Exhibition Archives: Tommy Nutter – Rebel on the Row

Introduction

By the 1960s, the world of bespoke tailoring had been left behind by the ‘youthquake’ generation. As a consequence Savile Row, for 100 years the pinnacle of discreet taste and gentlemen’s dressing, was seen as an outmoded and old fashioned approach to dressing in the milieu of Swinging London.

Savile Row itself was established in the 1840s when Henry Poole, still in operation on the Row today, opened a tailoring establishment providing suits and military uniforms for the great and the good. Others followed until the Row becomes the home to more than 100 tailors providing suits for their clientele. The whole atmosphere of St. James was predicated on providing all the necessities for a gentleman; Jermyn Street for shirts and shoes, St James for chemists and barbers such as DR Harris and Truefit and Hill.

This world, however, was a closed and secretive world for most. Discretion was the key as the tailoring establishments were hidden behind curtains and frosted glass, known only to the select group that wore these beautifully crafted, hand made suits.

The craft of Bespoke tailoring itself changed little in the years that followed and indeed still operates much the same way. The rest of the fashion world saw an increase in ready-made clothing and the percolation of fashionable, trendy clothing for men began to assert itself in the late 50s and early 60s.

Changing the Way Men Look

Men’s style began to change rapidly as a new wave of designers and a flourishing boutique provided the male customer with a bewildering array of styles. Stores such as Vince’s Man Shop and John Stephen’s His Clothes and Lord John on Carnaby Street paved the way for this explosion.

As the 60s progressed men’s style choices became more flamboyant and extrovert; a new Dandy was seen on the streets of London. The most colourful of these was Mr. Fish, the famous shop around the corner from Savile Row that provided every colour of shirt and tie imaginable. Blades, opened first in Dover Street by Rupert Lycett Green, moved to Burlington Gardens, at one end of Savile Row in 1967 with an aim to provide stylish, quality tailoring for fashionable young men.

It would be another shop on Savile Row, one that opened to great fanfare in 1969 that would signal the future of the Row and how it presented itself.

Nutter’s of Savile Row

Thomas Nutter was working as a junior sales assistant in Donaldson et al. when he met Edward Sexton, a cutter who had trained with Kilgour, French and Stanbury – one of the great bespoke establishments on the Row. It was this meeting that would lead to the formation of Nutter’s of Savile Row.

Tommy Nutter’s personable and stylish attitude to the styling and selling of clothes would link with the exquisite tailoring and sculptural cutting of Sexton in a completely new way. With Sexton cutting to Nutter’s ideas the nascent Nutter style was born. The team were soon joined by tailors Joe Morgan and Roy Chittleborough who were young and enthusiastic and excited by the new styles coming out of 35a Savile Row.

With backing by James Vallance White, Peter Brown and Cilla Black, the new shop opened on Valentine’s Day 1969. The façade was unprecedented – an expanse of plate glass windows with window displays opened up the selling space and made the shop light and accessible. The interiors were a mix of architectural salvage, modern and antique furniture, bolts of suiting materials and mirrored walls.

The opening night drew fashionable people from all walks of life from Twiggy and Justin de Villenueve to Lord Montague – all were there, celebrating the launch of a new era. The stalwarts of Savile Row gave it six months. Nutter’s, however, would prove them wrong and many established houses would follow and open their spaces. It was a defining moment; beautifully tailored bespoke suits for men and women that were on the hippest edge of fashion. It would breathe new life into the tailoring industry.

The Nutter Look

Wide notched lapels, sharp shoulders, full trousers reminiscent of ‘Oxford Bags’; these would become highlights of the Nutter look. Tommy would come up with ideas and Edward and team would execute them flawlessly. The suits were always immaculately crafted with an ease that belied their complexity.

Other Nutter trademarks would include trimmed lapels and pockets in either a matching grosgrain or satin or a contrasting fabric. Contrasting fabrics or the same fabric in different colourways would exaggerate the details of the clothes; patch pockets in an alternate fabric were a distinctive feature.

The early shape which featured a slightly longer jacket with high tight arms would remain a trademark, as would a style developed slightly later. This featured a shorter jacket with a small tight waist, broader shoulders, and full ‘Bag’ style trousers – all referencing the silver screen idols and styles of the 1930s.

Dressing the Famous – on and Off Stage

Tommy Nutter’s early links with Peter Brown, an executive with the Beatles’ record company and others in the entertainment industry ensured the popularity of the Nutter style with rock stars, actors and singers as well as the fashionable people of the day. The Nutter order books read like a roll call of the great names of the day; Mick Jagger, Elton John, The Beatles, Charlie Watts, Neil Sedaka, Cilla Black, and Twiggy were all clients.

Tommy Nutter also went on to create costumes for stage and film including tailcoats and jumpsuits for Elton John’s Wembley shows in the 1980s and a still distinctive purple suit for Jack Nicholson’s Joker in Batman.

The beauty of many of these pieces lie in the fact though designed as costumes they retained the craftsmanship of Savile Row and the Nutter essence.

Tommy Nutter Goes On

In 1976, Tommy Nutter left Nutter’s of Savile Row. Whilst the partners Sexton, Chittleborough and Morgan continued as Nutter’s, Tommy went to prestigious establishment Kilgour in 1977 where he created a collection under his own name.

In 1988, Tommy Nutter opened an eponymous shop on Savile Row; continuing to create distinctive suiting, this time with an 80s flair and where Timothy Everest joined as an assistant and John Galliano served as an intern. Tommy was still a bon vivant and continued to have a loyal base of supporters.

By the beginning of the 1990s Tommy’s health had begun to decline. Friends gathered around him and supported him in private hospital suite in London. On the 17th of August, 1992 Thomas Albert Nutter passed away.

The Legacy of Nutter’s

Credited with re-invigorating Savile Row at a time when it badly needed an injection of cool, Tommy’s original style and showmanship brought a great tradition of craft into modern times. Still highly regarded on the nearly 20 years since his death, the format for the Row’s reinvention established by Nutter’s of Savile Row continues with new and re-established houses finding their own voice within the framework of bespoke tailoring.

The original cutters at Nutter’s, Edward Sexton in Knightsbridge and Chittleborough and Morgan in Savile Row, continue to produce beautifully tailored suits with the essence of the Nutter style.

Timothy Everest established a bespoke tailoring house in Spitalfields; the cut may be Eversest’s but the spirit and sense of style link back to formative years spent in Tommy Nutter’s shop.

Vivienne Westwood, one of the greats of British design, references the Nutter look as one of exceptional tailoring married to innovation.

Today we can look at Tommy Nutter as a designer whose vision created an original style out of the bespoke tailoring tradition; a style that reflected the spirit of the times. The quality of construction insures that these suits will continue to inspire…


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