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The Rake: The Cutting Edge, Dominic Sebag-Montefiore

By | News, Recent Press

THE CUTTING EDGE: DOMINIC SEBAG-MONTEFIORE, EDWARD SEXTON

In this second part of ‘The Cutting Edge’, The Rake meets Dominic Sebag-Montefiore, Creative Director & Cutter at esteemed Knightsbridge-based bespoke tailors Edward Sexton, a tailor who is as progressive and passionate as he is talented.

WORDS ALEKSANDAR CVETKOVIC
 
When Dominic Sebag-Montefiore began his career as a bespoke tailor, he was, by his own admission, ‘a young grumpy man, who found it problematic that everything was mass-produced to the lowest common denominator.’ In said grumpy state, moving into the world of bespoke tailoring was more or less a mission statement – a refusal to live life by mass-produced rules. Some 12 years later Dominic’s work, informed quite simply by a ‘genuine human passion’ for what he does, has come to represent the pinnacle of contemporary British bespoke tailoring, placing him at the forefront of that young, talented generation of British bespoke tailors who are coming to the fore.

Sensitive and artistic, he combines his talent as a cutter with a shrewd head for business as Creative Director at legendary Knightsbridge tailors Edward Sexton. Dominic has done much to further the position of the house, both creatively and commercially; working alongside Sexton himself to introduce what is arguably the finest made-to-measure tailoring service in the world, allowing greater access to the house’s iconic tailoring for those who aren’t in a position to pay bespoke prices. He has also worked to create a ready-to-wear accessories collection composed of Sexton staples made to the same exacting standards as the house’s bespoke tailoring, and he oversees the firm’s website, online store and social media concurrently. No small list of accomplishments.

The one thing that might strike you about all these initiatives is how exceptionally forward-thinking they are for a thoroughbred bespoke tailor, although really this should come as no surprise, given that one of Edward Sexton’s most compelling idiosyncrasies is the house’s dogged progressiveness. From day one, Edward scandalized the thoroughly conservative Savile Row of the ‘70s with the distinctly avant-garde approach he pioneered at Nutter’s of Savile Row (the outré checked tailoring and purple penis shaped candles in the shop window more or less set the tone) and Edward Sexton as a house has taken an ever-so-slightly rebellious stance ever since. This is perhaps more apparent today than it ever has been, as Dominic works to ensure that the house remains one of the most influential bespoke tailors in Britain. As he explains, ‘Edward’s always had clients who’ve talked about him, so we don’t mind referencing them either – where appropriate. Plus, we’re proud of what we do and how we’re developing the house.’ His tone seems to say ‘what’s so wrong with marketing anyway?’ It’s a refreshingly candid approach from a bespoke tailor.

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Indeed, one of Dominic’s most endearing characteristics is his honesty and transparency. One very swiftly gets the impression that his judgment as a tailor can be trusted, primarily because he keeps his finger on the pulse of luxury menswear – and displays a deft understanding of what sophisticated men require from their clothes. For example, when asked how a bespoke tailor can remain relevant in today’s increasingly informal society, Dom’s answer is fantastically brutal: ‘The first thing to do is to stop making business suits’. I’d like to find another tailor brave enough to put his foot down like that. He elaborates: ‘you know, your bold pinstriped, classic business suit? These suits do have their place – but for the younger customer, that’s not primarily what they want from their clothes.’ What do they want then? ‘Nowadays, men are wearing suits much more for pleasure than for work, either because the suit is perceived as a uniform, or because they don’t get the opportunity. As a result, a lot of our younger clients are having suits made for important meetings where they need to impress: job interviews, networking dinners or drinks. Gentleman’s clubs are having a revival and people are enjoying dressing for the evening again. We even have a couple of younger clients who have come in for suits to wear to the pub at the weekend because they’re stuck in front of a computer in jeans all week.’

Fortunately, this plays to the house’s strengths: the suit as an instrument of personal expression, or as a vehicle for glamorous living is, quite frankly, the Sexton forte. Moreover, one of Dominic’s many talents is a deft touch for sniffing out clients’ requirements, perhaps because he talks not just in terms of bespoke tailoring, but of ‘design consultancy’ too. Step through the door into Sexton’s Knightsbridge studio and the first thing you’ll do is sit with Dom for as long as it takes for him to divine what you want and need from your clothing.

It’s a uniquely sensitive approach to the tailor’s task, and one that many clients find invaluable. As Dominic puts it: ‘The problem with bespoke is that it’s a gamble – you can’t see the suit when you order it, so having a tailor that you can trust is paramount. With all our clients, I try to establish where and how they’re going to wear the garment, what kind of image they want to project and perhaps most importantly what their personality is like as they deal with me, their tailor. To a greater or lesser extent, it’s my job to help them represent themselves at their best, as they’re moving through the world. It’s about finessing a human being to help him make the right choices, and we do this by taking time to understand the context in which each client lives.’

If Dominic perfectly understands the requirements of his customers, then he also understands the direction that menswear is taking at large: ‘The way we can stay true to our heritage in terms of cut, construction and craftsmanship whilst keeping things contemporary at the moment is to play with texture. Men have played with colour – the whole colour thing is established now. The next step is texture, working out what creates interest. For example, which shirt or tie will best complement a soft flannel suit? You can go either very sharp with a satin tie and shirt, or you can soften your look right down with a flannel or chambray shirt – then you might choose to wear a woollen tie or pocket hanky as well. Menswear is now about tying things together to create a cohesive story, and about playing with and enjoying clothes – that’s the way to dress.’

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Hence why Dominic, like all the best tailors out there, is more than happy to tailor clothes with a progressive edge. ‘Tailoring and casualwear are made to go together. The other day I was wearing a black suit with a white linen striped T-shirt – and the suit has a lot of jewellery on; I have a big brooch on the lapel, and brooches on the cuffs and things like that – its intended to have a rock-and-roll vibe. It’s a black suit, but it’s anything but conventional.’ Does the suit have to be unconventional to survive? Not quite, but it does need to retain a degree of fluidity: ‘a suit like that, it’s neither smart nor casual – it occupies that special “neither”.

‘Our best clients now, they come back to us because they love clothes, and they want to experiment and express individuality. Tailoring can be a sort of post-modern way of projecting something beautiful and taking it with you. It’s like having tattoos even – it’s about putting something you value on yourself and carrying it with you.’ I can’t say I’ve ever heard a bespoke tailor talk in terms of tattoos before, but the comparison perfectly encapsulates the openness of Dominic’s approach to personal style – and his progressive attitude towards bespoke.

Take for example his latest project, the ‘anti-Pitti suit’, whereby Sexton’s rich and elegant house style meets design-driven, modern minimalism and a touch of experimentation. ‘At Pitti, everyone is peacocking to the max; with their pocket watches and pocket hankies and ties done inside out and back-to-front and it just goes on and on. I came back from Florence last time and felt like I’d overdosed – you know after Christmas when you feel like you’ve eaten too much rich food? I just craved something simple, so the point of the suit is to strip out everything extraneous.

‘I’m using plain wool and cashmere flannel and I’m going to keep the suit as understated as possible, so its almost subverting some of the suit’s traditional features without losing the essence of what it should be: no pocket jets, no vents, no cuffs. I’m even going to lose the breast pocket and instead run the front dart right up into the shoulder, with just a slit in it at chest height to have a pocket hanky come through if I want. Then I’m going to cut a peak-shawl lapel; a peak lapel with no seam at the gorge.’ A design such as this amply testifies to Dom’s inspired approach to the tailor’s art, and moreover it pushes the boundaries of what the suit can be in the modern world without compromising either its beauty or its practicality.

It is perhaps telling that with this project, Dom is once again experimenting with a suit which represents ‘that special “neither”’ in menswear terms. In an environment where the line between formal and casualwear is growing increasingly blurred, the tailor’s ability to adapt to and even embrace this new prevailing aesthetic is paramount, and what’s special about Dominic’s work, and about Edward Sexton, is the way that the house has embraced this paradigm shift. As Dominic rather humbly puts it, ‘nowadays, you should dress in such a way that people don’t know how to place you’. Where does one place Dom’s work? Mark my words; it’s the tailoring of the future.

The first part of The Cutting Edge is available to read here, featuring Michael Browne of Chittleborough & Morgan. The third instalment will be available to read on TheRake.com soon. 

Photography by Piers Cunliffe.

A Sense of the Sixties; Collaborating with SIBLING at London Collections: Men

By | Design, Journal, News, Tailoring

Its not every day that the worlds of high fashion and bespoke tailoring combine; often, the bespoke community can be a little reticent when it comes to pushing fashionable boundaries.

This is not the case at Edward Sexton; Edward opened Nutter’s of Savile Row in an era when the worlds of fashion and tailoring were inextricably interlinked – the peacock revolution of the late 60s meant that for the first time, young, dynamic and successful men wanted bold, statement suits to paint the town in – Edward and Tommy Nutter made that happen. With this heritage behind us, today the house embraces the opportunity to prove that bespoke tailoring can not only be effortlessly stylish, but progressive too. As a result, when we were asked by ultra-fashionable designer brand SIBLING to cut some suits for their LC:M catwalk show, we couldn’t help but jump at the chance.

SIBLING’s vibrant and irreverent SS16 collection screams colour and energy – with confident outfits cut in revealing shapes, inspired by the social optimism and new freedoms of the sixties. This British influence is coupled with American influenced sportswear silhouettes – the sixties also being a golden era for the modern American sports scene. Convinced that no homage to the era would be complete without some swinging mod-suiting, the design team at SIBLING asked us to cut them two sharp mod-suits with which to open their show, knowing full-well that Edward Sexton understands 1960s style better than any other tailor alive today.

Archive Images of Edward Sexton wearing Mod suits in the 1960s

Images from the SIBLING show

Revisiting the mod look, glossy blue and cool moss green summer mohair cloths from William Halstead were cut into unusually lose, boxy jackets, finished with slim lapels, nipped pocket flaps and short five inch rear vents – accurately representing the mod-look and lending these suits plenty of attitude. Signature Sexton strong roped shoulders combined with the jackets’ boxy proportions to lend each ensemble a real sense of drama on the catwalk. SIBLING’s influences included some subtle knitwear piping along the lapels, bold printed silk linings and extra panelling on the shoulder reflecting the shoulder pads used in American football. Complemented by slim, flat-fronted trousers, skinny ties and bright socks, these suits perfectly evoked the modern, clean and tongue-in-cheek approach to tailoring practiced by the rebellious youth of the 1960s, capturing some brash American ’60s optimism in the process. Says the New York Times: They were greeted with audible gasps. And then, inevitably, innumerable iPhone photos. Which is, at fashion week, as sure a sign of success as any. It was an exciting opportunity for Edward to revisit the decade which made him as a young, talented tailor and for the house as a whole to try something different.

The Woolmark Company also collaborated with SIBLING, and generously took the time to interview Edward and produce a short film exploring the inspiration behind our SIBLING suits. The film is available to view bellow.

Edward Sexton on Radio 4

By | News, Recent Press

Edward Sexton was interviewed by Libby Purves in November 2014 on Radio 4 along with other guests including concert pianist Janina Fialkowska, Dolores Payas who translated books written by the travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor and voice coach Gary Catona.

Edward discusses how he first got involved in tailoring and a brief history of the iconic brand that evolved from the 60’s.