Today is the launch party for Eric Musgrave’s new book, Sharp Suits. It’s being held at Richard James’s premises on Savile Row – the proprietor also lending an introduction to the book.
Sharp Suits itself is a very welcome addition to the literature on classic men’s tailoring. There is precious little of it about.
Alan Flusser dominates the field, with his most recent publication, Dressing the Man, a primer for everyone interested in classic menswear. Indeed, it’s so good that I stole from it for the title of my blog – the book is subtitled Mastering the Art of Permanent Style.
Beyond Flusser, there are idiosyncratic works like Nicholas Antongiavanni’s The Suit and Nicholas Storey’s History of Men’s Fashion. The first is a job pitch that is entertaining but feels the lack of illustrations; the second is an English barrister’s rather particular opinion on clothes, and isn’t really much of a history. There are others, but really Flusser is the only one I would recommend without qualification. Until now.
Musgrave’s book is superb and should really be titled A History of The Suit; it would have been a more accurate title, though perhaps less appealing. Sharp suits takes the reader through several, from different cultural viewpoints. The first is a basic outline, from Charles II’s adoption of the Persian vest (and hence the three-piece suit) through to Armani and Prada. The others look at suit design, royalty, the Italians, the Americans, the French, rock stars and move stars (in that order).
Each chapter is lucidly and sharply written – as you’d expect from an ex-editor. But the personal touches are the brightest aspect of the text. Much of the factual timeline I already knew, but hearing about Musgrave’s commissioning of a brown, double-breasted suit from a rather frustrated tailor at Burton’s, or his recollection of an eighties suit made from cellophane, adds a lot of needed colour.
The other reason to buy this book is the sheer volume and quality of the images. Flusser, as more of a ‘how to’ book, is illustrated by swatches and examples. Other works lack good photos at all. Indeed, Sharp Suits is probably most similar in aim to Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen’s Men of Fashion, a radio show earlier this year that presented a cultural history of menswear. But that sorely lacked pictures. Musgrave’s book makes up for it in spades.
If anyone asked me what primers they should read on classic menswear, I would recommend Dressing the Man and Sharp Suits. One is a guide, the other a history; one definitely American, the other more European.