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T&A Legends – Part Two: Art and Design

Posted 01.08.15  - Heritage

In the second of a series of articles on the legends of Turnbull & Asser – our customers past and present who hail from the worlds of music, art, film and literature – journalist Josh Sims discovers the stars of art and design who have stepped through our doors to experience the legendary bespoke shirt making experience.

The legendary designer Hardy Amies, who was, among other things, the first to host a menswear catwalk show and the first fashion designer to launch homewares, not to mention couturier to the Queen, could certainly have had his shirts made by his own operation. And yet he was just one of the many designers and artists who, over the decades, have chosen to go to Turnbull & Asser.

Amies, however, was not the only rather particular customer: Pablo Picasso wanted his shirts made only in silk and liked cloths with outsized polka dots, while artist and Soho dandy Sebastian Horsley wanted extra-large collars, for which extra-long silver stays had to be specially commissioned. ‘We couldn’t even find one of our boxes that they would fit into,’ says James Cook, from the St James’s bespoke store. Indeed, perhaps the very appeal of Turnbull & Asser to the artistically inclined has been its reputation both for true bespoke – it will make what the customer requests, from four-inch cuffs to tiny multiple buttons and hidden pockets – and for its colourful cloths and patterns, a distinction it has cherished since the 1890s. Might, perhaps, Turnbull & Asser’s signature multi-stripes of the Sixties have influenced Bridget Riley’s ‘Op Art’?

‘Fashion was different back then,’ says Cook, thinking back to a time when the likes of Terence Donovan, Patrick Lichfield, Vidal Sassoon and Peter Blake were among Turnbull & Asser’s clients. ‘This was before designers started to drive the trends, so a man would want to create his own look, and this appealed to artists, who want to be more self-expressive.’

Well, sometimes. The competing theory is that artists, and sometimes designers, are often so avant-garde in their public life or in their work, that in the more private realm they revert to classicism. For every Kenzo, who bought his preferred coloured socks from Turnbull & Asser, or a David Hockney, who favoured the bolder pocket handkerchiefs (there is still a signed cobalt blue pocket square framed in the bespoke store), there is a Moschino, who only ever bought plain white shirts.

Certainly, given Turnbull & Asser’s reputation as the original bespoke shirt makers, so many figures of the fashion establishment have paid the store a visit – Christian Lacroix, Ralph Lauren, Alexander McQueen, Valentino and Marc Jacobs – as have many from the world of contemporary art, such as gallery owner Jay Jopling. The store still holds the original shirt patterns to this day. An employee at Turnbull & Asser even became a small part of that establishment along the way. ‘I’m pretty sure that when Picasso came in he once did a little drawing for one of the members of staff here,’ says Gale. ‘But sadly we don’t have any further details of what happened to that...’"

Josh Sims - Writer for the Financial Times

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