Edward Sexton may not be a British fashion name that appears on billboards and magazine spreads around the world. Indeed, his contribution to British style has been relatively under the radar even within the UK, where his one-time partner Tommy Nutter is the more recognisable name among those with a penchant for a well-cut suit. But things may be about to change. Despite being beyond retirement age, the legendary bespoke tailor has now launched his first made-to-measure collection, as well as a ready-to-wear line of seven-fold ties in cashmere and silk, scarves and pocket squares in paisley and macro prints and artfully tailored tab-collar and pin-collar shirts.
‘I love tailoring still – it’s my hobby,’ says Sexton, who left London’s Savile Row to become a menswear specialist in Knightsbridge in the 1980s. ‘I get as excited now coming to work at 72 as I did when I was 17. The youngsters who work here let me know what’s going on out on the street fashion-wise, even though I’m not that into trends. I’m into sophisticated dressing.’
A tailoring revolution
Sexton, of course, was once one of those youngsters. And his contribution to London’s tailoring scene was revolutionary. Sexton the cloth-master and Nutter the salesman and style visionary formed Nutters of Savile Row in 1969 and introduced the idea of bespoke tailoring to a generation that had dismissed it as being strictly for the old guard. The pair opened their premises on Savile Row with shop windows – then unheard of – and cut suits with a contemporary, slightly period flair – narrow waists, parallel-legged trousers, wide peak lapels were all Sexton signatures that chimed with the Swinging Sixties. Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton and Twiggy all became customers and the Beatles wore Sexton on the cover of their Abbey Road album.
‘We didn’t know that what we would do would create a furore,’ says Sexton. ‘We were just two young guys who liked looking in shop windows, so we thought nothing of putting in shop windows. We didn’t know that challenged tradition. But that then allowed new ideas about tailoring to spread through a very closed world. Even the timing was right – London at that time encouraged a cult of innovation. It was luck. I’ve been extremely lucky in life – none of it was planned.’
Reaching a new peak
It was through his work creating bespoke suits for Paul McCartney that Sexton came to meet his daughter Stella – and consequently to oversee all of the tailoring she introduced as creative director of Chloé, and for her own label. This, in turn, allowed him to develop a rare expertise in cutting suits for women – a talent that has attracted the likes of Annie Lennox and Kate Moss as customers. ‘You can’t just turn to traditional men’s tailoring training to cut for a woman. They end up looking like they’re wearing a man’s jacket,’ notes Sexton.
When it comes to ready-to-wear, Sexton is certainly late to the party. So why do it? Indeed, most bespoke tailors are historically rather disdainful about the idea. ‘I’ve always admired ready-to-wear, accessories especially,’ counters Sexton. ‘It’s those with which you romance a suit. A suit is just a suit – but the right tie, for instance, makes it look different and feel different to wear. Of course, I remember when ready-to-wear didn’t really exist. But the advances in manufacturing now mean it really has reached a peak, an excellent quality. Now I aim to introduce a new peak.’
His made-to-measure suits, for example, are all high armholes, roped sleeves and flared ‘skirts’ – benchmarks of bespoke. The Italian cloth shirts share the same attention to craft: the collars are engineered to ‘sit proud’, as Sexton puts it, so that whether fastened or not they always look crisp. Perhaps McCartney will be back. Not that Sexton is too bothered by the celebrity interest. ‘I can’t afford to be star-struck,’ he says. ‘I’m just there to provide the best clothes for the customer, regardless of who they are.’