London continues to evolve at a rapid pace, but do the likes of Mayfair and St James’s exist outside of this, in a world of their own? Or is the modern day gentleman a different beast entirely…
WORDS Mark Kebble
I am sitting back in a classic barber’s chair, hot towel around my mouth, and staring in the mirror in front of me at the many regal portraits staring right back at me. Truefitt & Hill on St James’s oozes history and tradition, and I can’t think of a more suitable place to investigate what the modern Mayfair man is all about – and it’s certainly not one thing.
‘They were wig makers,’ Ola Jafar, my groomer for the day, explains what Truefitt & Hill were all about when it first opened in 1805. ‘They created wigs for the gentlemen of the aristocracy and, as they had a Royal Warrant, for the royal household. Of course, Truefitt & Hill has evolved what they offer throughout the years, slowly steering towards grooming because men stopped wearing their wigs.’
Something else that has disappeared from the Mayfair landscape, which too involves the top of one’s head, is the iconic bowler hat. ‘The Establishment, bouncing round in their bowler hats, has ebbed away, when even the Prime Minister regularly appears without a tie,’ says our very own Henry Conway.
‘Generations ago, if you wished to live as a gentleman, the rules were pretty clear-cut,’ says Henry. ‘A few flukes of birth and schooling aside, belonging to the right club, wearing the right suits, the right tie (with the right knot) and generally conforming would tick all the boxes. Today it may seem difficult to put your finger on the concrete markers of gentlemanly identity.’
So what exactly is the modern Mayfair man all about? Taking a stroll around the area and I find myself veering towards another of the local institutions, Purdey. Like Truefitt & Hill, Purdey has been a part of the area for over 200 years (it was launched in 1814), and also like Truefitt & Hill they have evolved with the times.
Purdey was the first British gunmaker to think beyond just a gun and jacket. His wife started to design ties, scarves, pullovers with embroidered pheasants… It was before the time of the fashion houses, so she was quite a rebel to do that
‘It was in 1973,’ Emmanuel Guegan tells me about when the famed gun company started selling fashion lines. He leads me into their famed Long Room, the walls of which are adorned with Purdeys who have run the company since the 19th century. It was actually when the business was given to the Beaumont family post-WWII that paved the way for a change of direction.
‘Mr Beaumont at the time would use this room for his gun clients, but his wife would get bored and invite her friends over for tea, and then started to design a range with them of clothing and accessories,’ Guegan recounts. ‘It was the first British gunmaker as such to think beyond just a gun and jacket. She started to design ties, scarves, pullovers with embroidered pheasants… She took it to a higher level. It was before the time of the fashion houses, so she was quite a rebel to do that.’
Guegan is Head of Accessories, but has formerly run the Purdey shop in the 12 years he has been with the company and he has seen plenty of changes to Mayfair during that time. ‘When I started to work here it was still a very residential area,’ Guegan recollects.
‘Mount Street hadn’t been developed yet. Visually it looked very different, there were no fashion houses here. You had Allens the butchers, which has now closed, you had ourselves and the Audley pub [which is still here], and everything else was independently owned antique dealers. Most of the residents were British, but within ten years you have a completely cosmopolitan area, with very high end level fashion houses.’
Most of the residents were British, but within ten years you have a completely cosmopolitan area, with very high end level fashion houses
So, I wonder, have Purdey been at the forefront of fashion in the area? ‘We are not fashion,’ Guegan knocks that suggestion dead. ‘We are not a fashion house, we are lifestyle with an understated classicism type of thing. If you were to compare us with others then it would come from the customers, and the people who shop at Purdeys would shop at Loro Piana, that understated luxury. Our designs are very understated British, and everything derives from our guns anyway.’
Owning a Purdey, then, must be something of a fashion statement? It’s a question that elicits a very similar response from Guegan as moments ago. ‘No, it’s an anti-fashion statement,’ he says. ‘It’s something quite personal, people don’t always know you have one.’
But are Purdey clients still from the Mayfair area? ‘There are, it’s still their local gun shop,’ Guegan says. ‘There are people who ask if we can deliver to their house and it’s actually just across the road. But, at the same time, we have people who come from all over the world to this shop, which is fascinating as it’s just one shop. It’s one of those names that’s out there in people’s psyche.’
Guns or otherwise, the Purdey look is big today – some may say there are lot of pretenders out there trying to emulate the classic look – and back at Truefitt & Hill it’s clear that fashion very much goes in cycles, suggesting why Purdey has been so successful, for so long.
‘I read this amazing piece in a paper recently about how haircuts have changed over the last 100 years and it’s really obvious the cuts have suited the outfits,’ Ola Jafar tells me as she snips away at my own hair. Jafar has been with Truefitt & Hill for 16 years, so is also in a good position to talk about changes to Mayfair.
Beards have become very fashionable around here, but the haircuts remain of the classic variety
‘I don’t think Mayfair has changed that much,’ she says, ‘but there have been some subtle changes with regards to how we have seen men become less shy with regards to grooming. Beards have become very fashionable around here, but the haircuts remain of the classic variety.’
As well as the rise, or growth, of facial hair, Truefitt & Hill can also highlight how the world of grooming has taken off. ‘The speed of that has been remarkable,’ Jafar says. ‘Over the past decade it’s almost increased 20% year on year and now it’s a multi-million pound business. We now produce colognes, men’s accessories, toiletries, and razors.
People love the razors, and we have started to have a lot of interest in the old-fashion variety. Everybody, years ago, used to use double edge blades, then that stopped, but now the interest is back particularly from the younger generation. Shaving has become a bit more of a ritual.’
It appears the modern Mayfair man is as cosmopolitan in look as nationality, but Henry Conway points out there are still aspects of the classic gentleman that exist today. ‘Stylistically, fashion has moved on and revived aspects gentlemanly dressing,’ he says.
‘The classic navy blue mohair suit still dominates the City, but the weekend uniform is no longer restricted to just chinos and a collared shirt. The only rule I advise is that, if unsure, keep it classic and keep it simple. I’d say head to Duke Street for an updated gentlemanly shopping experience.’
As Jafar puts the finishing touches to my new style – she suggests a side parting goes much better with my suit, compared to the messier version that I arrived at Truefitt & Hill with – she sums up what the modern Mayfair man is all about. ‘Classically fashionable,’ she nods. ‘Very elegant, the attention to detail is important and it’s very smart. It’s sharp.’
Truefitt & Hill, 71 St James’s Street SW1A 1PH; 020 7493 8496; truefittandhill.com
Purdey, 57-58 South Audley Street W1K 2EA; 020 7499 1801; purdey.com