Returning to the helm of Kilgour, one of Britain’s oldest and grandest tailors, Carlo Brandelli may achieve what has eluded many before him: the modernisation of Savile Row. Whilst many have attempted to bring this hallowed institution into the 21st century, Brandelli’s background as a designer, rather than a trained tailor, may grant him the unique perspective needed to succeed.
The primary difference between Brandelli and his contemporaries on Savile Row is his lack of formal training in fashion and traditional tailoring (he twice failed to get in Central St. Martins). Whilst the old guard may view this lack of experience deems Brandelli unsuitable to lead such an esteemed house as Kilgour, others see his decidedly modern approach as the tonic required to reinvigorate the proud and celebrated stretch of London that has been the home of tailoring for over 300 years.
Throughout these three centuries the row has withstood those who have sought to modernise their time honoured techniques and for the most part, succeeded. 1969 saw newcomer Tommy Nutter who along with partner Edward Sexton ushered in a new era and with it fashionable clients from Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton and Sir Roy Strong.
Whilst this did much to raise tailoring’s profile, both in the UK and abroad, the fairytale only lasted until 1976 when Sexton bought Nutter out. Curiously Nutter went on to run Kilgour French Stanbury where he ran his own workshop. He returned to the row later though with a ready to wear venture: Tommy Nutter, Savile Row. After Nutter’s death in 1992 and a four year legal case over the ownership Sexton moved to Knightsbridge ending a golden era for the industry.
More recently newcomers Oswald Boating and Richard James have tried their hand at reinterpreting the timeless designs on which the Row is famed and although successful, their approach hasn’t resulted in the complete modernisation needed. This being said, the physical transformation of the street has changed significantly: no longer comprised of faceless doors with titled doorbells, today visitors to Savile Row are greeted with window displays presenting each tailor’s unique cut and approach to their craft.
Brandelli brings a broad range of influences to his design approach. From art and sculpture (he presented his range of glass crystal vases at Paris’ Maison Objet to high acclaim) his work is formed from a range of authorities and an approach that falls very closely in line with modern architecture. Whilst this may raise eyebrows, architecture and couture have long held a deep connection. At their most basic forms, both disciplines deal with satisfying life’s most fundamental necessities – clothing and shelter.
Over time the relationship between the two industries have narrowed, each influencing one another and increasingly providing opportunities for collaborations and overlaps. Couture has leant more to the aesthetic qualities and today this relationship has developed into a trend. Prada’s 2016 A/W collection displayed a decidedly Art Deco influence whilst Claire Wright Keller’s line channelled Le Corbusier via alternating blocked and strained textures – a nod to his famous Villa Savoye architectural lines.
Brandelli offers a unique position as the middle ground between couture and tailoring. His previous company Squire allowed him an insight in to the world of fashion, where trends are arguably more integral to the success of a company than handcrafted processes and subtle detailing.
This experience helped mould his contemporary approach to menswear. Brandelli explains: “I like angularity”, and his work in the medium of sculpture and art is clear in his approach to fashion. “I don’t hold with the thought that a man’s wardrobe should have soft, flowing lines in it. I think men want those angles to give shape and structure. It’s about keeping the lines as clean as possible and symmetrical”.
Traditional tailoring, the foundation of Savile Row’s pedigree, also holds many parallels with architecture, although this is only really evident in the attitude and process. The composition of a handmade suit uses the same approach as an architect uses to create a building. Beginning with structure and shape this precisely relating to the form and function of the human body. Take working cuffs: a quality that for many signifies a garment of the highest quality, however the true purpose bears almost no relation to the modern lifestyle. Originally designed to assist wealthy surgeons in the late 1800s whose work required them to roll up their sleeves without removing their jacket. Similarly the double vent, whilst in itself a flattering design feature was first created for horsemen – engineered to allow a greater freedom of movement when riding. By contrast the traditional dinner jacket has no vents – producing a cleaner and more elegant line.
Clearly when these beloved details are analysed it is increasingly apparent that many of these traditional features are now outdated and although originally served a specific purpose, are increasingly signatures of a bygone era.
Brandelli designs with a similar determination, although he holds no desire to conform to these antiquated eccentricities. He explains “The references to architecture that people see in my work are a response to seeing something that not only has an aesthetic value but also has a “measured” quality. Men like beauty but also appreciate the data in construction; they need to know that there is theory in the proposal. And the orderly way in which you design a piece of tailoring and question why a detail is there and the proportion of it, or where anything extraneous or without function can be left aside, is very close to an architectural sensibility.”
His ability to juggle the same tailoring philosophy and ambition as his predecessors whilst combining a decidedly contemporary perspective is exactly why Brandelli is making waves. Crafting designs fitted to satisfy the modern lifestyle, he is not afraid to do away with details he considers surplus to requirement. He is not afraid to be a beacon for change and his approach across all areas is refreshingly avant guard. From being one of the first Savile Row tailors to present a collection of ready to wear on the runways at Paris Fashion Week, he hired celebrated Photographer Nick Knight to shoot a promotional video inspired by Gerhard Richter’s sculptural work and complimented by a Tara Ferry produced soundtrack. Astoundingly it featured no clothes at all, Brandelli explains ‘“The glass layers represent layers of thought…..reflection meant as contemplation, not actual reflection. It’s deliberately slow, it’s elegant. It’s not about brash images of fashion and all that stuff.”
Kilgour’s flagship store is testament to this. A world away from the richly panelled rooms of Huntsman or Chester Barrie, Kilgour’s revamped premises is decidedly minimalistic, “Everyone lost their minds,” Brandelli recalls. But updating and redefining is just the beginning: his latest collection seeks to reinvent the lapel. Whilst this may not seem significant for the last few centuries there have only been 3 variations used in menswear notch, peak and shawl. He combines this ambition with his one of layering – producing designs that half reveal glimpses of material – a subtle feature that nods to the architectural structure of the suit. Always keen to continue the architectural theme throughout his work, the tracing paper on which the clothes are designed are the same used for architectural blueprints, a reference to the level of engineering that goes into each of Kilgour’s creations.
Whether Brandelli is successful in making Savile Row the cutting edge home of bespoke menswear he desires it to be, is yet to be seen but one thing is clear: Kilgour is leading the charge and the world is paying close attention to his next move.