Thursday, April 24, 2008

Window shopping with the rich and famous: London

Suppose your dollar and a dream came true: You've just won the lottery for megamillions. Uncle Sam gets his cut, all debts are paid in full, and there's a good chunk left over.

Not least, let's say it's now time to upgrade your wardrobe. If you truly allowed your sense of style to flow, with money as no object, where would you shop?

I have embarked on this ongoing quest for the very best (be it on sale or high end) in menswear for more than 20 years. I have hunted for top-of-the line goods at American department stores such as Bergdorf Goodman, Nieman Marcus and Saks. Yes, there's an awful lot of pricey stuff out there in America.

Of course, much more exists outside the U.S. I'm hardly the first to discover this fact, nor will I be the last dreamer for the good life. But I did get a chance to do some window shopping in London earlier this year.

And, I must say, "A jolly good show."

Let's start on Jermyn Street, where one can assemble an outfit that raises the sartorial bar, from head to toe.

For hats, Edward Bates Ltd. has a wide selection, from bowlers to tweed caps. "Very British," I thought, while trying on some hats before a mirror, as the images of John Steed and Sherlock Holmes came to mind.

Moving on to shirts, Turnbull & Asser is the place to go. According to, the shirtmaker "outfits both Jay-Z and the British royal family." While Turnbull & Asser shirts can be found at Nieman Marcus in the States, there's nothing like entering the T&A mothership in the U.K. The shirtmaker is famous for outfitting actors who play Agent 007, otherwise known as Bond -- James Bond.

In case you're wondering whether you can replicate the suave secret agent look, Turnbull & Asser's bespoke shirts are without peer. A minimum order of six is required and takes several months to make. Make sure one of them is a tuxedo shirt; you'll need that to begin your 007 look at black-tie fund-raisers. Overall, the investment in T&A's bespoke shirts will cost at least four figures.

Looking for a tie? The selection of paisleys, polkadots and rep stripes is vast in London, but at Dunhill on No. 48 Jermyn St., the thin solid, 1960s-style ties seen in the James Bond (actor Sean Connery era) films win the day here. They are simple and elegant. Period.

I would be remiss in not mentioning a staple of Dunhill accessories, and that is Dunhill's lighters, unquestionably several steps up from the rugged Zippos here in the U.S. While these days, fitness is more fashionable than smoking, having a Dunhill lighter goes a long way on the Style Points meter. I'd suggest putting it in the trophy case; relegating this lighter to candle duty would be a gross injustice.

A few doors down from Dunhill is New & Lingwood, whose Windsor store outfits the students of Eton College, the elite, all-boys preparatory school whose alumni include Prince Harry and Prince William, their father, Prince Charles, Patrick McNee (who played John Steed of "The Avengers" TV show fame) and Ian Fleming (author of the James Bond novels).

Out of New & Lingwood's range of menswear and accessories is a real piece of history: Russia calf shoes. The grainy, aged leather used to make these shoes is in limited supply. Click here to read about the leather's history. I tried on these shoes, which cost about $2,000 a pair.

While they were too wide for my feet, I can honestly say that I walked a few yards in these legendary shoes.

Across the street from New & Lingwood, at No. 83 Jermyn, is Henry Maxwell and W.S. Foster & Son, bespoke shoemakers supreme.

Classic styles can be seen in the windows and inside the shop, where the casts of Fred Astaire and Charlie Chaplin reside. Expect to pay at least $3,000 for a handmade pair.

Maxwell, established in 1750, merged with Foster (est. 1840) in 1999, making a formidable force in men's shoes, luggage and other leather goods.

Before leaving Jermyn Street for the bespoke tailors at Savile Row, let's look at more footwear. Those who are familiar with men's shoes at Nieman Marcus recognize John Lobb, whose machine-made line has been owned by Hermes since 1976.

I walked into this esteemed establishment at No. 88 Jermyn and admired the sleek designs, some of which can be found at Nieman's for at least $1,000 a pair.

That's not the half of it.

A walk around the corner, at No. 9 St. James, is the site for John Lobb bespoke shoes, which is still run by the Lobb family since its founding in 1849. Going the handmade route is indeed the next level of opulence. Given the current exchange rate, a basic pair of handmade calfskin shoes costs between $4,000 and $5,000. (Don't take my word for it; check out Lobb's price list. Keep in mind the exchange rate is roughly two American dollars for one British pound.) According to Lobb's history stated on its Web site, Aristotle Onassis, Cole Porter and Frank Sinatra are among famous past customers.

I could not bring myself to walk in to these hallowed halls of shoemaking. The window displays were enough. There was still Savile Row to visit.

On foot, getting to Savile Row did not take long, about 15 minutes tops. I was able to reflect on the fantasy wardrobe I had assembled so far from Jermyn Street. A handmade suit from one of the Savile Row establishments certainly would top it off, to the tune of several thousand dollars.

So, pick a tailor, any tailor, I muse.

I walked past most of the established boutiques on Savile Row, including bespoke powerhouses Anderson & Sheppard and Huntsman. One store on the Row did pique my curiosity: Ozwald Boateng, which moved to Savile Row last December. Boateng, who was appointed creative director by Givenchy in 2003, offers designs that pop.

When I entered the shop, its low lighting was reminiscent of a nightclub, though the volume of the soothing music inside was low as well. The scene was different from what I had envisioned of a bespoke tailor on Savile Row, but it was a most welcome one. Jeff, the assistant manager, was gracious as he related to me the history of Boateng and the shop, the only black-owned clothier on Savile Row.

Continuing my walk along the elegant window displays on the Row, I happened on several shelves of cuff links made from currency around the world, including American quarters from most of the 50 states, at Davies & Son, which bills itself as Savile Row's oldest tailor (founded in 1803).

I couldn't pass up the chance of purchasing a pair of cuff links from a Savile Row establishment, even if the irony lay in the likeness of American origins. I got the Texas quarter design (see my April 20 entry) and voila! Instant conversation pieces.

My last stop was Gieves & Hawkes, at No. 1 Savile Row. The company dates back to the 1700s, and has been in its current residence since 1912.

This shop is not without a sartorial sense of humor. One of the shoes I saw on a display was pelted with black marks. I'm told that the marks on the leather were made by repeated use of buckshot before they shoes are assembled. See for yourself. Turns out that, at 245 pounds (about $500), the low-cut version of the shoe was sold out. "We anticipate receiving a new delivery towards the end of May," the shop informed me in an e-mail.

Take your time, Gieves.

The bespoke journey ends here in London, but the dream continues. Stay tuned.

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