GQ Editor Dylan Jones on his new book, London Sartorial: Men’s Style from Street to Bespoke, and tells us why London can combine a three-piece suit with a beard and tattoos like no other city…
I love a good three-piece suit, but I do worry it’s dying out. Sitting in my office now, busily typing away, I look up to see no-one in my office wearing a suit at all. Casual seems to be the way forward these days, but fashion arbiter and GQ editor since 1999, Dylan Jones soothes away any fears that I have.
‘It doesn’t matter how often fashions change or how casual people become, what London does better than anyone else in the world is tailoring,’ he insists. ‘Savile Row has had such a huge resurgence over the last 10 years and it’s fantastic to walk down there and see all of the houses full of people buying suits. It’s really exciting.’
Flicking through Jones’s latest book, London Sartorial: Men’s Style from Street to Bespoke, it’s satisfying to see some fabulous looking three-pieces dotted throughout. But there’s also a lot in there that would look frankly ridiculous on me, and that’s why London has become the centre of attention when it comes to fashion: diversity and choice. Londoners certainly cannot be accused of being boring when it comes to their dress sense.
‘I think men are better dressed now than they have ever been,’ Jones states. ‘Fundamentally it’s a generational thing. Previously you had men who were encouraged to wear formal clothes for work, and you had people who were encouraged to wear more generic rebellious clothes to fit their peer groups.
‘But now not only do we have a generation of men who are incredibly inventive and creative in what they wear, but there’s a huge offer out there. Twenty five years ago there was Bond Street, the high street and Paul Smith, but now we have a greater variety of menswear stores and menswear designers in the UK than ever before.’
It was a reason why Jones was the driving force behind the first men’s fashion week in London back in 2012, an event that this new book commemorates. ‘We were trying to create something in London where there hadn’t been something before,’ he says.
‘We wanted to create a platform for the menswear fashion designers who previously were showing on the very last day of London Fashion Week, by which time most of the buyers and press had moved on to Milan. We decided to move it to a better part of the season, put it in front of the competitors, and to see what appetite there was for it.
‘Remarkably, five years on, men’s week seems to be going from strength to strength, and we wanted something to mark that – and that’s what we did by publishing this book.’
You then had lots of independent retailers in the 70s, lots of places like Kensington Market, lots of punk places like Boy and Sex, and those places have contributed to the extraordinary retail culture that we have now
As much as the modern day London dweller looks great, Jones is willing to argue the case that this isn’t exactly anything new. In his fabulous introduction to the book, for example, there’s a part dedicated to the importance of The Ivy Shop in Richmond Hill, which was credited as the most influential menswear shop back in the 60s.
‘The Ivy was certainly important for a certain type of person, but you also had the huge tourism culture that was built up around the King’s Road and Carnaby Street,’ he adds. ‘You then had lots of independent retailers in the 70s, lots of places like Kensington Market, lots of punk places like Boy and Sex, and those places have contributed to the extraordinary retail culture that we have now.
‘If you walk around London there are dozens and dozens, probably hundreds, of small independent retailers who have a very keen fashion sensibility, which obviously helps some of the younger designers because if you are not selling clothes, you haven’t got a business. Another great thing about London is we have half a dozen great department stores here and they are all very different, and yet they are all keen to support younger designers, particularly menswear designers.’
How long would he say London has been an epicentre for fashion? ‘I actually think it has always been the centre,’ Jones retorts. ‘If you look back at the way menswear has been driven by youth culture in the late 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, pretty much every major youth culture since the end of WWII has originated in the UK, and probably in London. We have a very strong heritage of rebellion and we have a very strong heritage of tradition, and I think that fantastic mixture is what makes London such a dynamic place.
‘We are very good at menswear because those aspects continue to be melded,’ he continues, ‘but also I think more importantly the younger designers have far more a business sensibility now than any previous generation, and they understand that to make it they have to be business people as well as designers. It’s no longer good enough to be a maverick, to show a little in the hope of being snapped up by one of the big international conglomerates. You need to have the ability to create your own business and lots of young designers have done that.’
London Sartorial comes to a close with a celebration of the designers who have supported men’s week in the past, and it’s a fascinating mix of the new and well established, including the aforementioned Sir Paul Smith and Dame Vivienne Westwood. Are the latter still ahead of the curve when it comes to 21st century fashion?
Younger designers have far more a business sensibility now. They understand that to make it they have to be business people as well as designers. It’s no longer good enough to be a maverick in the hope of being snapped up by one of the big international conglomerates
‘Oh god yes,’ Jones says, probably incredulous at the question. ‘We are responsible for some of the biggest brands in the world. You have got Burberry, Paul Smith, Vivienne Westwood, Hackett, an extraordinary array of British brands that now operate on a global scale.’
And can he pinpoint the newer names that will last long into the future? ‘It’s invidious to focus on particular people because we have a huge generation of great designers, everybody from Craig Green to Patrick Grant. All of them are motivated, they are young and they produce collections to an incredibly high standard.’
As London Sartorial makes clear, men’s fashion has never been more exciting or eclectic: ‘You could look at Mayfair today and there are as many hedge funds as restaurants, and actually if you run a hedge fund one of the joys is you don’t have to wear a suit,’ Jones concludes. ‘There are a lot of people going out of their way to dress in a more casual fashion because it shows independence, confidence and success ironically, whereas it used to be the opposite.
‘But then if you to go to east London you will see that perfect fusion of traditional and rebellion because you will see a guy in a bespoke suit, a beautiful tailored three-piece with a great pair of Oxfords, tie, lots of jewellery – and they have probably got a 14-inch ginger beard and covered in tattoos. For me, that seems to be the perfect amalgam of tradition and rebellion.’
London Sartorial: Men’s Style from Street to Bespoke by Dylan Jones is £29.95 (hardback)