Richard James bespoke tailoring

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Friday, August 12th 2016
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RIchard James bespoke

Richard James are an interesting name in bespoke tailoring. Better known for ready-to-wear suits and various accessories, they’ve actually had a bespoke operation since they set up – in a small shop at 31 Savile Row – over 20 years ago.

Bespoke has never been a particularly large part of the business, but it catered to a consistently famous list of clients: Sir Elton John, Tom Cruise, Sir Mick Jagger, Hugh Grant, Sir Paul McCartney.

The bias in that list towards the world of entertainment is in part down to Richard and his connections, but also to the kind of brand ‘Richard James’ has been perceived as: playful, colourful, a touch glamorous.

A critic might say this is glamour of a certain era – the mid- to late-1990s specifically. But it is interesting (instructive even, for any of the start-ups we cover) how a brand with such a clear identity has maintained a following over the years.

RIchard James bespoke shoulder

Inevitably, this RTW identity influences bespoke and vice versa. Sean and the team talk about the early days of using bespoke clients as inspiration for new RTW lines. They had a reputation for experimentation, and old bespoke hands would come to them with rather fresh ideas.

Today, that influence is mostly seen in cloths and in the very holistic, consultative approach the sales team take in bespoke (there has been a separate bespoke store on Clifford Street since 2007).

This is somewhere where the front-of-house really sit down and talk a customer through his needs and his wardrobe. It’s something a lot of the other, older houses say they do too, but in reality their ideas are pretty fixed.

bespoke waistcoat RIchard James

I first got to know the bespoke team through Ben Clarke (pictured here with me, during a recent fitting).

An incredibly hard worker, Ben has apprenticed both as a coatmaker and a cutter, and is now the only full-time cutter at Richard James.

(There are two other part-time cutters, who largely look after specific clients, a couple of assistants, and the front of house. Most making work is done outside.)

Ben is also very creative and open to new ideas, so with our commission here we tried a few different things – all created in a trial cloth before we switched to the real thing.

RIchard James bespoke waistcoat with Ben Clarke

We are making a pair of trousers in cavalry twill (love a bit of cav). A waistcoat in Harris tweed. And a brown cashmere jacket.

The waistcoat will be made in a similar way to those I have had previously from Chittleborough & Morgan and Calvo de Mora: back and front in the same material; square and low to sit above (relatively high waisted) jeans and chinos; and with a proper jacket collar.

The fitting here (in a trial cloth) was rather too much like a traditional waistcoat for braced trousers, short in the back and rising quickly from the points. That was perhaps down to miscommunication and will be changed for the next fitting.

Bespoke cashmere Savile Row jacket

The jacket will be much softer and less structured than most Richard James tailoring.

The brand has historically been known for long, slim jackets, with relatively narrow lapels and deep vents. This one has a very slim shoulder pad, broader lapels, and rather more open fronts.

As ever with such experiments, there is a little risk here. But Ben’s open-mindedness and ability to make every part of the garment will be a big help.  

Richard James bespoke starts at £4425. Current trips abroad are to New York and Hong Kong.

Photography: Jamie Ferguson @jkf_man

Ben Clarke of RIchard James

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JH

Do you think the jacket will work with jeans and chinos or would you maintain as you’ve said before that really only neapolitan jackets suit jeans? In this case it sounds like the changes you’re making from the house style are moving it more in the direction of a neapolitan cut.

jamiemcp

I’ll be interested to see how this turns out as I’m afraid to say I am not a fan. I have a shirt from RJ, not overly impressed by either it’s cut or quality. It’s one of those shops I occasionally go into, but things somehow don’t seem quite right.

He was the star tailor of the 90’s though along with Oswald Botang. I wonder who is the current equivalent?

Alan Baker

Hi, that shade of covert looks lovely. Do you happen to know which cloth this is?

The actual cloth code would be super helpful 🙂

Alan Baker

Ah, thank you very much. That post on H&S cloths is very helpful as well! I’d like to see more posts like that discussing the merits of individual cloths or bunch qualities. Again, very helpful–thanks!

DE

Hi Simon, is the jacket a brown herringbone (sorry my eyesight is not as good as it used to be)? Can you please give me the details?

M

Hi Simon,

I must say I was rather surprised to see that you are trying Richard James. Funnily enough, this was the first Savile Row tailor I had used a few years ago for my first (handmade) made to measure suit. Retrospectively, had I known, I would have gone to Graham Brown or Whitcomb & Shaftesbury for a less expensive and proper bespoke option. The suit was alright in general but fit and make could have been much better even for made-to-measure. I went there recently to have it adjusted and I was surprised that I had to pay a rather substantial amount for alteration. This is made-to-measure ie not bespoke so fair enough but he sales person said you would pay more for alterations on a bespoke suit depending on the number of working hours involved. This should be done for free from any bespoke house on Savile Row…

I have always struggled to get the identity of Richard James. More colours and slim lapels do not appeal to me but I guess that is a matter of personal taste… I think the fact that you have decided not to go with their ‘house style’ (which you rarely do) and do something rather different tells you something…

From the suits that I have seen in their shop (with an OK but not great make), I think many Savile Row tailors are a better choice at that price point. Some of them will have a more pronounced house style (like Chittleborough & Morgan whom I find much better value for money at comparable pricing) but others can be pretty flexible (from a sober business style to some things which are much more ‘artistically’ appealing) yet still with a make which is miles away and impeccable service (by now, you know that I am referring to Maurice Sedwell that I consider to many regards as the Cifonelli of Savile Row).

Anyway, I don’t want to prejudge anything so I am keen to see how the final outfit will look and I’d be happy to change my mind! 🙂

Cheers

M

Fred

Simon, love the back story.
The front of the cavalry twill trousers, seems to have no flap. Is that so. If so any thoughts on the function and aesthetics.

Fred

Yes the extension, sorry did not have the word for it.

Bob

Isnt cleanliness an element of style?

I like the idea of a high waisted pair of trousers like these but the front zip being so visible and aligned to the top of the waist band doesnt work for me. The 3/4 shot in picture 4 just looks odd but I’ll give the benefit of the doubt given photos dont always give the best image

Paul

Hi Simon,
Re the trousers is the cloth the Dakota, 953406 you mention on an earlier post. How do you think this cloth will hold a crease ?
Kindest Regards
Paul

Rups

Simon what book and code if poss are the trousers from? I like cavalry twill too but am always wary of getting it in an old man beige colour it often comes in,those look a bit more cream which is nicer.

S.Sil

Where is Ben Clarkes, jacket cloth from? Donegal?

Cheers
S

Kev Fidler

The tone of the jacket herringbone looks very versatile, Simon – I will look forward to the post with more detail of it. I prefer that slightly deeper tone to the oatmeal one you featured earlier. Do you intend it to go with those lighter trousers or would it suit deeper ones as well, say a grey flannel?

Anonymous

Looking forward to seeing the end result. Richard James (in RTW and bespoke) always seem to cut an appealing line in their trousers as is the case with your cavs. Will also be intereted to see how the cloth combination (cav/Harris/cashmere) comes together both in colour and texture. Am also interested in the jacket cloth as worn by Ben Clarke; very stylish. A commentator mentions Maurice Sedwell – one of the nicest and most welcoming people I’ve met on the Row; is he on the list for a possible future commission?

M

We can agree to disagree on Maurice Sedwell, Simon… I think it is rather unfair to limit the house style to a couple of experiments you might have seen in the front of the shop or elsewhere.

I tend to be rather conservative in my style (it does not mean that I don’t like a personal touch here and there) and Andrew has been wonderful at creating suits which are a perfect reflection of my sober taste yet still looking outstanding. I think there is no tailor on Savile Row or elsewhere who I have met dressed in Maurice Sedwell (including the Cifonelli cousins) and who have not been taken or impressed by the level of craftsmanship and distinctive cut of those suits. I made that statement before and I think that I can safely say he is in my opinion the Cifonelli of Savile Row in many instances. Btw, one could perfectly argue that some of the Cifonelli models (which are also displayed on their website) are rather ‘gimmicky’ and not to everyone’s taste, and yet we all agree these are not a reflection of the house style (elegant, detailed yet modern and creative). I certainly think that most of Richard James’ styles are way more gimmicky.

Andrew’s cut is ‘softly structured’ as he calls it. You would have a fuller chest than Cifonelli (English heritage) but the construct of the suit is not miles different as it is very comfortable without being ‘boxy’ like drape or ‘restricting’ like most English military / nutters suits (I am being a bit caricatural, I know). Armholes are very high and shoulder sleeve heads have a wonderful rope which is surprisingly very soft despite being pinched. His pockets are very distinctive yet elegant. A typical 3-piece suit (as a first commission) is up to 130 hours of handwork and you would see all the nice decorative details you would find in a Cifonelli suit if not more (all the handmade top stitches, probably the best Milanese buttonles in Savile Row which I think he had introduced in England a few years ago).
That is not to talk about Andrew himself, a wonderfully gifted person who is obsessed by perfection and in love with his art. He cares more than anyone in transmitting the Row legacy and his, which is why he created the Savile Row Academy and is travelling in places like India to teach high end bespoke to local tailors. It tells you something that he is (to my knowledge) the only OBE on Savile Row, decorated by the Queen.
Anyhow, that is my reader’s biased point of view, being a customer myself of Maurice Sedwell whilst deeply intrigued by Andrew’s quest for perfection.
I know I had said it in the past but I truly think readers would benefit from a commission you might have there. Whichever outfit you have in mind, I am sure you would be yourself quite surprised by what Andrew can achieve for you! Any thoughts?

Cheers,

M

M

I like the sound of it 🙂
Perhaps I will be wearing one next time we meet in person!
Just sent a few random pictures by email as probably easier than described by words (although you know more than anyone it is difficult to pre-judge just from photos).
Cheers
M

M

Hi Simon,

From your experience, what would be the most versatile type of cotton trousers which could be worn both with a jacket and more casually (great if you have a bunch reference)? Would gabardine work well? How versatile is cavalry twill and would you also wear it with knitwear?
Thanks much,
M

M

Good stuff, will keep that in mind. Cheers

john

Hello Simon
As a long time follower of the site – certainly since your early experiments, I have a fairly basic question.
When is enough, enough?
While I recognise that a certain amount of your purchases are to keep us all informed – for which many thanks – I am starting to wonder if the offsite storage of clothes you mentioned in another post is getting the size of a small aircraft hanger! It makes my two wardrobes (one of which my wife has her eyes on) pale into insignificance. It also leads to another point – the build up of a “patina” in the clothing you wear. Again I can remember you being slightly dismayed about some wealthy people who buy six suits or pairs of shoes at the same time as this didn’t allow time to build up a patina; I just wondered how you can build up a patina with such a large amount of clothing.

Brian

I splurged for my wedding suit after a gazillion visits to various shops & tailors. Off the peg in the January sale at Richard James, then they said bring it back in 6 months just before you get married and we’ll fit it for you. When I went back in the lad amazingly remembered me, took me over the road, introduced me to the tailor, told him what I was after. Whilst not bespoke I did find the whole experience slightly addictive. It was a once in a lifetime experience to be sat on Saville Row having a suit fitted. Ok if was off the peg but the tailor never made me it was beneath him for a few adjustments to the jacket and a few in the leg. The whole experience was ace. So on the day when the a few of the lads asked where the suit was from and I said Richard James Saville Row, they said Yeah, you can tell & that was enough for me.

Austin D

Wondering, if perhaps, you knew the cloth in which his coat was made of? The texture is impeccable.

Paul

Hi Simon,
I was wondering how the cloth worked out in these trousers ? Do they hold a crease well. Would you consider them fairly light weight for summer.
Thanks
Paul

Paul

Hi Simon,
I was wondering if you have yet received the trousers in this post and if so what you thought of the cloth.
Kindest Regards
Paul

Wes WP

Hi Simon – I can’t seem to find out where Richard James makes its RTW / OTR sport coats and suits.

I don’t think it’s England, and I don’t think it’s Italy. Even their website doesn’t state this information. Any ideas?

H

What bunch was the Joshua Ellis cashmere from? How has it held up compared to the (presumably more expensive) Zegna/Loro Piana cashmeres in your Solito/Caliendo jackets?
Is there a specific bunch you would recommend for use in a winter navy blazer?

CS

I am a huge fan of Richard James. I had ten bespoke suits made and they are wonderfully personal pieces of clothing to be worn formally or less so, but always a pleasure. The experience was terrific and I look forward to carefully adding pieces as required. I am equally pleased with the retail brand and purchased several suits with two pairs of trousers for my frequent overnight travel when wishing to look sharp and fresh without packing too much for ten meetings and two cities and not having to put a bespoke item under too much pressure wedged into a plane or car seat several times a day. I have shirts from 15 years ago of the finest cotton that simply do not want to give up and every year I buy a casual summer suit or a blazer to keep the wardrobe fresh. I never get bored of the socks and have started buying the cashmere which is very high quality. A great team, and now a strong reputation, I am happy I discovered the company at the start of the 21st century, they have helped me define how I like to dress confidently

NB

Dear Simon,

You wrote an article on “fashion beans” (https://www.fashionbeans.com/article/complete-guide-to-savile-row/) with a Richard James suit as cover for “The traditional cut”.

I find the cut exquisite, however it seems somewhat distant from the slim fit of today (the jacket’s line are straight and give an almost rectangular look).

Would you say it is the traditional cut or even a more specific cut to Richard James ?

Many thanks

NB

Please discard my previous comment. It is the visual effect of a DB.

Le Cut

I recently saw a flyer from them offering handmade to measure and MTM. Would you please give me insight on what would the differences be? More specifically than the obvious that one involves hand work.