PS readers’ Customer Service Award 2023: Anglo-Italian

Friday, March 3rd 2023
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Results of the Readers Awards 2023:

  • Best customer service: Anglo-Italian. Runners-up: Anderson & Sheppard, The Armoury
  • Best product: Private White VC. Runner-up: Anglo-Italian
  • Best styling: Drake's. Runner-up: Rubato
  • Best artisan: Corcos. Runner-up: Ciardi

Whenever Jake (Grantham, Anglo-Italian founder) and I talk, we seem to return to themes around British retail, and running small businesses. 

Last time we went for a pint the topic was retail in the sixties: the burst of new stores like Granny Takes a Trip and others around the King’s Road. I believe he was reading a book on it at the time. 

I have to say I don’t find it as interesting as he does. Although we both agree that people in menswear should have more awareness of what came before them - a realisation that Dougie Hayward was doing no-padding shoulders before any of us were born - the things that interest us from these periods in the past are different. 

I’m mostly taken with aesthetics, with style. The things I'll find interesting from that era will be something like the use of suede, or mixed-gender clothing. I'm the same whether it's 50s sportswear, 80s Armani, or 90s J Crew

Not that Jake doesn’t love that stuff too. The stack of reading material in Anglo-Italian might be the most visually stimulating in any store. 

But the thing we always come back to when we talk - and argue about, usually - is the business side of retail, the entrepreneurship. 

Why were people like the British chef Marco Pierre White so successful? Or another hero of his, Terence Conran (below)? What drove them and how did they achieve what they did?

This might seem like a random inspiration for a menswear brand, but if you’re looking for it, there are a few parallels. 

The extent to which menswear brands simply copy things from the past, for example. Not just blatant things like ripping off Loro Piana Open Walks, but more nuanced questions like the use of Native American patterns, or mimicking another tailor’s lapel shape. 

Marco Pierre White (below) talked consistently through his career about his relationship to French cuisine and this tension - how he saw himself as channelling the tradition but also guarding it, in service to it. Few brands today are as honest or modest. (Japanese craftsmen being the obvious exception.)

However, from our conversations I’d say that the most direct link between chefs like White and fashion is how they ran their restaurants.

A restaurant run by a well-known chef is seen as an extension of their personality. Not just the recipes, but the direct management of the cooking, the service and everything around it.

Many chefs these days have multiple restaurants, even franchises, and White himself became an owner/operator after his retirement. But if a chef has one restaurant, we have an expectation that everything is part of their persona - and that was certainly true of White. 

The same should be true of clothing shops. We expect a particular vision from the founders or designers as to what clothes should be like, how they think people can look good. 

Yet with the majority of brands, there is very little of that. Certainly with the staff, and how things are sold, but even with the products themselves - with most mainstream fashion, you’d struggle to see an identity running through it all.

Jake thinks more shops should be run like this, and I tend to agree. I also think it’s a reason so many Permanent Style readers voted for Anglo-Italian as the best customer service brand this year. 

The team of people that now work in the Anglo store (above) don’t all have the same background - not the standard couple of years of retail experience, or the fanboy type that just wants to be close to the brand, but doesn’t perhaps understand the gruelling side of retail. 

Yet the customer service is always consistent, always good. The atmosphere in the shop is always a friendly one, professional but relaxed. In the words of one reader: “You get the impression that absolutely nothing is too much trouble, even with a relative novice, like myself, asking what I’m sure are some pretty dumb questions!”

Another said in the poll: “I find them relaxed and friendly (shout out to Martin and Jeremy in particular). Happy to chat, give advice…talk with your significant other while you try things on. The vibe in the store perfectly matches the vibe they are trying to create with their clothes.”

Note that the staff are always named individually: Andrew also gets a mention in another vote. There are few stores today where customers would do that, but it used to be much more common. 

Jake just takes retail very seriously. I’ve heard him (I promise he didn’t know I was listening) describe what he did as “running a shop in Marylebone”. You could certainly see some false modesty in there, but I find it significant that it’s the shop he focuses on - not which industry, or owning a business.

I know that’s one reason he finds inspiration in chefs like Marco Pierre White. Although, actually, in another way I think this underplays things. 

Because much as chefs can be great at getting everyone to do things how they want, they can struggle to delegate responsibility - for exactly the same reason. This is often the struggle menswear brands have when they grow too: founders struggle to duplicate themselves, to train people to be just as good as they are at communicating the product, and trusting them to do so. 

The most impressive thing about Anglo-Italian might be how much people like Martin and Andrew make the experience feel the same even when Jake isn’t there. 

Not that Jake’s any good at giving up control. He even worked his wedding day - something he’d definitely say today was a failing. But the size of the business today means that he can’t always be there, and in the view of PS readers he’s clearly done a good job at training people to take his place. 

Well done to everyone at Anglo, and to every other shop (Anderson & Sheppard, The Armoury) that drew similar praise for its quality of retail experience. There should be more shops with that kind of personality.

This year when it came to covering the PS Reader awards I decided to only write about one category in depth - this one. 

That made sense to me because the people that did well in other categories (quality, style, bespoke) were familiar names where I couldn’t see something we hadn’t covered. I completely agree on Rubato styling, or Private White quality, but I think I’ve written about them enough. 

I love the awards and enjoy reading all the nominations (all 20,000 words!) but wasn’t sure they needed another three in-depth articles. If you think that’s wrong, or there’s an angle you would have liked to have seen covered, please let me know. 

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Martin du Toit

I get that you talk up MPW as an outstanding chef in his field, but perhaps you should educate yourself about his life outside the kitchen. You may change your mind.
If you need to keep the chef analogy suggest you go with Michel Roux Jr.

StuartR

Interesting point about multiple restaurants – back in the 1980s/ 90s the top chefs all had their “own” restaurant didn’t they- more character I think. Don’t think MPW would get away with the working environment at Harveys any more…

-

The same Michelle Roux Jr that was found to be paying staff at his Michelin-starred restaurant below minimum wage?

Martin du Toit

You may want to acquaint yourself with the facts on the minimum wage issue.

Gary

The Guardian exposed Michel Roux Jr’s greed a few years ago -https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/dec/15/michel-roux-jr-restaurant-staff-no-share-service-charge-le-gavroche.

The former Masterchef judge, who this week apologised for paying chefs beneath the legal minimum wage following a Guardian investigation, has revealed he treats the 13% service charge “as revenue”. 

“The issue at Le Gavroche arose when chefs angered at their illegally low pay complained last month that their situation was made worse by not sharing in the service charge that many diners assume supplements staff wages.”

Truly despicable!

Stephen

Worms/can!

pv

Lovely writing. However, I was waiting till the end about some words about corcos.

Michael

To echo the feedback that you’ve received in the feedback – the whole team are very strong and any time I’ve visited they’ve been fantastic. The shop itself is beautiful and laid back at the same time. Nice relaxed vibe even when the guys are incredibly busy (zero flapping). In addition to Jake, Martin and Jeremy have both been great. I’m sure the rest of the team are fantastic too!
I’d definitely recommend for someone going through a first MTM / bespoke experience.

Peter Hall

One thing I discovered whilst in the military, is how the ‘benevolent dictator’ can stimulate, lead and inspire change.
I’m not saying any or all successful creatives are, but it certainly gets things done.
It can be spun with any number of buzz words- inspiring leadership , vision etc etc , but when added to an ingrained ethos of customer service , it’s a very powerful force.

Well deserved congratulations to all the winners and thanks to you and your team for organising .

darryl

I didn’t get round to voting this year but am so pleased to hear of Anglo’s success. I have had a few items from them and they have always been so kind, professional and engaging, they really make you feel valued as a customer.

-

Great point on remembering names from Anglo Italian. I’ve had most contact with Martin but Jake and Jeremy have been fantastic as well. Fully deserving of their nominations.

Gary

My personal taste and style is very similar to Jake Grantham’s but with a few subtle differences. The outfit that he is wearing in the picture is exactly what I would wear on a day out in London. If a brand’s owner and staff are on the same wavelength as the customer, the shopping experience should be smoother, easier and therefore better. That is certainly my experience with several favourite brands. The main issues for discussion tend to be fit (especially after changes in sizing), stock availability and time scales for delivery.

A brand’s customer service and product quality appear to deteriorate with changes in ownership and/or senior management. Conglomerates, private equity companies and hedge funds have ruined or even bankrupted several British menswear brands. Key staff who provided great service have been forced out and replaced by younger (and probably cheaper) recruits with little or no experience but plenty of arrogance. For that reason, I no longer shop at a few well-known stores in St James’s and Mayfair. Let’s hope that the brands mentioned in the article do not go the same way!

Fernando

What happened to Alex Pirounis. Where is he now?

Fred

Anglo are so good at customer service and its refreshing to read an argument for why that is. I can see the parallels with great chefs who imbue their personality into what they do. I think the key is definitely to do with size. Businesses that prioritise growth inevitably lose the personal flavour as they grow.

Joel

I love seeing you mention Douglas Hayward.

I was very fortunate to spend a week at his shop on Mount Street for work experience 20+ years ago.

I’m horrified to see his label in TK Maxx recently.

David

With the utmost respect, why do they present themselves in such a light online? If I didn’t know otherwise, I wouldn’t expect friendly customer service from someone who looks so serious! Thoughts? This is not meant as a slight to AI in any way. I’m just curious.

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Gregg

I think it has to do with setting themselves apart from Drakes. One is happy and quirky, the other serious and a touch “holier than thou” (at least in how they market themselves, the real people are lovely of course).

Gary

It appears that Drake’s and Anglo Italian are now targeting different markets. Drake’s is now going for younger customers with large disposable incomes. The collaborations with Aime Leon Dore and Rocky Mountain are the latest examples of this change. Who on earth would wear a Fair Isle balaclava?

To describe Anglo Italian as “holier than thou” is simply wrong. Its “Italian tailoring with an English palette” appeals to the mature customer who, like me, has no interest in Drake’s fleeces, hoodies and baseball caps with ugly logos. AI’s marketing shows that it knows how to communicate with its customer base that prefers classic style over rip-off fashion and its frivolous PR hype.

Gregg

Kai yeah!

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Gary

Starting and managing a successful menswear brand is a very serious business, especially with the added stress of Covid lockdowns and the increase in working from home. As a result several brands, e.g. New & Lingwood, have stopped stocking business suits which were a major part of their business. Anglo Italian has done very well to thrive in such tough times. Also, not everyone is comfortable in front of camera but I’ve seen many photos of Jake looking relaxed so don’t be too hard on him.

Gary

Very true!!

Paul

Gary, I get the sense that this Gregg’s comment bothered you a bit? Why is that? I think he actually has an interesting point and was certainly not throwing shade at AI or its founder.

SamS

I personally would much rather shop from someone who looks a bit serious and dignified as well as stylish, because that’s how I would like to look as well (LOOK, not ACT, mind you). I know it’s very trendy how everything should be so relaxed and fun and maybe a little crazy today, but to me it easily looks forced – at worst it approaches stock photography. And I detest fake smiles for the camera.
So I guess they present themselves in such a light to appeal to grumpy middle aged men like me?
That said, I think this particular photo was shot at a fairly unflattering angle, which makes the model look a bit heavy.

Aaron

Very offtopic but I’m aware rarely do men ever look good in shirt and tie with no jacket. Yet, I think in that photo of Terence Conran he does and I’m not entirely sure. Perhaps because he’s sitting with the table hiding the waist and he’s at work so it seems more natural?

Triple monks

bingo

CJ

Well deserved!
Big fan of Jake, the team and product.

Il Gormleto

I visited the store a while ago. I am in my mid eighties and Jake who was on the floor at the time could not have been more affable considering that he could no doubt suss me as a time waster. I was wearing an old Anderson and Sheppard Glen Urquart jacket he was most complimentary. Even if it was soft soap it made me feel good.

ZY

Congratulations to the Anglo-Italian team!
I will say that I looked to commission a suit with them but was turned off by the customer service (Jake was not present). I tried their RTW in-store and was told the fit was good, though it was much trimmer than what the staff wore. I explicitly said I liked their roomier, drapier coats, and was told that the way the RTW coat fit was good and they would change very little for MTM.
I think technically the fit was good (shoulder seams, length, no collar gap). But it was trim. And the drapier, roomier style was what I had come to AI for.

Markus

Does Anglo-Italian have plans to sell its products (online) to the European Union and thereby take care of customs and VAT? It would be a pity if they do not as their products are very appealing.

I think, and here I believe I echo the opinion of at least some European Union readers, that buying from an English (third country) retailer who doesn’t do this is a nuisance and I avoid it. In contrast, I have now bought a couple of items from Permanent Style, who takes care of E.U. customs and VAT, and it is straightforward with no extra hassle for me.

Another very interesting candidate would be The Armoury and Colhay’s, who also do not currently provide such a service for European Union customers.

Peter Hall

I’ve never thought it too much hassle that companies not use DDP as you can either pay by a link or on your doorstep. It’s more hassle but,I would rather do that than small companies go out of business.

In real terms, there are no extra costs for customers as Vat rates are the same.

Can you find an EU stockists I.e Michael Jondral ,Simon, or are volumes too low?

Peter Hall

Yes,there is that,of course. Sadly,I think these costs will eventually be passed onto customers.

I do think couriers are having a tougher time. I recently read a piece that Vinted is having a very tough time with postal charges. Within the NL €2.75 is standard, whilst charges from other EU countries are upto €15 euro – so there are other factors than Brexit.

And

That’s sad to hear, Vinted has been my personal breakthrough into vintage, I hope it succeeds. The fixed cost prepaid labels simplify the whole ordeal *so* much compared to ebay, it’s a game changer for non-professional sellers. Which in turn means much more stuff available for sale from actual people that are just selling off un-needed pieces instead of professional sellers looking to make a profit, and therefore, better prices and less waste overall too.
Where I live I very rarely found anything interesting in my size in vintage shops, while Vinted has allowed me to acquire a collection of high-quality italian knitwear for very little.

Frank

If I read AI’s website correctly, they still offer DDP to EU customers.

And

Actually Simon, I consider the biggest disadvantage to be the fact that 1) If the goods are not from duty-exempt countries (like UK atm), I have to calculate duties for myself from *very* obscure tables (in my country) so I don’t really know for sure how much I will be paying, and 2) just like you can’t recover VAT, if I need to return the DAP item, I also cannot recover VAT, or at least don’t know of any way to do it. I tried looking it up online for hours without success.
Which is scary enough that I basically just don’t buy anything that is not DDP these days.

And

Funny enough, I thought that businesses had a way to recover VAT through the delivery company, and that such service was one of the things covered by the additional fee they ask for DDP. But actually you just revealed to me that in case of return apparently either me (DAP) or you (DDP) lose the VAT money, so it’s just a matter of who gets “swindled” by the tax system…

And

I guess I now understand why most companies just end up opening a warhouse in some EU state if they actually want to succeed here (No Man Walks Alone just did that for example, and it’s a beatiful selection too).
That way you evade all these problems because you only import the products once, to the warehouse, and that process involves no returns.

Markus

Simon,
I did not know that DDP was such a pain on businesses. I thought, once the system is set up, it is smooth going.
My apologies.
Kr

Markus

I thought a little more about the DDP issue. The problem, I face as a European customer without DDP, is twofold: (I) The goods are not just dropped in my mailbox/ terrace but I have to be present when they arrive or otherwise pick them up at some station. I circumnavigate this issue by having everything delivered to my office, where any charges would be paid, but not everybody has this opportunity. (II) The rate charged by the Austrian tax authorities was arbitrary in two cases, amounting to 50 and 75 percent of the value of the goods. I might have been able to get something back but who wants to enter into administrative proceedings for that. In a way, therefore, if an English business wants to make substantial business in the E.U., DDP is unavoidable, I believe. There might be ways to mitigate the costs. Rivet & Hide provide a detailed explanation and state that in case you send something back you will only be reimbursed 80 percent. In the end, let’s all hope that Britain will one day join the E.U. again.

Manuel

Hallo Simon,
I have a question on duties: EU citizens pay duties for EU made products when they come from GB, right? So PS shirts or knitwear are more expensive for EU customers that they would be if shipped directly from Italy were they are produced. Shipping them direclty is not possible, ist it?
Best regards,
Manuel

Alexander

Markus, AI already does that. I ordered several things from them out of Austria. Never had any problems with customs etc.

Gary Mitchell

Well done the winners and the also rans.

Stephen

Hi Simon,
Firstly congratulations to all the winners and especially Anglo Italian. I haven’t bought there, but have visited and heard lots of good things, so well done.
I tend to agree that most entrepreneurs have a strong emotional connection to their businesses. What separates the best (in my opinion) is leadership by good example (you lead how you are led), empowerment, education, trust and excellent interpersonal skills.
On balance and in the interests of fairness to more mainstream brands, that emotional connection is unlikely to be there and the relationship with employees and customers is much more transactional, however it’s important that they also practice a high standard of behaviour and leadership. .
All the best.

Raj

Interesting read as always, and it’s good to know where to turn too, sorta conflicted between an Armoury sport coat and Anglo Italian sport coat myself if I’am honest.

One thing I was wondering ,are there any more categories you plan to add for instance you quite like drape cuts on your suits and was wondering who in your mind has the most comfortable drape out of all the artisans you have tried ,from Anderson to Stephen Hitchcock and Whitcomb & Shaftesbury to those you haven’t quite tried such as Redmayne and Steed. Also another category might be best new artisan or best new product line for instance common projects has released some new models of trainers in Suede.

So any plans for any more awards this year?

Raj

Thanks Simon, there is only a couple other categories I can think off and they maybe a bit difficult to find an award for.

The first one is best new artisan (I know finding an category for the best artisan is a struggle) but if there are several new artisans that have opened in the year there might be one that shines beyond the initial buzz, the latest one in this category I can think of is Jack Davison bespoke.

Also maybe best global high street brand ie a brand that has stores around the world but I think this was covered in your best budget categories.

But yeah these are just my two pence in the suggestion box , your obviously more experienced.

Trickeq

Simon – would love to learn more on Corcos (nice to see that they won an award). I know you did a write-up on them a while back but any personal experience to share?

Trickeq

Thank you! I think many of us would find that very helpful + interesting.

David

Bravo to Anglo Italian and Anderson & Sheppard. They are the only two shops I enjoy going into and consequently are pretty much the only shops I do go into.
They both represent the gold standard in customer service and in both cases it comes from the top.
In the case of Anglo-Italian, Jake is a really nice guy with a great vision and consummate good taste.
Consequently he attracts staff and customers with a similar demeanour which gives the place a fabulous buzz.
Yes, he is a student of the past and he benefits enormously from that. His aesthetic is finely honed and his collection is entirely coherent which I love. It’s all deliciously understated and yes, so Anglo-Italian
I’d also encourage readers to take a look at their bespoke which is run by the delightful Caoimhe.
Thus far I’ve had two pieces from them and I must say I’m impressed.
Today they finished a beautiful corduroy suit for me and knowing I needed it for next week’s trip to NYC, she traveled by train to Farnham to make sure I got it in time. Now that’s what you call customer service !
It’s great that they’ve won the reader’s choice. It’s richly deserved.

Jake

I think people are getting a bit carried away and distracted here, as ever.
I agree that Anglo Italian is setting the benchmark for others to follow on the in-shop experience, each and every person on the shop floor is nailing it.
They seem adept at catering to the wandering tourist who buys some socks to the jet-setter who needs the suit fully finished for a certain date.
And thanks to Andrew (& others?) for the online bit.

Alex O

Of the Best Customer Service honorees, the only one I’ve had direct experience with is the Armoury, and I can see why they made the list. I found their staff to be very knowledgeable, observant and accommodating. They spent a lot of time with me and offered great suggestions, even though I was clear in advance that I was exploring fit, cut, and fabrics for some undetermined future occasion.

Matthew V

Completely agree with the comments about AIC, always so welcoming, even if just for a good chat when passing by. Exactly what a shop should be.
The clothes aren’t too shabby either……

RKM

Cheers Simon,
I do like it when you go into more essayistic styles of journalism once in a while! Levels above many other menswear writers.

As a former retail worker, I really agree with this ideal of running a shop/brand. It also implies that the owners are there for the long haul, growing slowly, which gives authenticity.

Re: Marco Pierre White: although the cooking was great, and he was iconic, sexy and cool, much of his legacy around running a company consists of bad things. He became the blueprint for violent, pennalistic superstar chefs abusing their staff and being rude towards costumers in the name of perfection. This reminds me more of how a head designer of a high fashion label would act.

There are other chefs who have maintained a better reputation, while still maintaining that personal connection to the restaurant in the long run. I think perhaps Fergus Henderson, Alain Passard and Alice Waters could be good examples.

Scott

Some of the worst customer service I’ve had recently was with No Man Walks Alone. I called several times and no one answered the phone. I sent my questions via email on two occasions. The first time they never responded. The second time they did respond, but it was a day later I think and I was a previous customer! Notice the past tense as I’m done with them.

Timofey

But that about Alex Pironius??? Where is he ?

Yosef777

Best styling drakes, yikes?!? Can’t speak to the english side of things but there was a reason the core of the drakes staff abandoned (a sinking) ship almost 10 years ago. Nearly everything went down rapidly ; quality, customer service, locale and not to mention styling. Seems somebody has been stuffing the proverbial and literal ballot box

Adrian

I’m a big fan of Drakes, and absolutely love their slouchy Games Blazers in tweeds and corduroy. The Savile Row shop is a joy to wander around, and the service is pretty good too – although it can be stretched during busy times on Saturday afternoons. But in terms of what Drakes and AI offer, it’s like comparing apples and pears. Drakes has an enormous, disparate selection of RTW tailoring, knitwear and accessories, while the AI operation is smaller and more curated in what it offers, and it feels like they’re giving you more of a personal service. Interesting that Jake was originally a partner of Mark Cho at the Armoury, while Mark Cho is also the co-owner of Drakes. Seems it’s a small world, menswear.

Timotei

I’m surprised AI won this category. Every time I go there , things are out of stock eg chinos, trousers etc. If not, there are lots of people in the shop and not enough staff so no customer service and you are left to try things on yourselves. The few times that I got service after waiting were good but they need more staff and more stock.

Ed

Brilliant article. So enjoyed it

I find menswear stores so intimidating (mainly because I feel like I don’t earn enough) but also because they’re often quiet and fusty- this category is absolutely worth championing – I will brace Anglo Italian and see what I can find

Tim

An interesting comparison with White’s time as a chef. As he got older and more famous, he opened more and more restaurants, often just a name for the media with others backing the projects. Nowadays he’s most noted for flogging stock cubes on the telly. Many younger people wouldn’t even know he was once a great chef.
Perhaps thats a cautionary tale for tailors and makers who dream of being ever bigger, and inexhaustible grwoth.

Iain W

Well done Jake — smashing chap, lovely things.

TCN

Bravo to the boys at Anglo-Italian. I don’t buy much there, but they’re delightful, and offer great service in an era where that is becoming tougher and tougher to find. I read an article recently that talked about the British economy and jokingly referred to it as a “service economy without the service”, but there are a handful of brands (Anglo, G&G, A&S, and H&K all come to mind) who are clearly fighting that perception.

Travis

Simon, I’m coming late to this article, but I would love to hear a video conversation between you and Jake Grantham.

Travis

Great, Simon! Looking forward to it.

Michael Maglaras

Simon….I’m very late to the party on this one, but have to chime in. This award is very well-deserved for Anglo-Italian. Every shopping experience I have had there has been a joy; whether in person or on-line. Great staff, really good selection, but tightly curated in the right sense of that word. When my wife and I are in London we head over just to say hello…it’s that kind of place. Jake is hard-working, dedicated, and spot on with what he does. Michael from Connecticut.

James

Just to echo Michael’s comment. A year on from the award I can confirm that the service at Anglo-Italian remains excellent. A particular mention for Ethan and Alexander who were both hugely helpful and friendly whilst I commissioned a MTM jacket recently. I will definitely be back.
A retail experience right up there with the golden age (for me anyway) of Drakes when Dom, Lucas and Ben were running the Clifford Street store.