the arm hole is too deep, due to the fact the sewing has been done by machine. If you’ve got a tight little arm hole, then the suit stays on your back whatever you do.

And then there’s comfort, which today is more important than ever, because people are not used to not being comfortable anymore, they are so used to wearing casual clothing, so when they put on a suit, often people feel terribly uncomfortable. But with us, because of the construction of the cut, you get comfort and you get movement, which is what appeals to creatives. So for instance our journalists or photographers, Jonathan Becker who took all the contemporary pictures in our book, who works for Vanity Fair, he works in our jackets. Writers and journalists can move around, they can wear our clothes, feel comfortable and do their jobs.

So there would be a completely different feel if you got a suit from a different Savile Row house?

It depends, there are variations. Some tailors have a very militaristic style cut, if their history is military then there is that big shoulder, the strong, very constructed chest, the nipped in waist. We don’t have a military history; we didn’t come from making uniforms. The firm started out in the civil sphere, dealing with people’s everyday lives. Per Anderson (A&S founder) was trained by Frederick Scholte, who was a very well known cutter and tailor to the Duke of Windsor, who famously had that English drape look. He was wearing his clothes a lot, comfort was important to him and you can see that in the way he stands, it’s very posed. So we started through that, that’s why we have the drape and the softness.

The cutting room. Mr. John Hitchcock - Head Cutter (far left) and Mr. Leon Powell - Undercutter (far right)

So I’m a first time customer, maybe a little intimated by walking in off the street, what can I expect? What is the process?

If you’re a first time customer you come in, and the process is the same as it has been for years and years, hundreds of years in the same way. You would meet one of our two salesmen and they would talk you through what you are actually looking for, what you will wear the suit for, what kind of cloth and style you want. Some people know exactly what they want and the process can take fifteen minutes, some people might be here for an hour and a half, or longer, looking at different cloths and that will lead them onto weights and usage.

What we find a lot of the time is customers tend to think that fine and cashmere blends are what they really want, and then actually when they spend time with Colin and James, they realise that with the usage of the suit, travelling and so forth, that they are better with a heavier weight of cloth, eleven of twelve ounces, something that is a bit more hard wearing, because that’s where bringing back the suit six years later comes in, for repair, if you get a strong cloth you are able to have repairs and changes done, if you get something that is extremely fine, you might find that it is bagging and moving on its own through wear and tear after a while. So that’s a very important process and we have samples of over 4000 cloths and 90% of those cloths are woven in Britain.  Sometimes people look at a particular cloth and say, “oh it’s got a diamond pinstripe in it,” well, that’s not really what we do, we want people to be able to get wear and enjoyment out of the suits, rather than just make a talking point.

How much would a basic lounge suit cost me?

A two piece suit with a large range of cloths is generally upwards of £3000. If you think about when you are buying from one of the Italian designer names, you might find something that is £2000, its probably been marked up eight times because of the name and it’s not really going to last you, the shape goes, so you’re not going to get long term use out of it. So in relation to that, this is very good value at the very high end of suit making.

Pin stripe double breasted jacket

You recently moved the shop around the corner from Savile Row itself to Old Burlington Street. Was that something of a risk, given the resonance of the Savile Row name and address?

There’s this thing about Savile Row, the reality is in this business, you are the destination. It’s very rare for any of the serious businesses who produce bespoke clothing to get someone who has come in off the street, who just says, “oh well, I’ll walk down Savile Row and I’ll see what I like in the window.” And that was always the case in the past because you needed recommendations and references to get in, everybody operated like that and we operated like that until relatively recently. These days people look online, so even if a friend says they like the product, people will still check, even if they read an article, whatever, they will always check online if they are a new customer. They will look at the different web-sites, look at the forums, there are several forums about menswear, where people chat about bespoke tailors, we’ve got a blog on our web-site too, which talks about apprentices. Most new customers will have checked the web-site. On Savile Row there is very little passing trade, somebody might come in and buy a pair of cufflinks, just for the experience of coming into a tailoring house, but to order a suit, they know where they are going, so it doesn’t really make that much difference to us. And in prestige terms, we’re 105 now, we don’t need the address anymore, the reputation can take a move a couple of hundred metres away.

What about changes? You’ve mentioned the new web-site, what other things have you done to modernize the business?

In terms of changes all we’ve done is re-configure the way that people work to make it friendlier. In the old shop there was a huge counter with cloth everywhere, people would feel disconnected. Where as in this environment, because it’s much smaller primarily, but also because of the nature of how people want to interact these days, we’ve made it friendlier so there are not those barriers, you walk into the shop now and its open plan and less intimidating. Same thing with the cutting room, years ago it was hidden behind a curtain in the corner, now you’re welcome into it. It really just been about re-arranging things, there are no changes to the craft and process, it’s the same set of twenty seven measurements for the suit, twenty for the jacket, seven for the trousers, and the order is taken in exactly the same way as before.

Mr. John Hitchcock - Head Cutter (left) and Mr. David Walters - Trimmer (right)

What about the recession, have you been affected by the big squeeze on pockets and the sudden need to save money?

We are very, very lucky. In many ways since 2008 and the financial crisis and the attitude towards value and people being ripped off, about conspicuous spending on outrageous things, about bankers spending this and that on bottles of wine, about Russian oligarchs on their yachts, after all that, people are in response returning to traditional values. What’s also happened since 2008 is that people question prices more, people question value, people want to know what they are getting for their money. Before it was a case of “I can afford it, charge it.” Now people are saying “well, actually no, I think that’s too expensive, can I get a discount?” People will haggle and browse now. All of the shops are doing some kind of private sale on Bond Street, Sloane Street, either through mailings “come in the next two weeks and get 40% off,”  pre-sales, everyone is doing discounts, but discreetly, because they don’t want a sale sign in the window. People are just not going to shops and believing the hype anymore. For us this is good news because if someone comes in and says, “Tell me why this is good,” we can tell them. So luckily we are up 8% on last year.

Is that a scenario that is replicated over on the Row itself?

I’ve heard that the other tailors are quieter, but they are not in the same situation as some of our high street brand competitors. It’s still pretty good. These last two months (October November 2011) things have slowed down a little because of the non-stop bad news about the Euro. But we have been investing in our website and particularly with our new book, which we’ve had a very good reaction to, we’ve sent it out to some of our bigger customers and some people have even commissioned new suits based on designs they’ve seen in the book, we’ve also had a very good reaction to it press wise. You just have to hope it hits the right people and strikes a chord. It won’t with everybody because there are still so many people, friends of mine even, who will say well “why would I want to wait that long (usually eight to twelve weeks, with two visits for fittings), when I can go to a shop and get a suit straight away?” But there are some people, like wine, who want to go all the way and visit the vineyard. Or like watches, you can have a beautiful watch and someone says “well, my Swatch cost £12,” of course it did and it performs the same function, but you will not be enjoying it in the same way, or be able to hand it down to your grandson and beyond, and you don’t have the same relationship with it, plus it doesn’t look as good.  

Patterns from figures and frames past

I read you said this “There are certain periods in history where men are absolute peacocks and women are downright dowdy. All of that was lost in the culture of ready-to wear, which wiped out creativity and options.” What is the state of men’s elegance today, are there still peacocks amid the dullness?

Well, men’s style is perking up; men are beginning to enjoy dressing again. You can see that a lot of the big brands are going into menswear and investing more and more into menswear. A lot of the big groups are buying and developing menswear brands too, I mean you’ve got PPR which just bought Brioni for example, and people like Tom Ford, who perceive menswear as being a great opportunity for growth because there is a lot more interest.

If you go to some of the military tailors and see the beauty and colour of their uniforms, in Dege & Skinner for example who have made dress uniforms for Prince William, they are really and completely over the top, full of dashing colour. And if you saw Prince Harry at his brother’s wedding, he was much more stunning wearing uniform than some of the guests. So thank God now between dress down Fridays and this and that, people seem to have really had it with all that dullness.

Take our new line of jumpers and sweaters that we have started to sell, people are totally driven towards the bright colours, if we offer it they jump at it. And you can do that with sweaters because they are a little bit secondary, a subsidiary to if you’re wearing a nice grey flannel or a blue blazer, you can go quite crazy with colour because you can always take it off. People are much keener now to experiment and to make an effort, which is good news for us.

Of course we’re operating in a very niche environment here, but if you just look at music videos there is much more interest in the dandy-esque style at the moment. For instance if you look at GQ France it has pages and pages on how to wear your pocket square, how to wear a tie-pin, things that appear very old fashioned to some people, yet they are in GQ, which means they do appeal to a wider audience. Most people aren’t quite ready to go for it yet, but there is definitely an interest.

Is something like the television show Mad Men partly responsible for this renascence? Has it reminded men that it is certainly no sin to look good in the workplace and that in the past excellent clothes have tended to be associated with power and confidence?

Mad Men helped, it hit a nerve because people wanted it. A television programme can’t make people change their minds completely, but it came along at the right time when interest was starting to peak. Men want to see the style on a real body, so even though they are actors, they are more real than say a sixteen year old model.

It’s like with women’s fashion, they use a lot of very young girls and when anyone questions it they say “well women don’t want to look like their seventy five year old mothers, they want to look like their daughters.”  But with a man he generally wants to look like his hero, and his hero, more often than not is probably dead because he’s a 1930’s guy, or he’s much older and he’s Clint Eastwood, but they tend to be from an era gone by, and that works for men in a way that models don’t.

Or the younger men are inspired by their grandfathers. After years in the hat business, a friend of mine says he has never known such demand for hats at the highest end. They had a real problem when the grandads’ gave way to the baby boom generation in the 70’s and 80’s and they didn’t want to look like their fathers, so the hat was scrapped. But the grandson thinks grandad is very cool and likes retro and those dead heroes in their hats. So the fathers who previously spurned the hat see their sons wearing them and suddenly they want to buy a hat too. And the fathers now have got the money to buy their hat at the top end. Their sons might be buying theirs at Topman or on holiday, their fathers can go round to James Lock.

Single breasted jacket with carnation boutonniere and pocket sqaure

Is basing your style on an old icon a recommended path? Taking Cary Grant for example and using him as a basis for a look? As you say those dead heroes have an effect.

I think you have to be a bit more sophisticated than that, although you might see someone like Cary Grant and think “oh yeah he wears that with confidence.” That’s another thing, some people are not used to wearing suits in their everyday life, so when they do, their stance changes because they are dressed up, and that makes it difficult for people to take that step to dress up a bit because you’ve got to be doing it fairly frequently to be able to get away without feeling self conscious.

How does Anderson and Sheppard adapt then to what is basically becoming an informal age in many respects?

As the need to wear a suit gets less and less we do a lot more jackets here than we used to, single jackets, so people can use them as they want. When you speak to someone in their thirties who says “oh I never wear a suit anymore,” you think, “so what do you wear when you’re not wearing a suit, jeans?”  You have to actually think even more about what you’re wearing when you’re not wearing a suit, a suit is pretty easy, it’s like a uniform, and when you’re not wearing a suit you’ve got to think a little bit more about it. If you have several really nice jackets, then you can wear one with a shirt and a pair of jeans and you’ll look fantastic.

But as a Savile Row tailor we also have to think about how to get that point across, so people don’t think that just because you don’t wear a suit everyday that we can’t help you. People think it’s always going to be traditional or they think, “oh well I don’t need a suit.” They’ve got to get past that.