Astronomy (exh. 1850). James Sant (British, 1820-1916). Oil on canvas.
A tour de force in James Sant’s oeuvre, Astronomy is a masterful study of colour and contrast. With an almost Italianate chiaroscuro, the sitter is captured deep in thought, her classical beauty reminiscent of a celestial goddess from antiquity.
From British Military tradition to Naples’ soft shoulder
To understand the shape and construction of today’s suits, one has to familiarize itself with its history. By the 1920s, most Savile Row tailors would call themselves military tailors led by Hawkes & Co. at the time (now Gieves & Hawkes) that occupied the No.1 of the famous sartorial street. Other big names from this era included Henry Poole & Co. and Dege & Sons (now Dege & Skinner). There was a strong Victorian heritage in the cut of the suits at that time, think formal, stiff, military. One tailoring house was already trying to distinguish itself from the rest by identifying itself as civil tailors, indeed opposed to military ones.
The real transformation work started with Frederick Scholte, a Dutch tailor, whose name became famous across the globe and who was ultimately credited of having created the English drape cut. Funnily enough, he trained a Swedish tailor by the name of Anderson who left his name to the venerable Anderson & Sheppard house. The drape cut, also known as the London Cut, refers to the way the jacket hangs from the shoulders by having rather ample room over the chest level and a drape effect below the shoulder blades. This proved to be in great contradiction to the military heritage of cutting close to the body. In Scholte’s works, the sleeves were rather wide albeit tapered at the wrist, but offset by high armholes to allow the jacket’s collar to stay put despite any movement its wearer might do and therefore avoiding the infamous collar gap. Very little padding was added for the shoulders, giving the jacket a more natural look.
The drape cut was made popular by no one else than the Prince of Wales who would eventually be crowned King and then become the Duke of Windsor after leaving the throne to his brother. Other famous adopters of the style include Fred Astaire whose impeccable outfits and everlasting panache greatly helped in bringing other clients from across the Atlantic to the Row. Marlene Dietrich was also known to be a client and sported suits in the chicest manner. Her elegance has probably been unconsciously inherited by Sarah Ann Murray, Fashion Editor at The Rake whose outfits always display an impressive sense of style, delightful tastes and an formidable twist that allows her to differentiate herself greatly from any other woman revolving around menswear nowadays. Each and every encounter I have had with Sarah Ann left me in awe of the sartorial mastery she displayed in addition of her being both interesting and charming.
From the drape cut to the unlined and entirely soft jackets that are the signature of Neapolitan tailors, there was mainly one man, Vincenzo Attolini. He worked in the 1930s as the main cutter at the London House, the tailoring shop of Rubinacci in Napoli. To provide clients with even greater comfort, Attolini developed further the ideas of Scholte and removed all of the structure that remained in British tailoring. This proved to be a real revolution in the world of elegant gentlemen. The Neapolitan style that one can find today around the Via Chiaia in Napoli derives entirely from Attolini’s work: unstructured, unpadded, soft and more relaxed. That being said, not all Neapolitan tailors of that time adopted this style and Angelo Blasi, another august tailor of that era cut jackets more like the British tailors than Attolini. There are countless books on this topic but I thought a brief summary might come in handy for those who wondered how we got there.