These days it has become de rigueur for jewellery brands, shoe maestros and couture houses to descend upon Los Angeles ahead of awards season, occupying suites in all the major hotels and vying to dress the stars.
But Savile Row tailors? That’s a different story – or at least it was until 2012, when Spencer Hart became a Golden Globes pioneer, and client P Diddy made it on to Oscar night best-dressed lists. This year the tailor returned to dress Globe participants and sign up clients for Sunday’s Academy Awards.
The tailor set up base in a garden bungalow at the Chateau Marmont Hotel – a hive of star-studded activity in any given week but even more so during awards season. While founder Nick Hart enjoyed a coffee break in the restaurant, Oscar nominee Cate Blanchett and actors Mark Ruffalo and Jodie Foster wandered in and out; Blanchett’s young sons in the hotel lobby added a touch of normality to the attendant glamour.
Back in the bungalow, the Spencer Hart team remained calm despite a brief power cut and late delivery of stock from London. As clips of the brand’s inspirations played on a loop (Frank Sinatra and David Bowie – now a client – are among Hart’s influences), the tailors unpacked a dizzying array of suits in different styles, with lapels in varying sizes and fabrics, along with shirts in white and black with V-shaped or rounded collars, waistcoats, ties, cufflinks and shoes.
The calm was interrupted by the arrival of a number of clients. The first was Alfonso Cuarón, who a few days later would accept his Golden Globe for best director (Gravity) in Spencer Hart black tie. Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey fame then squeezed into an anteroom for alterations to his midnight-blue suit with thin black lapels. While Hart and his staff dashed between rooms to check trouser lengths, Stevens joked that his suit was considerably lighter than the armour fitting he had just come from for his role as Lancelot in the forthcoming Night at the Museum 3.
The bungalow took on the feel of a London acting school reunion as Rufus Sewell arrived and caught up with fellow Brit Ioan Gruffudd. Jeanne Yang, stylist to Christian Bale and Henry Cavill, also appeared to pick up suits for a Bafta tea party.
With men under more pressure than ever to look good on the red carpet, Joe Woolfe, Spencer Hart’s retail director, told me he could assess within seconds what will look best on a client’s body and complexion: “I might have 12 suits in a size 38 and I can narrow it down to three straightaway.” With an in-house tailor at the bungalow “we can have a perfectly fitted suit ready in 45 minutes”, he said.
In-store, the suits range from £650 for ready-to-wear to £4,500-£7,000 for fully bespoke, but were given to the celebrities as an investment in future clients. (Woolfe said stars often ordered additional suits and accessories while at the bungalow, at regular price.)
Absent from this year’s offering were suits that scream for attention. Suit colours were restricted to black or the label’s signature midnight blue. Spencer Hart’s credo is understated glamour: a perfectly fitted suit in high-quality British mohair or fresco fabrics with careful detailing.
“We really care to get [the fit] right. It has always got to look like it hasn’t tried, it’s got to feel effortless,” said Hart, himself wearing a slim, black seersucker suit and white T-shirt.
Hart loves it when a man is able to reject traditional style rules and bring his own personality to a look. His favourite red-carpet ensemble of all time was worn by Jack Nicholson in 1975. Nominated for his role in Chinatown, “Nicholson’s wearing a beret and sunglasses, a three-piece black suit, and he’s miles ahead of anybody,” Hart said.
After that day’s fittings, Hart took friends and clients such as Benedict Cumberbatch, Stevens and fellow Downton actor Laura Carmichael to dinner at Musso & Frank, an old-school Hollywood haunt. Then it was back to the Chateau for drinks and more celebrating. First though, Hart and his team had to attend to their clients’ sartorial needs, even if that meant Lee McCarrick, a stylist at the Savile Row store, had to hold a canine visitor’s lead while its owner had a fitting. “When we say bespoke service, we mean it,” McCarrick shrugged.
So was it worth it? Well, at the Golden Globes they dressed Cumberbatch, Alessandro Nivola (American Hustle), Cuarón, P Diddy and Luke Arnold (Black Sails). For the Oscars, as of today they are committed to dressing Cumberbatch, Cuarón, Stevens, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Matthew McConaughey, Andrew Garfield and Alexander Skarsgard.
The company plans to capitalise on its red-carpet presence by opening a permanent store in Los Angeles within the next 18 months. And with the Asian market increasingly important to luxury fashion brands, Nick Hart believes the international reach of awards show entrances has helped his company reach a deal in China, where its clothes will be available in 700 stores from this October: The red carpet is “strong currency all over the world”, he says.