When actors Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Gary Oldman, Tim Roth and Jamie Bell appeared at the Prada men’s wear show in Milan last month, a paparazzo could have been forgiven for thinking he had taken a wrong turn at the Duomo and stumbled on to a red carpet instead of a runway.
However, to the rest of the audience it was clear that the real stars of the collection were not the celebrity models but the overcoats they wore. Indeed, the British bespoke tailor Timothy Everest labelled the collection “genius”.
According to Jason Broderick, head of men’s wear at Harrods, a smart coat revival is underway. “An evening coat has become increasingly popular with our customers because of the clarity and simplicity of its design,” he says. “An ideal coat is sleek and timeless and should be seen as an investment piece because it gives the wearer a lean, angular silhouette. It has become prevalent in collections from Prada and Gucci to Corneliani as a nod to tradition with a modernist update.”
For formal occasions, all taste-makers insist on coats of black or dark blue. A discreet herringbone pattern is also acceptable.
Kathryn Sargent, who runs her own bespoke tailoring business having worked for 15 years at Gieves & Hawkes (two as head cutter), says: “Coats that are meant primarily to accompany evening wear should be opulent and luxurious. The impact should come from the cut and beautiful cloth. For inspiration, look at military or naval greatcoats, which are double-breasted with wide lapels, epaulettes, a sewn-on back belt and a deep inverted pleat to create fullness.” Sargent’s handmade bespoke coats start from £3,000.
Another option is to go super sleek, with few adornments. William Skinner, managing director of Savile Row tailor Dege & Skinner, says: “On a single-breasted overcoat, I’d always go for a fly-front so that the buttons are hidden and the line is very smooth. I recommend a full-length coat down to the mid-calf – it’s warmer and it covers the tails of a tail coat too. A black velvet collar is a nice touch.”
The firm’s coats start at £2,950 and can go up to £6,500 for a good quality cashmere.
Michael Diggines, a regular client of Woburn-based bespoke tailor Geoff Souster, recently collected a formal overcoat in a navy blue wool-cashmere herringbone with a purple velvet collar, purple satin lining and purple pocket square. “A coat is important to complement one’s own suit and to complement what a lady is wearing, even if you are just walking from your car to a restaurant,” says Diggines. “Although this is very much a statement coat, I actually wear it several times a week.”
For Diggines, that amount of use, and the experience of the bespoke process, justifies the £2,000 price tag. “This coat and the cloth are of such good quality that it is going to outlast me,” he says. “This is a unique piece that expresses my personality.
Souster has also just finished a new coat in wool-cashmere for the opera singer Russell Watson. “The cloth has a beautiful doeskin finish and I gave him a sky blue lining,” says Souster. “Russell has an opera singer’s build, and the square shoulders provided by inset sleeves suit him. For a formal coat I’d always go for inset sleeves rather than raglan sleeves, the sloping shoulders of which are more suited to a country coat.” Souster’s fully bespoke wool coats start at £1,500, while wool/cashmere styles start at £2,150.
Though purists hold that an overcoat should be long, dropping below the knee, the mid-thigh-length option has become popular because it is easier to wear while driving. Online retailer Mr Porter has good examples from Loro Piana (£2,715), Alexander McQueen (£1,195), Dolce & Gabbana (£1,145), Turnbull & Asser (£950) and J Crew (£400).
Nino Cerruti, a textile and men’s wear designer, says: “A long coat makes a tall man even more imposing. Ideally, it should resemble a cloak from 1200 that fits on the chest and then drops away to flow at the hem.”
Indeed, a proper cloak is the most dramatic option for red-carpet and black-tie dressing. These rare specialities are available ready-made in north-east Italy through Tabarrificio Veneto, a company guided by clothing industry veteran Sandro Zara, but for most people an opera cloak has to be a bespoke commission.
Ron Collins, a management consultant, ordered one from Kathryn Sargent to match the white tie outfit she tailored for him while at Gieves. A replica of a 19th-century garment, it is in the same barathea cloth as the tails and has a white silk lining.
“It reaches to mid-calf to cover the tails, has armholes at the side, and is a very easy garment to put on or take off. It doesn’t disturb what you are wearing the way putting on a coat can,” says Collins. “I wear white tie between six and 10 times a year, and I am the only person who wears an opera cloak.”
If Gary Oldman and co bring their runway look into reality, however, this may not be the case for much longer.