by Réginald-Jérôme de Mans

The world does not need another clothing book, let alone one purporting to collect “icons,” as does this one. Fortunately, this book, the second by Savile Row tailor Richard Anderson, is as refreshing and original as his first, the entertainingly vivid memoir Bespoke: Savile Row Ripped and Smoothed.

The icons Anderson’s Making the Cut describes are not those tried-and-false clichés of well-dressed noble fools, wealthy scoundrels and movie stars, but iconically original items of clothing Anderson created in unexpected materials and colors, accompanied by short essays about the history and apocrypha surrounding the cloth used and the style of garment, as well as the steps required to cut, make and trim it. Frequent anecdotes about the influence of his mentors and the tastes and quirks of his customers remind the reader that Anderson trained at Huntsman, infamously the most expensive tailor in Savile Row, before setting out on his own 17 years ago and becoming, reputedly, more Huntsman than Huntsman itself now is, in cut and cloth if not price.

Classic tailors have an interest in suggesting that their clothes – reflecting dozens of hours of painstaking hand stitching, padding and shaping, multiple fittings, and the careful drafting of a meticulously calculated individual personal pattern – speak for themselves. Rare is the classic tailor’s book that actually lets them. Anderson’s Making the Cut dispenses with the usual clothing book reader-flattering puffery about heritage, tradition, and some specious notion of gentlemanliness to put his clothing creations, most of them on mannequins rather than models, front and center, with individual stories about how he designed and created them. Of course, these wearable icons owe their standout status to being, oftentimes, the flamboyantly designed, colored and patterned items Anderson featured in his store windows to display the breadth of things his house could create: a bright orange peacoat made out of a baize cloth usually used to line pool tables is a famous case in point.

Anderson is no fool: he knows that the colors, patterns and unusual details of a garment are more arresting than the actual fitting, hand padding and other work that goes into a quality custom garment, particularly online and in print. They stand out to today’s customers, who have been informed that custom, which they prefer to call the more exotic “bespoke,” means being able to have any detail or feature, however ridiculous, made into their garment. Anderson happily admits that customers drawn in by the colorful garments in his windows or press often order the same model in a more traditional color. He also mentions a customer who brought his bespoke peacoat back to have a theatrically oversized collar put on after seeing Robert Redford’s in the 1970s espionage film Three Days of the Condor. For many of those who can afford it, custom is about dreams now, our fancies and fantasies, rather than the everyday of a sober business suit that fits.

Making the Cut makes this theatricality instructive: a red seersucker jacket is an opportunity to parse the Persian etymology of the material, reflect that Huntsman preferred not to work with such a light material (heavier cloths are easier to work with), and sigh that the real stuff, which owes its puckered appearance to how it is woven, is hard to find. Those who prefer conservatively cut suits will find Anderson’s lovely and elegant diagonal pinstripe business suit, made in a cloth woven with a diagonal, rather than vertical, pinstripe that Anderson commissioned after opening his own shop. Elsewhere, memories of an old Huntsman customer who ordered his jackets with the breast pocket on the wrong side inspire a so-called asymmetric suit that has one notch lapel and one peaked lapel, while Anderson’s experiments with denim result in a raw denim suit as well as a light blue denim tuxedo (probably not for a Canadian customer, though). 

Among other vignettes, the reader will encounter a mint green safari jacket (with reflection on the safari jacket’s 1970s Bond associations), an eye-blistering tartan morning coat that looks like something Johnny Rotten might get knighted in, and the gorgeous black sequined dinner jacket that Bryan Ferry wore on one of his tours. Maybe it takes being Bryan Ferry to wear a sequined jacket with panache, but it’s a helpful reminder that the custom tailors of Savile Row can create something elegant out of a material so glitzy, if not tawdry – and that an inspired custom tailor can create garments that compete with those of the most fashionable designers of their time – such as the silver dinner jacket Hedi Slimane of Dior Homme had designed for Ferry’s tour with the reformed Roxy Music a few years earlier. 

Unlike a book I recently reviewed of the same name, Anderson’s Making the Cut does not feature any vicuña overcoats. Instead, it makes those, and that other book, seem uninspired, compared with Anderson’s lovely Irish Donegal tweed Harrington jacket, quite similar in its offbeat beauty to one Arnys had made (off-the-rack) a few years before its demise. Making the Cut helps show the custom tailor as designer, its clothes as much concept or conversation pieces as the catwalk designs of couture houses that survive on licenses and diffusion labels. Anderson doesn’t have that luxury, but his book has integrity and originality, making each piece a personal story, each garment a set of signs, often in opposition, for the reading. These materials and baroque models make for a fun read for anyone who loves clothes simply for their sake, free of attempts to situate such clothes and their wearers from at least historic, if not contemporary, snobbery.