Keeping British Styling Alive

The Managing Director of Savile Row stalwart Henry Poole talks about working with David Gandy, his passion for cars, and how they came to tailor a suit for Jaguar test driver Norman Dewis OBE.

Simon Cundey, Norman Dewis and David Gandy.

So, how come you're tailoring a suit for Norman Dewis?

I've known David Gandy for about eight years through a shared passion for clothes and cars. Obviously, David loves bespoke craft tailoring, which is very much what we do here at Henry Poole. We've worked on a few projects together, so when David heard about Norman Dewis going on Top Gear, he called and said he'd like to get Norman into a tailored suit for his appearance. Norman's a unique character with a fabulous unique history, so naturally we were delighted to be involved.

How was it working with Norman during the fitting?

He's very easy-going, and an absolute joy to work with. He's had many a suit from various places, but this time he had the chance to say how he really wants it. Obviously, his style is a black blazer, and trousers to match, and we wouldn't try and change that. It's all about making him feel comfortable with what he wears. But, now he has had a unique pattern made, so as with all of our customers, he can have anything he wants - sports jackets, blazers, suits…

Tell me about the Jaguar lining. How did that come about?

We created that a year and a half ago. We do linings for a number of private clubs, such as the Royal Automobile Club, country clubs and golf clubs, so we thought why not do it for Jaguar. David really wanted to wear a club lining for Goodwood, so we came up with a design that features the Jaguar Classic badge and the Leaper. Being a neutral yellow, it's quite a sporting colour - just as appropriate to wear with tweed as it is a suit. We've now used it inside caps, jackets, waistcoats, even handkerchiefs.

On the front, Norman has gone for a BRDC badge and buttons

We would have loved to do a fully embroidered BRDC badge in the forepart of the jacket, which is the absolute epitome of club jackets. However, with the company we work with - which does footman coats for Her Majesty - it would have taken up to two months, as it's a very precise craft. The BRDC buttons came from the club, and they're incredibly beautiful and well made. The history of Henry Poole goes back to 1806, and our archive goes back to 1846. We have beautiful button books of all the houses, liveries and buttons of royal families around the world. Button weight has often decreased nowadays, but the BRDC button is a good calibre.

British style is often an ever-changing balance between tradition and modernity. Where do you think Henry Poole fits into that?

We are very much at the forefront of that tailoring generation. Henry Poole is still a family firm and I'm seven generations in. It has been through many different periods - two World Wars, the Great Depression - but we've always endured. We even survived the dotcom era, when Arthur Andersen dropped the suit from their dress code. Well, what happened to Arthur Andersen? Today, there's a generation that aspires to craft and individualism - something special. Everything is cut and made on the premises. It's similar to how every Jaguar is built for a unique owner and you can visit the factory to see your unique car being made.

So, it's as much about personalisation, quality and service as it is about style or fashion?

Offering customers a bespoke experience is key. If you lose that touch of service and quality, you lose what makes a brand so unique and British. It's also true in the food industry. When you go to a restaurant, the kitchen isn't behind closed doors any more. You can see the chefs working. In the 1920s, in our Savile Row showroom, you would never have seen anything behind the scenes, such as the cutters working. But now when a customer comes in, they are invited down to see the person making their coat. It's about people making the products, and I think that's where British style survives - heritage, quality and a personal touch. Yes, it sometimes takes a little longer, but people who have the patience really appreciate it.