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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Interview: Dominic Sebag Montefiore - Creative Director Of Edward Sexton

The story of the Montefiores, as told by my underground informant Carlos Oppenheimer, began when Moses Montefiore, who made a fortune at an early age out of being the stock broker for Nathan Rothschild, began a life of philanthropy which still to this day benefits Jewish people all around the world. He died in 1885 leaving no 'known' children and bequeathed his estate to Joseph Sebag-Montefiore. 

The family, which by Oppenheimer's account is quite large, has never stopped striving to achieve and to contribute to British society and whilst the most famous living member is perhaps the historian Simon Sebag-Montefiore, whose documentaries (I've not read the books that form the basis of them sadly) are masterful tales on cities and empires, I recently noticed that another Sebag-Montefiore was putting his best foot forward at Edward Sexton.

Dominic Sebag-Montefiore (DSM) is the 'creative director' of Sexton these days, a title which, in a small tailoring outfit, doesn't really give the total picture. So I spoke with DSM a few weeks back to understand what his role is and from the angle of succession planning. Edward Sexton is now 70 and whilst he looks like a man who might chew his food well and live to 100, the tailoring business relies heavily on eyesight, shoulders, backs, joints and fingers. But finding the right younger blood to take up the slack is not easy, so there must be something rather promising in DSM for him to be chosen.

DSM is very proud of the Sexton history and intends to continue in that vein as Edward Sexton must inevitably wind back his role in the day to day operations. I asked him if he would take the business into a RTW line or expand it like some other more ubiquitous international brands we see today. He said he had no such expectation. Quality was paramount, so too was individual attention. DSM explained that whilst there may be a push in new directions and an expansion of existing services, he had no intention of Edward Sexton turning into a Giorgio Armani or a Ralph Lauren.

I think this is noble and exceptional. Here is DSM in his own words. 

Dominic, you have said that you would never want Edward Sexton as a brand to become a global behemoth in order to protect the quality and integrity of the brand, but could you see the style of Sexton ever being offered in RTW in perhaps the same way that Cifonelli has taken it’s creative and technical skills of tailoring into department stores?

We are proud of the Sexton signature look and want to help people who like what we do enjoy great clothes, beautifully made and a sensible price. We are keen to expand our offering, but at the end of the day we are a tailoring brand and that is at the heart of everything we do. Growth is a great thing but we do not want to get too far away from what we do so well.

The Sexton look is something which I myself have recreated but not to the same technical expertise and without a clear understanding of exactly what it was that I thought defined it. In my opinion, the look is defined by a slightly dipped and then clearly defined roped shoulder, generous peaked or notched lapels which extend near to the chest seams, a double-breasted front as preference, darker tones in blues, a cuffed trouser with pleat and a respect for the drape of fabric. Could you tell me in your words if I am right or correct me where I am wrong?

As what we do is bespoke we treat each customer individually and for that reason our house style is somewhat shifting, and over time our tastes change so we don't favour one thing over another. For example, recently we have been steering some of our more stylish clients to wider leg trousers with17”- 19” bottoms and full pleats, or even Hollywood tops on casual trousers. Shoulders have been moving from square to more pagoda shaped. But what I can say is we like a strong shoulder with constructed chest - with drape. We prefer a roped sleeve head and lapels that are long, low and leafy.

Dominic Sebag-Montefiore left with Edward Sexton right. 

I have always found that with sweeping lapels you require a higher collar stand on your shirt and I notice that you have often high collar stand peaked collars on your website with tie pins through them. Is this the only sort of collar you suggest that marries with the style of suit you make or are there others?

We are big fans of the peak collar as it works well for a formal Sexton look with our broad lapels, but it is not the only option. When choosing a shirt collar (and in-fact tie width and knot) you should consider the length and width of your neck in proportion to your shoulders and chest. That said the pin (and tab) collar can echo the sweep of our peek lapels elegantly and resonate with the 1920s reference of them.

The turtle neck sweater with an ES suit is a wonderful look. In Australia, however, the weather does not permit most men in major cities to wear a turtle neck to work because in the middle of the day, even in winter, temperatures can get quite hot. Can you tell me what you might recommend for Australian men as some light weight alternatives to a turtle neck that might give them a chic way to dress more casually with a suit during the week?

This is difficult because for me this is a classic winter look there are some good fine gage knitwear about with a high percentage of silk in which may wear cooler. If it is for more casual wear we have clients who wear their suits well with an elegant polo shirt or a nice quality t-shirt. A Breton stripe can be a good casual option. For t-shirts, something with a little line can add at bit of texture and make it drape in a way that lends itself more to summer tailoring than cotton. We also have some more flamboyant clients who will wear a soft silk shirt with the collar unfastened with their jackets.

Post Tom Ford and the spread of new MTM programs the oversized peaked lapel suit became so ubiquitous thanks to social media that it almost seemed like some chaps were flopping their lapel over their back before heading out for the evening (😊 ) . But this is not the Sexton way, and somehow your look has been persevered despite imitations. Can you explain what it is that defines proportions for you that makes the quality of your work stand out and why some of those that imitate tend to look tacky and over-stated?

We approach what we do taking inspiration from 1920s and 30s. We look back but don’t stare. Edward is old enough to remember seeing the films from this era before these proportions were reimagined in the 1970s - Edward was one of those doing the reimagining. So, I think we approach what we do with a direct reference to the elegance and style of the 1930s and perhaps others are going via the flamboyance of the 1970s. Don’t forget a lot of our clients are elegant businessmen who exist in a conservative environment so for some of them what we do is pushing the boundaries too far.

Matin Freeman wearing Edward Sexton in The Rake Magazine

You mentioned that you were interested in taking the web business in a new direction. Can you tell our readers about the challenges that smaller companies face when tackling production of stock for websites and about the changing way brands like yourselves have to evolve and change with the times?

The most important thing for us is to find workshops and manufacturers who want to work with us, and to look after the relationships. If I must deal with a shirt maker, for example, I don’t want to spend all day sending litigious emails and hassling them about little details. I want to work with someone who is nice to talk to and fun to work with, someone who gets excited about our new projects and pays attention to detail so I can trust in them and learn from them. Don’t forget I am a tailor first and that is what I like to spend my time doing, so if the business side of the web shop is not pleasurable it will get dropped very quickly. Because we are quite a small shop now, we struggle with managing stock of our shirts and find that we can be out of stock quickly on styles if someone writes about them, and it can take a few months to replenish stock as to make the project commercially viable we have to order quite a few shirts in one go.

What is the greatest piece of tailoring wisdom that Edward Sexton has imparted upon your since you began working with him and what is the most important business wisdom he has explained to you about running a bespoke atelier?

There are two. 1. A faint heart never won a fair lady.  2. Always stick to your knitting.

We spoke briefly about you wearing Chelsea shoes with suits, something which I adore myself. Can you tell us about your shoe and suit collections at the moment and if you are working on any new commissions over the coming months?

My shoe collection, I have a lot, but my tastes have changed recently so I am not that happy about many of them. I am loving my new bitter chocolate monk straps. I am working on for my next suit a light beige flannel suit with Hollywood top trousers.

Bianca Jagger - an icon of style - wore sweeping peaked and notched lapels that were cut by Edward Sexton under the directorship of Tommy Nutter in what is now a golden age of suiting which saw the likes of Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Ringo Starr and many more all wear the Nutters look which has evolved into the modern Sexton look.
The genesis of the Sexton look derived from Edward Sexton's days as the head cutter for avant-garde and showman tailor Tommy Nutter who died of complications from AIDS in the early 1990's.

Edward Sexton's relationship to rock n roll continues even today and many musicians still count on him to create the right sweeping look to wear on stage.

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