A Case for Fashion Illustration


One evening, I sat down for a drink with a friend and a female acquaintance of his outside one of the many restaurants squashed into the tiny and oddly un-English Heddon Street, just west of the bustle and beeping of Regent Street. After small-talking pleasantries, I asked the acquaintance what she did for a living. “I’m a fashion illustrator, among other things” she said in a politely searching and uncertain manner, which suggested the majority of those she communicated with needed explication. This is hardly surprising. Fashion illustration is not a common pursuit, it is not sufficiently self-explanatory and it is not one of those trades which is publicly celebrated or vilified, which would lend the average man at least a slight knowledge of what the dickens it is all about.

Most people guess that fashion illustration is about ‘drawing fashion’ or ‘drawing clothes.’ It is of course, but then it isn’t; it’s really about drawing ideas. There is no need to illustrate what can be photographed, but there is a need to illustrate what cannot be made. Countless designs of the past, which never made it through the seamstress’ door, are wedged into silent archives; the wash colours fading, the designs forgotten. They represent the full universe of creativity rather than the compact and reduced world of fashion. They are the designer’s electric brilliance transposed to pen and ink; they are the closest thing the fashion world has to artistic individuality.

For in illustration, individuality is defined by what the artist chooses to create. Photography is limited by what is already there. Thus, a photoshoot conducted for Hackett has only the originality of the backdrop and the frame for the art that has already been created. He can only use what has been made and what exists; only a cynic would suggest that Photoshop is an acceptable replacement for the illustrator’s pencil. For it is a mighty pencil indeed, and one which I believe is too little used; where are the artist sketches lining the tailor’s shops? Where are the customers’ sartorial fantasies? Where is that vital connection between art and clothing?

Bespoke clothing is about more than stitching, basted fittings and floating canvas. The snobbery about these elements has led the trade into a never-ending game of top-trumps based on the formulaic accumulation of individual characteristics; who has the oldest shop on the Row? Who offer the most basted fittings? Who uses gold thread to sew the buttonholes? Quality is important but it’s not the only horse at the races. When I went to Cad & The Dandy to have a bespoke evening jacket made, I didn’t turn up with a photograph and a list of requirements; I turned up with a drawing of how I wanted it to be.

With this in mind it is well to remember that not everything that can be imagined is always made which essentially means that not everything that is imagined is ever photographed. Considering the evergreen popularity of Fellows and even Leyendecker, particularly as a resource for bespoke ideas and ensembles, it is odd that others do not make more of the unique power of illustration; to enable the observer to imagine themselves in something that has not yet been made. At the very least, they should make more of the journey from synapse to seamstress; showing the process of creativity adds value to a product. Illustration is the hallmark of creativity and it needs to be utilized far more than it is.

Links: Made-to-order shoes, horizontal stripes, sunday best…


• Round up of favorite made-to-order shoes at Leffot. (leffot.com)

• Experimenting with horizontal stripe shirts. (parisiangentleman.co.uk)

• Clothing-wise, churchgoing and horse riding are not that much different. (themidwestyle.com)

• The most imitated shirt – candy stripes. (heavytweed.blogspot.com)

• Collection of seasonal photos from Tommy Ton. (gentsdresser.blogspot.com)

• Probably the best guide to men’s hairstyles. (ivy-style.com)

• Forum discussion on practicality of traditional leather bags in modern life. (styleforum.net)

Forgotten Style Heroes: E Berry Wall


First there was the Dandy; then, there was the Dude. First there were trousers and riding jackets; then, there were thigh high boots and Glen Plaid pantaloons. Although they could not be more stylistically opposed, the Dandy and the Dude do share the taste for rebellion; the former against the unwashed, perfumed and bewigged fashions of fops; the latter against the plain, austere façade of Victorian respectability. But though the Dandy is celebrated for his overturning of strange fashions that are anathema to all modern men, the Dude has been largely ignored; his extravagant, carriage-stopping ensembles have faded into the past; the heroes of the movement forgotten.

Even the “King of the Dudes” Evander Berry Wall – a great celebrity in his day – is barely acknowledged in style’s hall of fame. Born in 1860, E. Berry Wall – ‘Evander’ was rarely used – was a fortunate young man. He inherited a large sum of money from both his father and grandfather before reaching the age of 22. A young millionaire, Wall used his fortune to assemble a colossal wardrobe that would eventually include 5,000 neckties and 500 complete changes. In Wall’s great variety of ensembles he is said to have possessed the most colourful and extravagantly patterned suits in New York. Unlike the Dandy Brummell, the Dude Berry Wall sought attention and recognition. You can imagine him paraphrasing the Beau’s famous line: “If Joe Public doesn’t turn around and look at you…you’re not worth looking at.”

It was Wall’s taste for experimentation and his patronage of Henry Poole that led to his most famous achievement; wearing the short dinner jacket in public. The story goes that Poole’s most illustrious customer, the Prince of Wales and later Edward VII, had a short jacket made and had worn it instead of an evening tailcoat on a number of private and public occasions. Poole sent one to Wall and suggested it be worn “for a quiet dinner at home or an evening’s entertainment at a summer resort.” Though a wealthy and socially accepted personage, Wall was not a royal prince or the heir to a vast empire; he may have affected to set the fashion but he could not have set the tone. Thus, his jacket’s first public outing at a ball in Saratoga was met with consternation. The manager of the Grand Union Hotel in Saratoga ordered him from the floor and, apparently, only permitted him to return after he had returned to his room and changed into an evening tailcoat.

Such sartorial squeamishness was widespread. At the time, New York society, as Edith Wharton and others have famously documented, was not a place for pioneers of fashion. After amusing escapades including one involving a reporter’s thirst for a good story, a “Battle of the Dudes” and a pair of black patent leather thigh boots, Wall went bankrupt in 1899 after a foray into investing on Wall Street. The resulting social isolation and embarrassment led to his departure for Paris. Wall’s own reasoning was that New York had “become fit only for businessmen.”

In Paris, he permitted himself the comfort of an apartment at the Hotel Meurice, near Charvet who had long been supplying him with his famous high starched collars. He extended the elegance of Charvet collars to his chow, who strutted with his master through the Place Vendome to the Ritz Hotel, where Wall’s patronage was well noted. Devoted to his wife and his pooch, Wall is often unfairly pilloried as a profligate and self-indulgent poseur. He was extravagant, but it is said that his life brought him great happiness and that he remained a fixture of continental society until he died in the spring of 1940 at the age of 80. Wall often credited his diet of champagne and his avoidance of physicians for his longevity, quipping: “There are more old drunkards than old doctors.”

Links: Jacket Buttons, Women in Menswear, Exotic Leathers…


• A short overview of jacket buttons. (asuitablewardrobe.dynend.com)

• Nothing looks sexier than a woman in a man’s shirt. (thetrad.blogspot.com)

• …Or in a menswear from head to toe. (advancedstyle.blogspot.com)

• Exotic leathers in shoes. (the-shoe-snob.blogspot.com)

• A visit to Maurice Sedwell on Savile Row. (gentlemansgazette.com)

• A new great accessories webshop find: Exquisite Trimmings. (thesilentist.tumblr.com)

• Surrender to the holidays spirit. (afistfulofstyle.tumblr.com)

The Washable Boiled Front Shirt from Darcy Clothing


Anyone who owns a traditional starched dress shirt with a ‘boiled front’ will be familiar with the frustrations that it causes. The discomfort when wearing it is bearable, as is the inconvenience of attaching a collar – although dancefloor exertions have led to many a broken shirt stud – but the real disappointment comes the morning after when the discarded pile of clothing is sorted and you realise the shirt needs a good dry clean. As you make your way to the local cleaners in the chilly morning, you envy your soft-shirted colleagues who lie warm in their beds, sleeping off the stupor as their washing machines whirr.

It gets worse when you arrive at the dry cleaners and they inform you that they cannot dry clean the shirt without damaging the product. “You need” they say “to go to a specialist dry cleaner, one who cleans for the movie and costume people.” You head to Jeeves of Belgravia for advice who inform you, calmly, that they do not do it themselves but they can send it away, for a fee, to be cleaned professionally. “It takes about two weeks” they inform you as you reel from the quoted price. A little research then leads you to the Barker Group – to whom most of the world’s dry cleaners send their boiled-front shirts – and you realise that your shirt needs to be posted off to Bournemouth.

Even for a man accustomed to fuss, this process is irritating and scarcely economical. The days when such shirts could be dropped off at street corner launderers are long gone. This is a specialist product requiring specialist cleaners; cleaning the starched front evening shirt is a dying art. If only there was a boiled front shirt which could be cleaned by any old dry cleaning company. Or, better still, if there was a stiff evening shirt that could be thrown in the washing machine as you return to slumber. “Yeah right” you think “that’ll never happen.” And just like that, Darcy Clothing (formerly the Vintage Shirt Company & Co) provide the answer to your prayers; the washable stiff-front evening shirt.

After the success of their washable collars, they have finally produced the tunic to match; no longer will Barker’s excellent but inconvenient services be required. Although not as authentically stiff as the original boiled front shirt, the washable version is all the better for it in terms of comfort. If you are of a nostalgic bent, or simply prefer the aesthetic of the stiff fronted evening shirt but have been frustrated by its inconvenience, this is the thing for you. You can tuck into your consommé in comfort, glide across the floor with gratification, catch a wink in the cab on the way home and toss the thing into the washing machine as you down a raw egg and a Bloody Mary.