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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Christopher Modoo Interview - Elegantly Dressed And Mannered

Christopher Modoo is the creative director of Chester Barrie and has of recent been working collaboratively with The Rake Magazine to produce unique pieces for their online store. I follow Christopher on Instagram ( @chrismodoo ) and have come to admire his personal style, especially his shirt and tie combinations and his ability to show restraint in dressing well.

He was kind enough to answer a few questions for our blog readers.

Christopher, out of all my suits that I have made with tailors I cannot definitively say which one out of them all I find the most beautiful, they all have their merits, much like a father finds it difficult to tell you which is his most beautiful daughter. Do you find this with your work as a creative director, that it’s hard to define which product is your favourite despite the fact that some sell better than others?

I create large collections every season and there will always be an element that will be my favourite. It could be a new style of shirt collar or a lapel shape, often it is a new fabrication. How commercial a product is rarely affects my emotional response towards it. There is always a surprise garment every season where a cloth “comes alive” in make, tailors beautifully and responds well to pressing or it may be that we were a little braver with the styling.

In my personal wardrobe, I have a lot of favourites and I am always looking for the perfect blue suit. I have tried different cuts and cloths but the perfect suit does not exist. But I enjoy pursuing perfection.

Christopher Modoo - impeccably dressed and sporting a four in hand knot with a dimple - the preferred knot of the refined Englishman.

In Australia the most revered days in our racing season are probably Derby Day and the Melbourne Cup. I am sure you have seen photos on social media of the event. Do you think you could offer Australian men a few tips for dressing for the races that might improve their elegance?

Yes, I have seen images on social media and the event is covered by the British press. I think elegance in dress is achieved by how you wear your cloths and behaviour. I attended Royal Ascot a few years ago and was fortunate enough to have tickets to the Royal Enclosure. It has one of the strictest dress codes for any sporting event but I was appalled by some of the behaviour.

In Australia there are fewer wool merchants that offer their bunches in the local market. Scabal, Dormeuil, Holland and Sherry are all present but many of those smaller and more niche wools are not commonly available through tailors. Can you recommend to our readers some wool cloth merchants that they wouldn’t otherwise know about, especially English mills that are likely not represented in our country?

The ones you mention are all very good and I have used all three. Dugdale are a typically English merchant that carry some really good honest cloths. They have a bunch called “New Fine Worsted” that is a great 2ply plain weave made with a robust fibre. It is a great workhorse and drapes beautifully despite only weighing 10oz/320g. They also carry a great traditional Cavalry twill which is traditionally used for trousers but makes for a great weather-resistant topcoat. Dugdale work with some of the best UK mills and are a proper merchant and not just a middle-man. William Halstead actually weave their own cloths but unlike most mills, they provide a merchant-style cut-length service. If you like mohair blends, they are certainly worth seeking. My particular favourite is a 60% kid mohair mixed with super 100s wool. We often use it for dinner suits.

I watched recently a video in which a man asked you whether it was not a faux pas to wear stripes and spots together and you responded that it wasn’t. Can you tell our readers what are some of the do’s and don’ts when it comes to matching shirts, ties and suits which you observe and some of the golden rules you might adhere to when dressing in the morning ?

You should develop your own style and try different combinations. I rarely wear the same combination of suit, shirt, tie and handkerchief more than once. I like mixing patterns and textures but a good piece of advice is to wear something neutral to balance a strong pattern, such as a plain tie with a bold-striped shirt. One of the most neglected areas that can make the biggest difference is how well the tie is knotted; a good compact knot that arches away from the neck with a dimple. And clean, polished shoes are essential. I always wear a pocket square in my breast pocket, even when I am not wearing a tie. As for spots and stripes, I love mixing them. I used to wear a lot of polka dotted ties in the 1980s/90s and I am starting to wear them again…usually with a butcher striped shirt.

I am finding it harder and harder to wear bow ties during the working week, I go between gym and my Studio, then out to suppliers and workrooms, and, when I get the chance, I duck into the city. Sometimes I feel I need four outfits for the day. When I do get dressed properly it takes me a good ten minutes, especially if I am tying my laces, my tie knot etc. I notice you are always impeccably dressed, so my question is, how do you manage that on days you are off to the gym or off to corner store? And, if you do dress down, can you tell us what you like to wear when you are in a relaxed environment?

In the modern world, we do not have the opportunity to change during the day. The modern man needs clothes that are versatile and can work at different levels. This is a creative challenge that I have enjoyed. A few years ago, when I was designing with Edward Sexton, we created something we called a “change coat”…a simple, tailored topcoat that could be worn at the smartest of London bars or to watch a football match. The connoisseur would appreciate the tailoring and the details such as the roped shoulder and expression in the chest but it did not make you stick out like a dandy at Pitti. To the average guy it was just a nice coat. Worn with a roll-neck sweater, dark jeans and Chelsea boots you had a perfect metropolitan uniform. In my most recent collection, I have presented a “blazedo”…a hybrid of a dinner jacket and blazer. Again, the key is versatility and it looks very sophisticated at an evening event but not out-of-place in the supermarket. Of course, one of the pleasures of our profession is that we are allowed to dress-up for no particular reason and I enjoy taking my time getting dressed but at the weekend at home I am in High Street jeans and sweatshirt…If I have unexpected house guests I will throw a velvet smoking gown over the top of them.

James Sherwood in a video once suggested that the only knot is a ‘four in hand’ with a dimple and that even the Duke Of Windsor didn’t wear a Windsor knot… Are you as rigid with your knots and can you tell us what Sherwood means when he talks about the dimple? Are you an advocate of 8 or 9cm ties to achieve the kinds of knots your wear?

I, too, am a bit of a “four in hand” snob and avoid the Windsor knot. The dimple is the small fold in the blade immediately below the knot. Ideally it is slightly off centre, it is important to achieve a good dimple from the first time you wear your tie and it will fall in place naturally in time. I own and wear ties with blades between 7.5cm and 9cm but more important is the shape of the tie, I like a semi-bottle shape that gives a good sized knot even on a slim tie. I am a fan of balance in my dress and there should be harmony between tie, collar and lapel.

The four in hand knot with a dimple, finished with a collar pin. A very sophisticated English Savile Row look.
I noticed recently you created a superb ottoman weave dinner jacket which was exceptional. Can you tell us a little about the cloth and the design in that jacket and how you go about considering a new project?

Thank you. I love formal dress. Before Chester Barrie, I worked for Ede & Ravenscroft who are a very traditional London outfitter where I was able to learn about correct dress. To break the rules you must first understand and obey them. The Ottoman cloth which I use for the facing is made with Mogador which is a sturdy blend of cotton and silk. I actually got the idea from a bow-tie! I usually make the bow to match the lapels but this project started as an accessory. I took some Mogador to our workshop to see if it could be used as facing and the results were stunning. Our suits have a soft roll to the lapel and this can be hard to achieve on a silk-faced jacket but the Mogador actually improved the structure of the lapel. This gave me access to a wider range of colours and one of the first projects was with The Rake magazine where we created a bright navy dinner suit. It is incredibly Rakish and has divided opinion. Traditionalists are saying a dinner suit can only be black or midnight blue but I think there is a place for colour in evening wear. Velvet smoking jackets and slippers were once never worn outside of the home but are now seen at parties and red carpet affairs. If Savile Row does not move on, we will only be suitable for dressing costume dramas. I have nothing against black dinner suits. I have three.
Most of my ideas are cloth-based and I spend a lot of time with mills looking at new designs. This will be my main inspiration. I have no formal qualifications and learnt my trade selling and fitting suits on Savile Row. Working with customers such as The Rake is easy as it is the classic Savile Row client relationship. A man often goes to the tailor as he can’t find what he wants off-the-peg. This is what The Rake is doing but on a slightly larger scale by creating unique pieces that draw on the brands heritage but with a modern, often subversive, stance.

It started with the bow tie and wound up being a tuxedo. The Chester Barrie Ottoman weave silk mogador tuxedo and bow tie which can be bought from The Rake Online

This sophisticated alternative take on a tuxedo challenges the status quo of Savile Row standards by offering a palette that is outside of the usual confines of black tie. With a generous peaked lapel and roped shoulder, this tuxedo is well matched with an oversize bow tie in the same Ottoman mogador to complement the proportions of the suit.

Christopher has developed the blazedo as an alternative to evening wear, merging the best of a tuxedo with a more contemporary look of a blazer, such as the patch pockets. 

I am still concerned about the death of the suit, that each generation is suiting up less and less and where then does menswear head if the role of the suit is defunct in the workplace and in social settings. Can you tell me what you believe is the future of menswear and some concepts you would entertain if you were allow your mind to wander off into the future?

The suit is dead. It is no longer standard dress and is now considered formal wear. But tailoring will survive and will still be relevant. The ability to create something three dimensional from a flat piece of cloth is an amazing skill that combines art with science.
I have always found the concept of the modern suit quite strange in the sense that having the coat and trousers in the same material it is somehow more formal than different cloths. Yet contrasting cloths are considered smarter for morning dress and white tie and perfectly acceptable for black tie.
Although I am an advocate of properly structured suits and I prefer a coat with a clean shoulder, full chest and roped sleevehead, I also can appreciate softer, unstructured tailoring. When I first joined Ede & Ravenscroft in 1999, we had an Italian buyer who purchased jackets from Isaia. This was my first introduction to this style of tailoring and I have enjoyed wearing variations of these models ever since; usually as sports jackets but sometimes as a suit. This style of tailoring will become more mainstream. But there will always be a market for proper tailoring as there will always be a market for mechanical watches, single malt whiskies and good cigars.

Christopher says that the world may no longer require suits to go to work but that there will always be market for tailor made clothes, just as the world will never tire of great whiskey, fine wine, mechanical watches and good cigars. 

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