Creative Director of VBC, Francesco Barberis and his team met us at our hotel not long after we arrived that evening and we were soon taken to the Santuario di Oropa for dinner. According to legend, a black wooden statue of the Virgin Mary carved by Saint Luke was found in Jerusalem by Saint Eusebius of Vercelli and carried to Oropa in the 4th century AD, where it was placed into a crevice in a rock. A small church was built to house it, which was replaced in the early 17th century by what is now known as the Ancient Basilica. We drank great wines and ate numerous courses of fantastic foods including traditional polenta- a dish that the region is famed for.
I have recently been granted membership to The Anglo-Omani Society and attended my first function in their Mayfair headquarters. It is great to learn more about the country’s fascinating culture and heritage, as well as the strong bond between Oman and Britain.
After the evening’s proceedings had finished, I happened to notice a Chelsea Pensioner amongst us, easily identifiable by his famous Scarlet Coat and medals proudly adorning his chest. Naturally I went and spoke to him, having the utmost respect for all that he was prepared to sacrifice for our country. I soon learned that he was 88 year old John Carbis, In-Pensioner (resident) at The Royal Hospital for some 20 years. As our brief but captivating conversation drew to a close, John invited me to a tour and lunch at the hospital- something one could only dream of ever happening.
For over three hundred years, The Royal Hospital has provided a ‘welcoming home and way of life’ for veterans of the British Army. Founded by HRH King Charles II in 1692, the elegant Sir Christopher Wren designed buildings in London’s prestigious Chelsea neighbourhood became home to those that have been ‘broken by age or war’. The hospital crest shares the same Old French maxim as the British chivalric Order of the Garter. ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’ translates as ‘may he be shamed who thinks badly of it’- likely to be a reference to those that question the importance of an establishment and military force. King Charles II himself was inspired to set up the hospital by Les Invalides in Paris, an older French equivalent of The Royal Hospital that we are familiar with today. The buttons on all Royal Hospital uniforms are engraved with the Royal Crown and the letters RCI. This stands for Royal Corps of Invalids.
We met at The London Gate at 11am sharp and I was soon treated to a tour of the museum, filled with artefacts telling the fascinating history of this fine institution. We then embarked on a tour of the hospital itself, including visiting The Long Wards (actual residences of the pensioners), something very few get to see. Lunch was situated in the stunning surroundings of The Great Hall, where the walls bear the names of every battle entered by the British Army since the hospital’s founding, including recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Given that it was a Friday, in keeping with British tradition the menu consisted of fish and chips with mushy peas followed by a fabulous but seldom seen dessert of jelly and custard. There I was, dining amongst living history.
It was a real privilege to visit the hospital and learn more about the world famous institution. As Sir Jacob Astley once said in his soldiers’ prayer in 1642 – “O Lord you know how occupied I shall be this day. If I forget thee do not forget me”. That is one thing we must never do; no matter how dependant these remarkable people become, we cannot neglect them. Here’s to another three hundred years of The Royal Hospital.
Joe Holsgrove with In-Pensioner of 20 years, John C Carbis IEng FICW MInstRE.
The Great Hall. Notice the battle listings decorating the walls as a constant reminder of the commitment and sacrifice of the British Army.
The Wren Chapel. Notice the painting of the Resurrection in the half dome of the apse by Sebastiano Ricci, 1714.
Figure Court. At the heart of hospital buildings, this courtyard takes its name from the gilded statue of King Charles II. Created and presented to the King by Grinling Gibbons in 1682, it stands proudly amongst the stunning architecture.
Figure Court’s flag pole, with views of The State Apartments in the background.
At the beginning of February we attended The Bespoke Tailors’ Benevolent Association Festival Dinner, once again held in the stunning surroundings of The Merchant Taylors’ Hall in The City of London. As always, it provided the perfect platform for everybody to catch up with old friends and raise money to support those from the trade who have fallen on hard times. Evenings and weekends throughout January were entirely devoted to making myself a dinner suit, as the dress code was Black Tie! Given my admiration for the likes of Fred Astaire, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra I opted for the most traditional spec. My jacket was single breasted (one button) with peak lapels and pure silk facings, no side vents and jetted pockets. The trousers have double pleats and braiding down the outside leg to match the jacket. The cloth is pure worsted barathea (11oz) from Smith Woollens, with a stunning black paisley lining from Lear, Browne and Dunsford (LBD). I would like to thank my good friends John Bell and Patrick Osborne of LBD for kindly giving me the lining.
David Cook, Joe Holsgrove and Peter Day.
Joe Holsgrove, John Bell of LBD, Francesco Barberis Canonico of Vitale Barberis Canonico, Simone Ubertino Rosso of Vitale Barberis Canonico and Patrick Osborne of LBD.
Whilst the dinner is the perfect opportunity to catch up with old friends, it is always wonderful to be introduced to new ones. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Francesco Barberis Canonico; Creative Director of Vitale Barberis Canonico, a family owned Italian woollen mill. Currently in its 15th generation of ownership, the company have been producing the finest cloths since 1663. I also met Simone Ubertino Rosso, Communication Manager for the company.
Emily Rhodes of Whitcomb and Shaftesbury and Joe Holsgrove.
We shared a table with Whitcomb and Shaftesbury, another tailoring house located at 11 Saint George Street.
The Great Hall in all its glory.
In December 2016 Peter, David and I were invited to ‘Beautiful World’, the Spring/Summer 2017 Collection launch by acclaimed Chinese fashion designer Grace Chen. In our relatively short visit to Beijing, we attended the fine fashion show in the heart of China’s capital. On display were a range of spectacular garments, all beautifully hand crafted from delicate fabrics. Inspired by the beauty of feathers, the collection featured dresses and gowns that skillfully combined Western cutting and Chinese embroidery.
David Cook, Joe Holsgrove and Peter Day on the red carpet.
Traditional hand embroidery. The quality of work was exceptional.
The show opened with a stunning ballet performance.
A particular favourite of mine, this dress appeared to be inspired by the natural elegance of swans.
A selection of bespoke dresses from Grace Chen’s archives.
Another selection of bespoke dresses from Grace Chen’s archives.
Another fine creation from Grace Chen’s archives, again incorporating feathers.
We also managed to visit Tiananmen Square.
July saw myself and Peter attend the annual charity fundraiser, The Bespoke Tailors’ Benevolent Association Summer Ball. Held every year at The Merchant Taylors’ Hall in The City of London, it is a great excuse for everybody to dress up and catch up old friends. The event is held to raise money to support those from the trade who have fallen on less fortunate times. Alexander Rozier, who has recently spent some time doing work experience with us here at D&G, also came along with us. A wonderful evening was had by all.
Some may already be aware that my grandfather, George Holsgrove, worked at Kilgour, French and Stanbury in the 1950′s and 60′s. His memories of the trade were some of the key influences that ignited my interest for Savile Row bespoke tailoring. Having spent a good four years in the trade, as I far as I was concerned it was only right that I should make him a garment to thank him. On his birthday earlier this year I presented him with a bale of cloth and after a slightly puzzled look, I informed him that I was going to make him a sports jacket. It was not only great practice for me to actually make the garment, but perhaps more importantly I feel that the trade has now gone full circle across generations of the Holsgrove family. Below are some images from various stages of the process.
Outbreast pocket put in.
With the side pockets put in and front edges baisted into place, the foreparts were ready to be assembled with the rest of the pieces and create a basic garment to be fitted.
One proud grandfather having his jacket fitted. There was only very minor alteration required.
After closing the side seams, the wing pads are put in and the shape of the armhole is marked before the shoulders are closed.
With the top collar on, the jacket was only awaiting the sleeves before it could have the linings felled, edge stitching done and button holes put in.
Collection day. George was thrilled with his new jacket.
The term ‘on the cod’ is another of those fine pieces of tailors’ slang that have survived generations in the trade. To explain it briefly, it effectively means ‘gone drinking’, with the cod part referring to ‘drinking like a fish’.
Savile Row’s favoured pub, The Mason’s Arms, recently welcomed a milestone anniversary, having served tailors and shirtmakers from the trade for 150 years. We at Denman and Goddard were invited to celebrate this occasion by joining other tailoring houses and exhibiting a small display of our work, in the form of my Golden Shears winning entry. Thanks to the generosity of The Master Beadle of The Merchant Taylors’ Hall, we were also able to have the actual golden shears on display. People visiting the pub were welcomed to look round the exhibited works, and speak to us about our fine craft. Below you can see a couple of photos from the evening’s celebrations.
Patrick Bunting, President of the Bespoke Tailors’ Benevolent Association and Head of UK sales at Dormeuil (left) and myself.
Tailors assemble outside the pub for a group picture.
Whilst cutting my new suit, I had nothing but admiration for Peter’s shears. From the less intricate cut of a trouser underside, to the precision of an armhole, they handled so well. It was only after Peter told me their story that my respect for these fine blades entered a whole new level.
Manufactured by R. Heinisch of Newark, New Jersey, USA, they bear the name ‘Inventor’ and are 16″ end to end. The cutting blades themselves are 9″ long, and as you can imagine weigh a substantial amount. After opening the blades when cutting, their very weight closes them again- even on heavy tweeds and overcoatings!
Peter himself inherited them from his old mentor Sid Whittingham. Sid was a Cutter at Flights Ltd. (Military Tailors), before moving to Rogers, John Jones Ltd. in Conduit Street. The location on which this old firm’s shop once stood is now the foundations of The Westbury, one of Mayfair’s fine hotels. At this time Peter was working for J. Dege & Sons in Clifford Street (now Dege & Skinner of Savile Row). After the two companies merged, Peter became Under Cutter to Sid, who himself was Head Military Cutter.
During ‘The Blitz’ of World War Two, Rogers, John Jones Ltd.’s premises on Conduit Street was completely reduced to rubble. In the crater of devastation only one item remained, having managed to survived the intense blasts completely unscathed- Sid’s shears. I find it remarkable that in true British spirit, these shears have survived the most desperate of times and still continue to cut on a daily basis. Their legacy lives on at Denman and Goddard to the current day, and I have no doubt that it will continue for many years to come. Who knows, I may even inherit them myself!
I have recently found myself feeling what it must be like in Dino’s shoes, after spending a week testing my own knowledge as I taught Magdalena, a keen young lady who was recently on a work experience placement with us here at Denman and Goddard. Coming all the way from Bautzen in Germany, I was tasked with giving her a good understanding of what being a bespoke tailor is like. Having had limited previous sewing experience, she first began mastering how to sew using a thimble- something surprisingly difficult if you’re already accustomed to not using one. After beginning with some mark stitching, she soon learned how to control the needle and stitch tension, so I demonstrated how to do padding stitching. By making her own mini canvases to practise on, I could quickly establish where improvement was needed before moving on to some real ones that will be used in Dino’s new suit. As a slight variation to the same stitch, Magdalena also padded an under collar. Despite fundamentally being the same technique, the variation is in fact how much of the stitch is visible on the ‘right side’ of the under collar. It is necessary to ‘catch through’ as little as possible when doing this, ensuring that very tiny (if any) stitches can be seen if the collar is lifted. Whilst being very repetitive, it is essential that the very basics are fully mastered, as they provide the foundation on which one’s tailoring career is based upon.
It wasn’t all one-way teaching though. Magdalena described to me how she’d read through all of my previous blog posts, and was particularly interested to see the photo from our workshop in 1905. As she explained, in German the word for sitting cross-legged is ‘schneidersitz’, which roughly translates as ‘sitting like a tailor’ ie. cross-legged on the board. Fascinating.
Below you can see examples of Magdalena’s work, including just how miniature those practise canvases were!
It has been an exciting time of year for us at Denman and Goddard, as we are pleased to announce that we have been proudly supporting The Campaign for Wool. Monday 5th October 2015 saw Savile Row remarkably transformed into a luscious green field, with Bowmont Merino and Exmoor Long Horn sheep grazing along the iconic street.
The ‘Sheep on the Row’ event saw 25 tailoring houses and woollen merchants pair up to produce an exciting display of outfits. We paired with Hield Brothers, who were founded in 1922 and have been at the forefront of British textile manufacturing ever since. Our work was being modelled throughout the day as part of the Bespoke Roll of Honour; in the form of a traditional grey double-breasted suit, inspired by the likes of Cary Grant and other true English gentlemen. We feel that it is not only of great importance for people to learn and understand more about our fine craft, but also the dedication of the sheep farmers and just how much the wool that they produce has to offer.
The very first sketch that was roughly drawn down during discussions about what we were to produce. Notice the full trousers with turn ups, and the classic silhouette of the outfit.
The jacket and trousers can be seen here baisted and ready to try on. The grey chalk-striped cloth lends itself perfectly to the double-breasted suit, and the classic Savile Row look we wanted to achieve.
Our model, James Hampson, being fitted. Only minor alteration was needed to go on and produce the finished outfit.
Here, the coat construction is finished and is ready for the button holes and linings to be hand sewn. Again, the strong upper body and hollow waist can be seen clearly.
The positioning of the cuff holes are marked ready to be hand sewn.
The same applies to the lapel holes. Being a traditional double-breasted suit, two are required.
After pressing and buttoning, the finished garments are ready to be worn.
This picture was taken just after the sheep were delivered to the event. Throughout the day they seemed perfectly at home on the Row, inquisitively assessing the people surrounding them taking photographs as they grazed and wandered around their pen.
This Exmoor Horn was perfectly happy posing for photographs. This breed originates from the high hills of the Exmoor National Park, one of the most beautiful and remote natural landscapes in England. For all its beauty, the Exmoor climate requires hardy sheep that can withstand harsh winters and thrive off of sparse upland hill pasture. They are ideal grazers of marginal wildlife-rich grassland and have an important conservational role to play in the changing agricultural environment. Their fine quality fleece has a micron count of 36.7 per fibre, making it ideally suited for coarser cloth for use in jackets, coats, carpets, interior fabrics and furnishings.
Also happy to be centre-stage were these Bowmont Merinos. Merino sheep produce the softest, finest wool that is used in Savile Row suits, luxurious knitwear and high tech, weather beating textiles. 200 years ago Merinos were a common sight in England. Together with Merinos from European countries, some were exported to Australia to form the backbone of the great industry there today. Australia now has 71 million sheep and a range of Merino genetics adapted to all conditions and all requirements of the wool industry. The ones brought to Savile Row were from Westcott Farm in Devon, which have been selectively bred over 11 years using the best Australian genetics. They produce wool between 14-18 microns thick per fibre, on a sheep suitable for conditions in northern Europe.
Model James Hampson wears a Denman and Goddard bespoke, double-breasted chalk stripe suit, cut and made on the premises at our 11 Saint George Street shop.
Alongside other exhibiting models, James poses for the press photographers. Unfortunately, being in central London in October meant that the rain was never far away!