Benson & Clegg bespoke – and George VI’s monkey jacket

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Benson & Clegg is not a button shop. 

I didn’t realise until I went in, earlier this year, quite how much it has gained that reputation.

It's partly a result of their own good promotion over the years, but perhaps more significantly because of their Royal Warrant to Prince Charles - for buttons, badges and military neckwear. 

The Americans love it, apparently. They declare, when they visit, that they always come to Benson & Clegg to buy their buttons and braces. 

Which is lovely, as far as it goes. It’s always nice to have such a strong reputation in one area, and Benson & Clegg do own the machinery that makes some of the cufflinks and buttons, in Birmingham.

There is substance behind the fame. 

But Benson is principally a tailor. Indeed, its more impressive Royal Warrant was to King George VI, for whom Harry Benson had worked when he was the Duke of York, and granted them the warrant in 1944. 

Benson & Clegg dressed the King for his coronation, and made most of his suits and morning dress over the years - including the double-breasted overcoats he became famous for. 

These stories don’t necessarily indicate anything about the current state of the tailor, of course. 

But there was a chance occurrence recently which connected the relatively new owner (Mark Gordon) and new cutter (Oliver Cross) to the firm’s history. 

In an episode of the British programme The Antiques Roadshow, a guest brought on a blazer and overcoat which had belonged to his father.

On the brink of giving them away, he thought to check the pockets - and found letters in them revealing that they had belonged to George VI. 

Benson & Clegg contacted the owner, saying they believed they had made the garments. This was confirmed by the matching of the blazer to the King’s paper pattern, which Benson still hold.

In a follow-up episode, in December, Oli Cross went on the programme. As well as discussing the history of the garments, he showed off charming pieces from the Benson archive - including the paper template that the King sent to Clegg, indicating how his medal ribbons were to be arranged on the ‘naval monkey jacket’ (bottom image, below). 

For those that can access iPlayer, principally in the UK, the episode can be seen here (the tailoring appears after 45 minutes).

Although not mentioned in the show, Benson & Clegg have since established that the coat recovered was also the one George VI wore to give the address at the centre of the 2010 film, The King’s Speech.

Mark Gordon became part owner of Benson & Clegg six years ago, and took full ownership two years ago. He has made several changes, including a full refurbishment. But the one of most interest to us is a desire to regain a reputation for bespoke.

To that end he hired Oli Cross, a tailor I knew from his days at Meyer & Mortimer, round the corner on Sackville Street. 

Although I never had anything made there, I did see Oli regularly when having a shirt made by Sean O’Flynn, and a jacket made for my wife by Kathryn Sargent, both of whom shared the Sackville premises. 

Oli was trained by Malcolm Plews, who has an almost unparalleled reputation as a cutter. Oli talks fondly of going round to Malcolm’s house for training: “He’d open a bottle of wine at 11:30 and then say ‘right, double-pleated trousers’, and we’d spend the rest of the day cutting nothing but that.”

One of the nicest parts of the shop refurb is Oli’s cutting table upstairs. Here he’s surrounded by fitting garments, in a rack that runs around the roof above him (just visible above). 

Behind him is the window looking down on the Piccadilly Arcade, and as with Budd further up, it’s nice to glance up when you walk by, and see him working away. 

This upstairs room is also decorated with a large picture of King George VI and his family (below), which is an enlargement of a Christmas card sent to Benson & Clegg (again, wearing that jacket). 

Further round the wall is a smaller picture of the founders, Harry Benson and Thomas Clegg (above). 

The pair left Hawes & Curtis to set up on their own, wanting somewhere that was a little less stuffy (back then, tailors often still had curtains across their windows). They called it their ‘club lounge’ - which is interesting, given it's what every brand today says they want when they set up a MTM area, but few achieve. 

Frankly, I think there’s something rather ominous about the shadowy photo of their new premises. The fixed poses remind me rather of Gilbert & George.

Last year, Mark said he and Oli wanted to make me a suit to show what the new team can do.

Pictured here is the second fitting, of a green-flannel two-button two piece. 

I decided to use the Caccioppoli flannel that I’d previously made into a pair of trousers with Pommella (570307, shown briefly in the launch post of the Donegal Overcoat) because I liked its dark, rich colour, which I find is rare with flannel. 

That does mean it’s 17oz (480g) but I’m used to wearing cloths of that weight now. Ideally it would be more like 14-15oz, but the colour is more important. 

The weight certainly meant it draped beautifully at the fitting, and the level of work was impressive. Oli has an in-house coatmaker that he is proud to talk about, and clearly with good reason.

I’ll go more into that, and Oli’s approach to cutting in general, when the suit is finished. 

Benson & Clegg bespoke starts at £4,400 including VAT. They also offer MTO and MTM, which we won’t cover, and bespoke cut here but made in China from £2,650.

Photography: Alex Natt @adnatt

bensonandclegg.com

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C Schreiber

Ohhh Perfect timing, just as I’m sitting down for breakfast. Wonderful. Keep up the 9.30 posts

Nicolas Stromback

I second that with my cup of coffee. Cheers boys.

Hugh

The perks of being in the US. It’s always ready for my morning coffee

Nick

Great to see this brand covered, Simon! Oli’s wearing quite an interesting db jacket – the lapels remind me of victorian frock coats, but somehow it looks cool and fresh (perhaps the knitwear and colour of the fabric). Would be interesting to hear more about their tailoring style when you publish the follow-up. I would love to have a suit in green flannel or covert, but I have come to the conclusion that I would not get much wear out of it. Perhaps it’s my work environment, which requires a conservative suit Mon-Thursday or jacket and chinos on Friday. I would be interested to hear more about where you see this sort of suit in the modern man’s wardrobe.

Anonymous

House style would be interesting? Good to see another English Tailor, I feel like it has been an age since you tried someone new in the U.K.!?

Kenny

I’m also very pleased to see a review of a British tailor. The timing could not be better. The coronavirus will be with us for at least 18 months, probably longer. It’s therefore going to be much harder and more expensive for European tailors to serve their clients in the UK. It’s possible that travel restrictions will mean that trunk shows and fittings will be banned or impractical.

Then there’s the additional costs. Air fares will rise considerably as a result of reductions in capacity (due to social distancing) and bankruptcies reducing competition. If the EU will not agree to a simple free trade deal by the end of the year (as Barnier is threatening) there could also be significant tariffs on European clothing suppliers next year.

It will make practical and financial sense for stylish Britons to turn to local tailors, shirtmakers, shoemakers, knitwear manufacturers and haberdashers instead. I hope that Simon will spend even more time on their product and services in the coming weeks and months.

Anonymous

He seems younger than most, as well. I continue to implore you to do a young tailors series !

Pyc

Hi Simon,

I’ve a few swatches of magnificant greens & browns from that Caccioppoli flannel & cottons bunch.

Caccioppoli informed me that their fabrics weights are listed in grams/linear metre. Hence their 480g is, in reality, closer to 320g.

Best regards,

Pyc

Pyc

As a comparison, my Hardy Minnis flannel swatches are marked 475 gms (grams/metre squared).

I recall feeling the Caccioppoli flannel swatch & thinking that it seemed thinner than the Hardy Minnis flannel swatches. At first i wondered whether the Italian cloth might be more dense? It also seemed odd that an Italian merchant would offer such a heavyweight cloth.

In fact the 480 grams/linear metre Caccioppoli flannel is 320 grams/square metre (at 150cm in width).

It would be more convenient if all merchants could settle on a consistent system—or at least clearly mark their cloths as gsm or glm.

CDBP

Benson & Clegg had an excellent standout cutter as recently ( smiles ) as the late 1970s and early 1980s. I have a vague memory that it may still have been Clegg. A friend was a client and in particular their cut of double breasted suits and lapels was very elegant and distinctive. Good luck to the new team.

Triskel

I absolutely love green and flannel. I’ll look forward very much to seeing what shirts and ties (which I’ve always found difficult with green flannel) you wear it with.

EZEQUIEL

white shirt + black tie is also good

EZEQUIEL

depending on how dark and deep the green is of course. i find dark brown and dark green quite similar in terms of shirt + tie combinations. love them both!

Rogey

It’s nice to see Oliver getting some attention. We became friends when he worked at Meyer and Mortimer. He will never be mistaken for a stuffy tailor. He is always entertaining and enthusiastic, and I can never decide whether he reminds me of someone out of Dickens, or the band Jethro Tull.

Martin

Simon

You mention Malcolm Plews having an “unparalleled reputation as a cutter”, but you have never mentioned him on this site before.

Just curious as to why that should be? If he is the best cutter on the Row, surely he would have been worthy of your attention by now?

Anonymous

Interesting stuff. It would be interesting to have (but probably a huge amount of work) a directory of the different cutters & tailors and what they are known for (perhaps self submitted) and then a tick for PS reviewed!

JonE

Great to see a piece on Oli, really nice chap and remember him well from his Meyer & Mortimer days. Best of luck to you Oli and will watch this piece with interest

Otto Linder

Hi Simon, thank you for an inspiring article. A question regarding trouser length came to mind when looking at the pictures. To what extent do you think the length of the trouser is a passing trend? Do you think it will be one of those things where we will look back in ten years time and think, “Christ, why?”. Sort of like when you flick through pictures of old James Bond movies, you often see things that may perhaps be considered a bit of a faux pas these days.

ZRH1

dear Simon, a search on the Cacciopoli did yield an error for the fabric, is yours old?

DKP

That is a sumptuously beautiful green.

SR

Simon, looking forward to reading this review. When do you think it will be up on the site?

Hugh

Interesting to see non-flapped pockets on these old DB overcoats