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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Jack Simpson On Dressing Well And That “American Glamour Is The Velvet Hammer”

When Americans get style right - which is not to say that it happens all the time - but when they do - they create iconic images that spread themselves in a much more populist manner than say the esoteric style images of Savile Row or their Milanese / Neapolitan / Biella counterparts. Americans tend to have less stylish men per capita than most European nations so my guess is when one crops up they celebrate it more universally. Jack Simpson was known to me for some time and I had intended to interview him a long time ago but I had forgotten about him until it recently cropped up in an interview with Anthony3073 which is posted below. The following are some well considered answers to menswear and style, and anyone who wanted a conduit into the American style psyche will find his answers very enlightening. Jack's a man who has a deep appreciation of menswear, from Australian Tasmanian Merino wool tops to the structure and silhouettes of American 20th Century style icons.
“American glamour is the velvet hammer” - Jack Simpson
Jack, when I decide to dress particularly well I find that it is a very ceremonial process from socks to braces and tie knot and it takes a fraction of that time to dress casually. The truth is, I know tailored garments are supposed to fit like a glove and to be comfortable – but often there is an inverse relationship between elegance and comfort. Does this hold true in your opinion or can you offer me some advice on how I might approach things differently?

I favour the idea of appropriate dress for every occasion. We encourage our clients to develop a balanced wardrobe; this includes elegant casual wear in addition to a tasteful, demonstrative professional wardrobe. Comfort is clearly easier to find in sportswear.  Yet, tailored clothing can be developed to achieve the same.  We all know that it is happenstance to find the ideal fit quality in ready-made suitings.  Custom clothing, however, be it bespoke or made-to-measure, offers the opportunity to find one’s precise anatomical balance, and a gifted tailor will create a pattern to capture this balance.  Select a fabric with natural elasticity, like Escorial, and you will achieve both comfort and elegance, with quite likely a side benefit of enhanced confidence.  Even if it might take a touch longer to get ready, it should be well worth the time investment.

Can you tell our readers about the three most beautiful suits you have ever made for yourself and whether or not you still are in possession of them and/or still wear them?

This is a difficult answer, Nicholas, so perhaps I’ll give you four.  Our house design centers on exacting architectural disciplines in model and pattern development, with the objective of providing a client the opportunity to wear a suit for upwards of 15 years.  My favorite garments are among the most expressive in my wardrobe.  During my tenure as Creative Director for Oxxford Clothes, I discovered a magnificent soft roseate cashmere and wool flannel from Trabaldo Togna, which was made into a vested suit with oyster pearl buttons (2003).  When I wore it to the  Ideabiella fabric show, one of the most elegant and deeply classic gatherings of men in the world, the first appointment was with the mill Carlo Barbera.   The creative team from Kiton was at an adjacent table, and much animated discussion ensued when I walked by.  Remarkably, the US agent came over to my table to issue his praise of the suit.  I asked him to convey to his Italian partners a polarizing message: “American glamour is the velvet hammer”. Five years later, several young women who were the hosts at various stands at Ideabiella, remembered that suit in very endearing terms.

Also in a lighter hue is the winter white Bedford cord from Dormeuil, accessorized with a cashmere and wool twill waistcoat of the same color, made in 2000.  The sturdy cloth carries the architecture of the model in an extraordinary way for a light ground suit.

Dormeuil Bedford Cord by Jack Simpson Couture
In 1998, I sampled for my personal use a stunning chocolate and cream Prince of Wales plaid.  It was made in a 6/2 DB with self vest.

Prince of Wales plaid by Jack Simpson Couture
And in 2005, a navy and eggshell diamond dot jacquard in Escorial, a cloth woven in Huddersfield like the chocolate glen plaid; both fabrics were selected from mill archives and then modified for construction and color.  The dot jacquard was modelled in a single breasted peak lapel with softly roped shoulders and is worn with a contrasting waistcoat of navy blue.  If you will allow me one more favorite, I’ll add the Agnona pure cashmere winter white topcoat.  We used oversized natural horn buttons and added a belted back to give it a less formal feel.  As with the suits above, it remains a special pleasure to wear and a salute to the pursuit of glamour.

Agnona pure cashmere winter white topcoat by Jack Simpson Couture

Designers like Rick Owens sometimes send me into fits of laughter because I can’t believe he manages to convince even his models to show their doodles and happy sacks on the runway. Conceptually I can see the utilitarian benefits of being able to pee with no obstruction but I cannot see the aesthetic value. How does someone like yourself, given your classic tailoring background, perceive changes in modern menswear fashion and do you see us all heading in that direction in the future?

Nicholas, I shall default to the concept of correct anatomical fit.  Aside from the Speedo swimsuit for men and related active wear, very form fitting, low rise garments are functional only on the runway or when standing in a provocative manner to garner attention.  The prior one hundred years has provided little fundamental change in the design of tailored clothing, save the reduction in the weight of linings and the advent of soft construction.  Young men are embracing the well cut suit and its attendant trouser.  May it always be so.

If you were to make a suit with three other houses across the globe which would they be and why might you want to experience their craft?

In its 13th Annual Best of the Best issue, the Robb Report cited five brands for superlative work; Oxxford, Brioni, Jack Simpson for Dormeuil (my partner at the time), Kiton, and Sartoria Attolini. As I enjoyed the opportunity to develop garments in the Oxxford factory, it would be wonderful to experience the hand disciplines in the other three of this group.

Over the last three years there must have been cloths or bunches for you which really stood out for one reason or another. Can you our readers some of the most exciting finds you’ve had in woollen cloth over the past few years be it blends, weave or finish?

I mentioned Escorial in earlier comments.  It is a truly remarkable cloth, both in terms of comfort and performance.  It is perhaps the ideal travel suit stemming from its light weight and remarkable ability to recover; any wrinkles fall out completely overnight.  The fleece from the Escorial sheep was the exclusive provenance of Spanish Royalty in the 16th century.  A small flock of the original breed was discovered by Peter Radford in Tasmania, and the expanded flocks are now tended to in natural habitats in Australia and New Zealand.  The fiber has a unique crimp that creates a natural stretch when woven.  A range of fabrics is available on a cut length basis to select tailors through England’s John Foster.  Also in England is Joshua Ellis, handcrafting cashmere fabrics for over 200 years.  The weaving and finishing processes are without peer, and the mill is especially adept in complex weaving on jacquard looms, as well as printing on select cashmere cloths, a uniquely challenging endeavor.  The mill produces extensive ranges for coatings and jacketings for the cut length market.  In Italy, Tessitura di Novara weaves the world’s finest Dupioni silk for tailored clothing use.  It is my favorite summer cloth, feathery light yet pleasantly crisp.  Its hand-loomed process yields aesthetically pleasing slubs, a mark of the fabric’s aristocratic bearing.  Loro Piana continues to scintillate the personal tailoring market with its light weight silk, linen, and wool blends.  This season’s Proposte Giacche is a truly beautiful collection of handsome, masculine designs that transition well from summer into early fall.

How do you describe the Jack Simpson design and style ethos?

We believe in the spirit of Polite Wear, a philosophy which embraces the notion of beautiful clothing to be worn out of respect to special people in a special venue.  I find that most men, even those of great achievement, are often under-served in the area of special occasion clothing.  We have made it our passion to develop unique concepts for this each season and incorporate these ensembles into our  presentation, “The Nine Categories of Dress for Accomplished Men”.  If we were to adopt one phrase to describe the design service that we wish to deliver to each client it would be, “taste and intelligence laced with wit”.

I have heard numerous tailors say that the most important role in a tailoring house is that of the cutter. Are you in agreement with this or do you find someone else in the workroom has the most influence over the finished product?

In my view, it is the interface between designer and pattern maker that is the most critical.  For small design houses, both of these functions may be assumed by the same person.  As our garments are produced in a larger shop, hand cutting is a separate process and is quite consistent.  For bespoke shops, the garment must also be sewn on premises to ensure precise consistency.

What are the most defining films for you sartorially speaking and can you tell us historically in your opinion which cinema films have the most elegantly dressed men?

Films are of acute interest to me, and I am appreciative of the contributions of Hollywood and the international film community to the advancement of male dress.   Cary Grant, the one leading man who regularly clothed himself, was especially memorable in To Catch a Thief.  From beach wear to black tie, his resplendent wardrobe still resonates today.

Both McQueen and Brosnan were beautifully attired in The Thomas Crown Affair films, and both wardrobes were created by legendary tailors.  McQueen’s rough masculinity merging with Savile Row elegance was deftly handled by Doug Hayward, who through his clothes reminded a generation that elegance is a delight.

Gianni Compagna created one of the most sartorially inspiring suits of modern film with his navy herringbone 3 button peak lapel model for Pierce Brosnan.  Its refined proportions, in conjunction with stronger shoulders to suggest authority, provide a lesson in the power of the well cut suit.

But it is Sean Connery, a former labourer turned elegant rake, who may have had the greatest impact on the male viewing audience.  His clothing in Goldfinger, much of which first appeared in the thriller Woman of Straw, was made by English tailor Anthony Sinclair.  The brown barleycorn tweed hacking jacket took Bond from Stokes Pages Golf Course in Buckingham to the mountains of Switzerland, as seen here aside his Aston Martin. This ensemble, which also appeared accessorized with a waistcoat in Thunderball, underscores the sophisticated virility inherent in beautifully cut tweed. This jacket was paired with calvary twill trousers and like those above, carries a natural shoulder line with a slightly roped sleeve head.

A bit more recently, Richard Gere, in both American Gigolo and Pretty Woman, spoke to the appeal of the sultry male as defined by graceful movement and equally graceful clothes, presaging a dramatic shift in men’s tailored clothing to less structured garments and more fluid fabrics.

Each of these films, and the many others worthy of mention, serve to remind us of the foundation of elegant male dress, the military uniform; its heritage dates to centuries ago when the man, not the woman, was the style virtuouso. I had the honour to make quite a number of suits for Paul Newman in the twilight of his career.   Each was modeled in a 4/1 vested DB with 3 open patch pockets, including his barathea tuxedo with grosgrain facing. Although Paul greatly favoured casual wear, he wished to honour the requisite special occasion through original thought;  in his case, it was the union of mild irreverence and tradition…. a decidedly cool message for each of us, regardless of our age or station.

To find out more about Jack Simpson visit his website on

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