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What does bespoke actually mean to people?” Carlo Brandelli is sitting in George, a private members’ club in London’s Mayfair, discussing (or attacking, depending on how you look at it) his profession. Four years after he resigned from Savile Row tailors Kilgour and his modernised idea of the suit was cleared from the rail, he is back – not only on the Row but at his old brand. And, ahead of the London menswear shows, he is as provocative as ever. “I don’t meet many people on Savile Row who have taste,” he says. He is talking about the tailors here, not the customers.
“I don’t think you should engage in the past or use that heritage as pastiche, which I think most people do,” he says. “All those techniques were created by other people. Those who are just maintaining that heritage don’t seem to be adding anything new to the craft. I always wanted to push forward, otherwise Savile Row and those brands will die. And they have been dying. That was always the issue for me.”
It’s an unforgiving stance at a time when traditional tailors are trying to find a relevant place for themselves in London Collections: Men. The event, which starts on Monday, aims to showcase the breadth of British fashion talent. It is dominated by big brands (Burberry, Alexander McQueen) and young designers (Craig Green, Christopher Shannon). But it’s also nothing new for Brandelli.
He made his name in the 1990s with Squire, a store off Savile Row that sold an elegant idea of young menswear. He became creative director of Kilgour in 2003, shortening its name (from Kilgour, French and Stanbury) and defining the brand with ready-to-wear and made-to-measure collections centred on the sharp, elongated silhouette of the one-button unstructured suit.
“You want to make someone look as long and lean as possible,” Brandelli explains. “The one-button suit does that. You place the button exactly at the waist point, and you get this V-shape at the top and below, and that elongates the torso.” Brandelli also removed all unnecessary lining, while a strong shoulder defined the shape. “It’s essentially about getting a clean cut that can hold the proportions of the shoulder but with as little weight as possible,” he says.
Along with his specific silhouette, Brandelli instilled at Kilgour the air of an international brand: campaigns shot by Nick Knight with art direction by Peter Saville; a self-designed store of marble with a fish tank containing a stingray; a ready-to-wear show at Paris Fashion Week. “And then it was sold,” says Brandelli – to a company called JMH Lifestyle – “and I resigned. The last person who bought a suit that I was told about was Karl Lagerfeld.”
Brandelli spent the next few years making sculptures and collaborating with artists such as Matthew Brannon. But then Kilgour was acquired by 14 Savile Row (which also owns Hardy Amies). “The new owners approached me and said, ‘Would you like to come back as freelance creative director and finish what you started?’ It attracted me a lot,” he says. “I didn’t feel like there was any unfinished business – there’s no bitterness – it just appealed to me for lots of different reasons.”
Brandelli’s return to Kilgour will be in two stages. In March, a collection of classic Brandelli designs will be launched exclusively on Mrporter.com. By summer, Brandelli will have designed a new store and the next era of Kilgour will fully begin with a new bespoke studio and an autumn/winter 2014 ready-to-wear collection
“I want to maintain the craftsmanship but also present a relevant, contemporary face of tailoring,” Brandelli says. “I just don’t think anyone else is doing it. It’s like: why not? In every other sector, there’s contemporary. On Savile Row, it doesn’t exist. People just keep re-spinning these traditional pastiches. It makes no sense. We aren’t still using phones where you stick your finger in and the dial goes round. This is 2014.”
And so begins a year when the very nature of bespoke and tailoring is questioned. Welcome to menswear.