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Tommy Nutter and Savile Row: Reinventing the Tradition of Tailoring

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Anyone who takes the slightest interest in contemporary menswear will confirm that bespoke tailoring and the appreciation of historical designs and techniques stand at levels of fascination for designers and male consumers that had not been seen for decades.

Longstanding tailoring labels seem to be more popular than ever all over the world. In the last menswear fashion week in Milan, it was the likes of Corneliani, Ermenegildo Zegna and Salvatore Ferragamo -- renowned for their sartorial heritage and impeccable tailoring that stood out in the face of tremendously inventive competition. In London, new brands such as Hardy Amies, E. Tautz and A. Sauvage have injected new life onto Savile Row, the birthplace of bespoke tailoring, by celebrating and reinterpreting traditional designs and patterns. In addition, other global menswear names such as Lanvin and Abercrombie & Fitch have seen the benefit of setting up shop in Savile Row or in nearby arteries so that they would be associated with images of established heritage.

In this context, the exhibition Within the cavernous insides of the museum, the display of Nutter's garments and memorabilia is laid out as a representation of Savile Row, illustrating not only the role that Nutter had in revitalising the image of tailoring in the late 1960s and early 1970s but also how he influenced the current popularity of tailoring. Visitors are greeted with street signs, red brick walls, railings and shop windows displaying garments designed by Nutter, and are allowed glimpses into Nutter's world in the form of replicas of his workrooms and shop. In all its forms, this is an exhibition that adroitly portrays the reinvention of traditional tailoring throughout the recent history of menswear.

Tommy Nutter was working as a junior sales assistant when he met master cutter Edward Sexton. When they opened Nutters on Valentine's Day in 1969 on Savile Row, the duo combined contemporary styling with classic techniques to create the brand that set the Row swinging. The teaming of Nutter's innovative styling with Sexton's cutting expertise revolutionised menswear and took items such as "Oxford" bags, tight jackets and high waists into the mainstream. The shop (financed by Cilla Black, James Vallance White, and The Beatles' executive Peter Brown) opened up the experience of bespoke tailoring by catering to rock stars, artists and aristocrats who were keen to wear the new shapes and details pioneered at Nutters. The fa├žade of the shop was unprecedented and got the whole of Savile Row talking: an expanse of plate glass windows opened up the displaying and selling spaces and made the shop light and accessible, providing an insight into this once arcane and private world.

As Nutters broke the moulds of tailoring and shopping, the great and the good of swinging London flocked to the shop in droves. The shop's order books (on display at the exhibition) read like a roll call of the celebrities of the day: Mick Jagger, Elton John, The Beatles, Charlie Watts, Neil Sedaka, David Hockney, Andrew Lloyd Weber, Cilla Black and Twiggy were all clients. Most famously, Nutter created the suits for the wedding of Mick and Bianca Jagger. The fact that most of these clients kept their garments in perfect condition and loaned them to the present exhibition only proves how revered Nutter's talent still is.

After leaving Nutter's of Savile Row in 1976, Tommy moved to the label Kilgour, where he created a collection under his own name. In 1988, he opened his eponymous shop on Savile Row where he continued to create distinctive suiting, and where Timothy Everest joined as an assistant and John Galliano served as an intern. During this time he created the memorable purple suit worn by Jack Nicholson's Joker character in Tim Burton's 'Batman' film, as well as the stage costumes for Elton John's Wembley shows.

Tommy Nutter passed away in 1992 but his vision for menswear continues to have a strong influence on tailors and designers working today. Elton John's quote that "Tommy completely glamorised Savile Row and made it accessible" confirms that Nutter's role in opening up the physical and metaphorical borders of Savile Row was crucial for the development of menswear as it is now known. His audacious creations not only changed the way male dressing was perceived but elevated traditional tailoring techniques and ideas into the realm of fashion. Contemporary designers such as Tom Ford, Timothy Everest, Vivienne Westwood and Ozwald Boateng all pay tribute to the Nutter style by resorting to many of the original features that he developed, such as wide lapels, jackets with contrasting trimming, patchwork designs, jackets made of silk satin and velvet, and male shapes influenced by the 1920s and 1930s.

The exhibition is on until 22 October 2011 and is complemented by a range of talks, workshops and events including a 'Highlights Tour' of the exhibition with guest curator Timothy Everest, a 'Master Class in Pattern Cutting' with Edward Sexton, the 'Tailoring Inspirations Panel Discussion' chaired by Peter York and with Edward Sexton, Jo Morgan and Stuart Husband (amongst others), and two-day quilting workshops inspired by the exhibition.

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