Edward Sexton returns to Savile Row with a new off-the-peg collection and an exhibition of never-before-seen photographs

Richard Brown

21 December 2020

With footfall down and formalwear becoming increasingly superfluous, Savile Row could do with a shot in the arm. Good news, then, that 30 years after swapping W1 for a studio in Knightsbridge, the tailor who helped revolutionise the street in the 60s and 70s is back with a pop-up store and new ready-to-wear offering

“Our presence on Savile Row can only help us and the street. It’s got to help the whole street, that’s the whole purpose of this exercise” – Edward Sexton 

21 December 2020 | Richard Brown

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E

dward Sexton is back. Fifty-one years after co-founding Nutters of Savile Row, the tailoring house that would revolutionise British suiting in the late 1960s and ’70s, the Dagenham-born cutter-turned-celebrity-outfitter has returned to where it all began – the very same address, in fact.

“It’s changed a bit,” says the softly-spoken 78-year-old, who talks in that proper (dying) form of double-negative Docklands cockney. “Savile Row was always renowned for its beautiful hand tailoring. You went to Savile Row purely to see your tailor. There are a lot of brands here now and some of them tend to be here purely for the address. They are not tailoring houses like we are.”

Edward Sexton, photographed by Emma Hardy

Indeed, it’s difficult to work out who’s got the better deal: Sexton, who’s managed to secure a discounted six-month lease – “at a very good rate”– at Number 36, a light-and-airy space in which he can showcase his new ready-to-wear collection (vintage flannel trousers, louche silk shirts, chunky cashmere knits, attention-grabbing greatcoats and a war chest of peak-lapel power blazers); or the Pollen Estate, Savile Row’s principal landlord, which has scored the return of the original rock-star suit-maker at a time when the beleaguered menswear destination could do with a shot in the arm. 

“The landlord invited us back because of our attitude and approach,” says Sexton. “They were very keen to recognise what we done in the sixties.”

What Sexton done in the 60s, of course, was take staid, sombre, military-stiff British tailoring and make it sexy. It was in 1967 that Sexton joined Donaldson, Williams & Ward, a tailor based in Mayfair’s Burlington Arcade. Here, Sexton met Tommy Nutter, a front-of-shop salesman armed with the gift of the gab and a little black book brimming with movers and shakers.

“Nutter and I would get together in the evenings over a couple of pints,” remembers Sexton. “We would talk over what we thought style should be. See, we were expected to wear the clothing of the house, but that didn’t necessarily mean we wanted to wear the clothing of the house, especially in our own time – so we started making garments that we felt were more for us.”

The pair began creating a style of jacket that was longer in the body, narrower at the waist and flared at the bottom. Narrow rope shoulders were paired with an extraordinarily wide peak lapel – a detail that would come to define the Nutter look.

“The coats on Savile Row were generally full of drape in the chest and in the back,” explains Sexton, “very 1950s. Tommy and I very much enjoyed the dressing from the 1930s and 40s. It was very elegant, very sophisticated. We took all that drape out and had a closer-fitting coat. Much sexier looking, much more complementary.”

Grey Flannel Prince of Wales Double Breasted Sports Jacket (right), £1,100

Not long after, Nutter secured some financial backing from a consortium of investors that included Cilla Black and The Beatles manager Peter Brown, both of whom the charismatic tailor had met while meandering his way through London's social scene. Nutter and Sexton went it alone, opening Nutters of Savile Row on Valentine’s Day 1969 – the first tailor to open in the street for more than 100 years.

“This was a time when the King’s Road was very active,” says Sexton. “Carnaby Street was happening. The world was changing. There was a lot of new money around. But these young guys, these City boys and pop stars didn’t want to go to King’s Road and buy something that was off the peg, they wanted something more specialised, more stylised – we just struck a chord with them.”

When, seven months later, The Beatles revealed the cover artwork for their Abbey Road album, three of the four Liverpudlian pop-rockers were sporting Nutter suits. When, in 1971, Mick Jagger married Bianca Pérez-Mora Macías, he did so in a suit cut by Sexton. Elton John had clothes made for him, as did Yoko Ono and Linda McCartney – Nutters being one of the first Savile Row tailors to create suits for women.

“The press that we were generating through The Beatles and other stars created a lot of interest in the trade,” explains Sexton. “The fashion editors soon picked up on that and started to give us the visibility. We encouraged a lot more traffic to Savile Row. We generated a lot more interest generally, which was good for the street – it was good for the other houses.” Now, as then, the Pollen Estate must be hoping.

Grey Flannel Chalkstripe Jacket, £1,300; shirts from £205

Since 1990, Edward Sexton has operated largely as a bespoke, appointment-only tailor out of a studio in Knightsbridge. This year, lockdowns and travel restrictions put paid to that bread-and-butter side of Sexton’s business, and made international trunk shows, through which the company does a healthy amount of trade, particularly in the United States, impossible.

“I’m sure our bank balance has looked a lot stronger,” Sexton laughs. “We knew we had to develop a new type of income and Covid meant we were able to spend a lot of time developing our ready-to-wear clothes. I’ve worked with Stella McCartney, developing their collections. I’ve worked with Chester Barrie, developing their collections. I’ve worked with Hardie Amies. I’ve done it for so many other people – I thought the time was right to do with for myself.”

Portrait of Edward Sexton in New York City by David Nutter, 1974

Recognising that men’s wardrobe habits were changing way before Corona became something more than an insipid, lime-gagged Mexican lager, Sexton’s new ready-to-wear collection – which includes the company’s firstever off-the-peg suits – was designed to reposition fine tailoring as something that can be worn day in, day out.  

“The idea was to create a look that you can wear to both Annabel’s and Soho House,” says Sexton’s creative director, Dominic Sebag-Montefiore. “Something that you can dress up, but which will still look great in a gritty East London pub.”

The Art Deco Suit (left) and an X-ray of John Lennon's skull, as part of the David Nutter exhibition at Edward Sexton's Savile Row store

After a year of tracksuit bottoms and hooded jumpers, Sebag-Montefiore believes that men’s fashion will witness a swing back to formalwear, as style-conscious men-about-town begin re-appreciating the cool-factor of dressing up.

“Our feeling is that people will start to crave it again because they don’t have to wear it. The rock stars wore our suits, but they didn’t have to – they wanted to look cool. We’re already seeing it in guys coming in who are wearing Balenciaga sneakers who want our Hollywood trousers. It’s the same with our greatcoat. You can be wearing a pair of track pants, chuck this coat on and look powerful – for when you’re not wearing your snuggly Moncler.”

Indigo Extra Chunky Cashmere Cableknit, £605, Silver Flannel Contemporary Trousers, £420 (left); Navy Check Flannel Single-Breasted Blazer, £1,200, Charcoal Merino roll neck, £250

For the moment, the new Edward Sexton store remains a pop-up, though Sebag-Montefiore hints to the arrangement becoming more permanent next year. As well as getting hands-on with the sort of eye-catching tailoring that proved catnip to rock-stars in the 1970s, visitors will be able to see a collection of never-before-seen images taken by David Nutter, Tommy’s photographer brother.

The prints, which form part of an exhibition curated by Sebag-Montefiore, includes images of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Limited-edition signed versions are available on the Edward Sexton website. “The images put into context what Nutters was doing at the time,” says Sebag-Montefiore. “They are so avant-garde.”

Grey Three-piece Suit, £1,780, Navy Worsted Three-Piece Suit, £1,780 (left); Grey Flannel Chalkstripe Jacket, £1,300 

So what is it, exactly, that makes Edward Sexton so special? “Before you go,” says the OG of statement tailoring, “try on one of my jackets. You will feel the power it gives you. You will feel energised. It will make you feel incredible.”

I do. It does.

Edward Sexton, 36 Savile Row, Mayfair, W1, edwardsexton.co.uk