Twenty-five years ago, Richard James came to Savile Row, an act that at the time ruffled a few feathers. He was perceived by some of the established tailors on the Row to be something of an interloper coming, as he did, from a fashion background having worked as a buyer for the famous store Browns.
This was picked up on by Nick Sullivan of Esquire, who wrote in September 1992: 'There is an odd atmosphere these days in Savile Row. Nothing tangible, you understand. But from time to time, people stop to peer with uncertainty, with incomprehension, even with vague horror through the plate glass window of No 37a. There's a new boy on the Row and he's causing quite a stir.'
No 37a was Richard James' first shop, a modest affair which nonetheless managed to punch above its weight by offering a bright, contemporary take on British tailored style. A few years later, Britpop cemented James's position as an outfitter of a new generation of Savile Row customers, which now included the likes of Hugh Grant, the Gallagher brothers (James made their wedding suits) and Damian Hirst.
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Fast forward to today and James has two big stores, one for ready-to-wear, the other for bespoke, and has become part of what is now termed the 'New Establishment' on Savile Row. No longer an enfant terrible, more a godfather – one who probably tells louche stories and gives good presents – he wryly remembers the early controversy around his arrival. As well as his non-tailoring background, the suspicion with which he was regarded also stemmed from the fact that he was making non-conventional pieces that were unashamedly fashionable.
But this, he maintains, is for years what Savile Row was famous for – particularly in the sixties, when young men would come to have hip outfits made. The Beatles were customers, and even had their Apple Corps HQ in the street, at number 3 (the scene of their famous last public performance, on the rooftop, on 30 January 1969). The irony, says James, is that Savile Row was famed for making people whatever they wanted – and that often included interesting, unusual and even flamboyant items. He sees himself very much in this tradition.
This being 2017, however, James's challenger mentality has progressed from producing pieces in show-stopping bright colours and patterns (his camouflage suit, notably worn by Tinie Tempah, for example) to a consideration of how modern men like to dress in an ever-more casually-attired world. Hence an exploration of pieces less associated with the traditional tailored fare of the Row, and more belonging to the school of informal dressing. Like the bomber jacket.
James calls his version a 'blouson' and it now appears regularly in his collections. The one pictured here, designed for spring/summer 2017, is made in England from goat suede, which is very soft and light. It has a horn button fastening and a Richard James camouflage lining. Worn here by former City lawyer Richard Biedul (since swapping the legal profession for modelling, Biedul has been voted one of Britain's best dressed men by GQ magazine, for whom he now writes), this jacket is clearly highly versatile and can be styled in a variety of ways.
But though it is certainly relaxed, Richard James's Design Director Toby Lamb explains that the expertise of Savile Row tailoring is still applied to the blouson to give it a distinctive look: 'We cut this jacket in much the same way that we do our tailoring, with a slightly higher armhole,' he says. 'That is what gives it its slim silhouette. We've applied the thought and technique that we put into cutting our tailoring to all of our bombers, blousons and shirt jackets, which is what gives them that recognisably clean-lined Richard James aesthetic.'
Photography: Roger Rich; fashion director: Jo Levin; grooming: Tyler Johnston at One Represents using TYLER by Tyler Johnston; casting: Holly Goodchild at The Communications Store; photo assistant: Matt Foxley; fashion assistant: Julia Lurie; model: Richard Biedul; location: Modus PR. Suede blouson jacket, £1,095; richardjames.co.uk
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