Bryan Manning (above) is a cutter who trained at Kilgour French & Stanbury, before running his own workshop in various forms for much of the 1970s and 1980s.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of his career, however, is the costume work he’s done – in particular, creating suits for a character over different eras.
Bryan’s highest profile work was for ‘Wallenberg: A Hero’s Story‘ starring Richard Chamberlin, for which he won an Emmy in 1985 (below).
He had to make over 30 suits for the film, plus overcoats and other pieces.
It was complicated further, however, by the fact that the suits were worn at different points in the hero’s life, from the 1930s to the 1950s. “No one really understood that if you wanted to make the suits look as they did in that day, you had to construct them differently,” he says.
“If you look at a suit in the 1920s and 1930s, it was usually cut clean in the chest, with the shoulder seam sloping backwards down the back of the jacket.”
This was to allow the jacket to sit very close on the body – which was the ideal. A neat, close fitting suit that showed off the shape of the wearer rather than seeking to enhance it. [See Basil Rathbone, below]
“The canvas was very flat, really just to support the chest of the suit,” Bryan continues. “And there was very little padding in the shoulder.”
The only role of the shoulder pad was to fill in the little dip next to the collarbone – to smooth it out rather than to raise it up. It was a small, triangular piece: still stiff and strong, but small.
“You see this approach mostly in uniforms today. They are cut to sit very close to the body, with a very high armhole. That gives you tremendous ability to move,” says Bryan. To accommodate this movement, those old suits were also made with a lot more fullness in the back of the sleeve.
The fashion started to change during the 1940s. “Tailors started to put more chest into the jacket, to move that shoulder seam forwards so you had more space to work with,” says Bryan.
Shoulders got wider and more padded, and the emphasis turned to sculpting an ideal form with the suit, rather than reflecting the body underneath.
“It’s funny looking at those old movies. If you saw someone like Alan Ladd [above] with a jacket on, and then with it off, he was a completely different shape.”
The shoulder seam could now be moved forward without creating any problems, and the canvas and shoulder padding were different: “The chest canvas actually had to create and hold a shape, so you padded it in the round and took darts out of different places.”
You also had to work the cloth differently, holding in the crease edge (where the lapel folds over). And the shoulder pads now ran across the full width of the shoulder, to create a strong, straight line.
I find it an interesting comparison, given that today we tend to contrast the padded but clean-chested look of Huntsman with the soft but draped chest of an Anderson & Sheppard. Yet each of them incorporates different elements of that 1950s Atlas silhouette.
But Bryan is keen to point out that both modern styles are different to those old suits as well. “The shoulder pad is much softer, and conforms to the shoulder more than it did in the past,” he says. “Back then the pad was harder, sometimes concave, and pushed against the cloth.”
Houses also vary in how they adapt to fashions. A&S hasn’t changed much over the decades, but Huntsman and Kilgour were always keener to follow the trends: “If you look at a Huntsman suit from 30 years ago and compare it to a modern one, you can see a clear evolution.”
Back in the 1950s and 1960s everyone might have had bigger chests, but A&S was still softer and Huntsman more rigid.
English tailoring has also had to change a lot to deal with lightweight cloths. “Our suits used to rely far more on the maker manipulating the cloth – shrinking it, holding in, stretching out shoulders,” says Bryan.
“Anthony Sinclair [above, with Sean Connery] was a great for that. I used to know makers of his and it was fantastic what they could do – you can still see it on some of the James Bond suits.”
“Donaldson & Williams were another good one. They specialised in shooting clothing and used to have 1 1/4 inches more fullness in the back of the sleeve than the front. All of which had to be eased in and shrunk away. It took a lot of doing.”
But you can’t do that with a lighter cloth. “The Italians never did any of that; it was all in the cutting for them. They used to laugh and say we did all our tailoring with an iron. But it did give us an edge – it allowed us to do more.”
Photography: Jamie Ferguson @jkf_man