Sunday, February 08, 2009

Chittleborough & Morgan: The Row liveth

In these challenging economic times, one might imagine a grim mood gripping Savile Row. Indeed, last week as I stood on a stoop looking down into the basement of Hardy Amies I spied a pile of discarded moving boxes sitting below a sample sale sign in the window. The couturier had been in the press last fall regarding potential receivership. It's a sharp reminder that no business - even those with a storied past - is immune in this economy. But many of the SR shops I visited on this trip seemed busy - some even busier than my last trip a year ago.

All the shops I visited were quite amiable but Chittleborough & Morgan was the most amiable and informative at a personal level. This is because I spoke with the proprietors themselves, Messrs. Roy Chittleborough and Joseph Morgan.

Chittleborough & Morgan

In his book The London Cut: Savile Row Bespoke Tailoring, James Sherwood describes the atmosphere at C&M as "brisk and efficient". He's certainly right at one level but I also detected an unusual readiness and willingness to chat and share. You get a sense of that openness when you notice the selection of Gaziano & Girling sample shoes on the wall. Started by Tony Gaziano (formerly of Edward Green), G&G offer MTO and bespoke footwear and share space with C&M at the latter's invitation.

I visited on two separate days, first speaking with Mr. Chittleborough and then Mr. Morgan. Roy worked at Kilgour back in the 1960s and then at Nutters before opening his own shop with partner Joseph Morgan. They've been in business since 1980 and make the full run of garments from dresswear to overcoats (with the exception of military clothing). C&M carry a number of mills and merchants - Lesser, Dormeuil, Scabal, Dugdale and other English cloths. Morgan visits NYC twice a year and is scheduled to visit in April.

The following day I spoke with Joseph Morgan and he shared a number of notable details on what goes into a C&M suit and the look they strive for. They favor a straight shoulder rather than natural, the straightness of which creates a platform to shape the waist underneath. They also cut a slightly longer jacket. Of course, this is only a starting point as Morgan made the point that bespoke means by default a level of customization in the end product.

Joe graciously walked through the handpadding of lapels (and several examples in progress) and the construction of the three-layer chestpiece. He also pulled out a roll of the standard pocket lining used for their trousers, the quality of which is truly exceptional as I have not seen it elsewhere. We walked over to a nearly finished jacket and he opened it up to show the construction of the interior pocket, which features an ingenious extra fold above the pocket opening to catch and secure oversize objects protruding from the pocket. He also lifted the sleeve for closer inspection of their very distinctive, ridged (raised) buttonholes and the special technique they train their tailoresses to create the subtle ridging. Finally he opened up a customer's trouser bundle to explain the unusual steaming and shaping of their trousers prior to their assembly. If you live for perfectionism in the details then you will be remiss in not visiting C&M to see the handwork and detailing yourself.

Joseph Morgan

Morgan himself was wearing a three button dark blue suit that on first glance appeared like a very well executed city suit with a classic Row shoulder. However as the eye moves down the suit, you begin to see vertical detailing in the form of open lap seams (or small ridges) on the center back seam and sleeve seams of his jacket and the side seams of the trousers. It's a city suit that has been individualized and subtly dandified.

Morgan's exactitude and precision reminded me of the Parisian tailor Cifonelli (which should be a compliment to both gentlemen). In fact, both Massimo Cifonelli and Joseph Morgan are excellent ambassadors for their businesses. And they both wore suits that spoke highly of their craftmanship. But do not confuse C&M's exactitude and perfectionism with staidness. They channel their precision with a sense of style and detailing that is fresh but understated.

My latest visit to the Row solidifies the following belief: If you know what you want, the chances are very good that you can find it on the Row.

Additional links
- Styleforum thread on C&M

Updated Feb 2010

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