About two years ago I walked down a narrow street in London to visit a tailor that had been recommended to me.
I rang a buzzer on the street, which echoed somewhere on the second floor. After a couple of minutes I was buzzed up, out of the drizzle, and was led up a tightly spiralling staircase.
The tailor’s space was unassuming and sparsely furnished. But as I stood there being measured (to have a jacket taken in, having lost a little weight) I noticed a few brilliant suits among the racks of clothes lining the walls.
One Prince-of-Wales suit had a lively yet subtle lime-green stripe through it, with delicate, shell-like buttons. Another in navy had a light blue chalk stripe, wider than average but also fainter.
When I asked the tailor where they were from she came over a little glazed and pointed at a bag in the corner. Over a brown, swirling paisley was emblazoned the Etro logo – on a bright orange background, naturally.
“Oh, such beautiful suits,” she said. “When you have to take them apart every day you see. So beautifully put together.” She brought over a cashmere jacket with a check that reminded one of children’s crayons. “You see? Look at the lining and the canvassing!” I don’t know a lot about the structure of a suit now, and I knew less then. But the enthusiasm in her eyes was enough.
The tailor was Atelier Colpani (15 Avery Row, London W1K 4BF, and recommended), which does all the adjustments for Etro’s London store at 14 Old Bond Street. And that day my fascination with the Italian, family-run label began.
Now, Etro is a little quirky. You probably gathered that from the earlier descriptions of unusual suits. But there are consistently jewels in every collection, and many are conservative enough to suit anyone.
I own and treasure two Etro suits, one of which is that lime-green plaid. The belt I have in their signature paisley is probably my single favourite thing. But Etro can also be wide of the mark. Last year’s summer collection featured a rather unconvincing pirates theme. And a shirt with a pizza printed on the front. This summer’s Etropicalia theme concentrates on unusual weaves with every different material from raffia to straw. It also has too many suits with flowers printed on the back.
But when the Etro family get it right, you realise quite how dull every Armani, Gucci and Boss you’ve ever seen is. Those boring grey tonic suits, or the announcements of a new line from Giorgio with – shock – higher notched lapels.
You wouldn’t wear Etro head to foot. Or I wouldn’t. And you won’t like at least half of the stock. But the pieces you do like will truly be a breath of fresh air.