In no other district does London present itself quite as flippantly exquisite as here: Mayfair inspires with luxurious shopping arcades, world-famous bespoke tailors, high-end art galleries and discreet private clubs. It is the stomping ground of those who can afford to live the good life and want to do so as style-consciously as possible.
Not infrequently, they are guided by the thoughts of a man who has made it a speciality to find parallels between social trends and history, to wring a bookful of content from even ephemeral topics and to comment on them as a mosaic of the times: there is no denying that Nicholas Foulkes is a style icon. And that in London, where a certain extravagance is a sign of good taste. As the charisma of the district has grown, so too has Foulkes’ name; each has lifted the other. Put another way: when Foulkes began writing about the work of the tailors on Savile Row in the nineties, the street was known to London’s bourgeoisie but not to the big wide world that now reveres it as synonymous with the best tailoring.
FROM OXFORD TO SAVILE ROW
“In those days, the tailors’ shop windows consisted of a grey, drawn curtain,” Foulkes recalls over an espresso. “Discretion was interpreted in such a way that one would have preferred to make the whole building invisible.” The Oxford graduate was one of the first to write about what goes on behind these curtains, what a good shirt needs to do, how an impeccably fitted suit works, what features shoes must have so that you’ll never want to take them off. And about where which tailor deserves to be elevated to the peerage and why. “GQ”, “Vanity Fair”, “British Vogue”: the leading magazines fought to get their hands on the articles, which were penned as boldly as they were packed with expert insight. Foulkes wrote just as expertly and perceptively about life’s other beautiful things, especially cigars – and watches.
The latter are the reason Nick Foulkes is sitting with René Beyer at Oswald’s, one of London’s most exclusive private clubs, on this spring morning. They had met as members of the jury of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève and hit it off immediately. Each is regarded as a walking encyclopaedia of watch history in his own way. Foulkes has also written the only authorised Patek Philippe biography, a nearly four-kilo tome that is required reading for every watch enthusiast. Now Beyer accepted Foulkes’ invitation for a tour d’horizon. “I love London – especially by taxi,” he says and laughs. “Why I went along with a shopping trip on foot remains a mystery to me.”
For Foulkes, Oswald’s makes a small exception. There is actually a strict ban on photos here, even for members and their guests who meet in the artfully opulent décor to discuss (and shape) politics and society, eat well and search for truth in wine. But as we’ve already said: Foulkes is Foulkes, and doors open wide for him that remain closed to others. And so the photographer (in a tight corner in front of an enormous flower arrangement) is permitted to press the shutter release exclusively and take pictures of the protagonists of the tour, which begins a little later in dazzling sunlight and stormy gusts of wind.
WORKING MAGIC WITH FABRICS
Seven hours later, everyone’s finding it a little difficult to get up out of the comfy, deep sofas at Kent & Haste. Not that the shopping marathon has been all too hard on the legs. It’s mainly the impressions that have satiated the participants and made them a little sluggish with satisfaction. Who would have thought that you could see a real Modigliani (Ordovas Art Gallery), puff a Cohiba in the middle of a shop (Davidoff), buy an Emma Harris shirt where King Charles (as the Prince of Wales) used to shop, and meet John Butcher, an icon of the West End, at Budd Shirts: he has been tailoring bespoke shirts for 56 years, he knows every bodily peculiarity there is – and the tricks to cover them with fabric to best effect.
John’s narrow kingdom is located above the shop in Burlington Arcade and is reached by climbing a hazardously steep staircase. With its patterns, fabrics, measuring tapes and palettes of threads, it appears lost in time. We would have loved to take photos here too. But John declines: he abhors the hype surrounding his person, and he certainly can’t stand photos of himself. Even Nick Foulkes can’t do anything about that, who describes the down-to-earth tailor with a phrase that aptly characterises both the person and the business: “This man is thoroughly genuine – in a world that no longer is.” Foulkes makes no secret of how much he resents fast-moving gimmickry and mass-produced goods. The embodiment of British traditionalism, he is dressed in the finest threepiece tweed, wears a tie and pocket square and a great deal of jewellery: bangles, bracelets, a ring on almost every finger, all purchased from antique shops and at auctions. A cigar cutter from the sixties on his lapel and a delicate “Ellipse d’Or by Patek Philippe on his wrist. Even his richly decorated pillbox is from a different era.
EVEN HIS PILLBOX IS FROM A DIFFERENT ERA.
“QUALITY OUTLASTS TIME”
Accordingly, he is full of respect for the long history of Beyer Chronometrie, the Watch and Clock Museum’s collection and the knowledge possessed by Beyer’s vintage department. Every now and then, he gives free rein to his high esteem. Which is not to suggest that he reins in his positively scintillating British humour. Once he introduced his friend with a deadpan expression and the words: “This is René Beyer, a legend. He runs the oldest watch shop in the world and once even sold an Apple Watch to Jesus.”
The affectionate banter, unfailingly elegant, in dealings with others is part of the attitude that is celebrated probably more lustfully in the West End than elsewhere in the city. Standing in front of the mirror at his favourite tailor’s, Terry Haste, having the final touches made to a suit coat, Foulkes says: “When you treat yourself to handmade quality, you’re investing in the future. Because quality outlasts time.” Terry Haste agrees with him. For the past ten or so years, his bespoke tailoring business has been experiencing a particular boom: chiefly young people are bringing in suits that belonged to their fathers and grandfathers to have them refurbished. “They have them tailored to their body shape and walk out with a unique, top-quality piece that has a story to tell,” says Nick Foulkes. This is what the dandy understands by sustainability and style.
HOW FAVOURITE PIECES ARE BORN
Meanwhile, René Beyer is sitting in the small reception room stirring his tea. He doesn’t feel like getting up from the sofa right now, enjoying too much the atmosphere and sounds coming from the studio, the clattering of the sewing machines, the rasping of the tailors’ scissors, the laughter of the people who have dedicated themselves to the beautiful and make it by hand, without any haste, but with all the greater awareness of the aesthetic effect of the materials and the needs of the future wearers. “Quality is one thing,” says Beyer. “The other is to make visible what it takes to create it. Places like this are where favourite pieces are born.” If he weren’t a little too worn out from Foulkes’ tour of Mayfair, he’d have himself measured right away: “I’ll do it next time.”
NICHOLAS FOULKES ON …
… Patek Philippe: The Sterns have always seen the future, ten years ahead of everyone else. And they are blessed with stellar taste.
… clothes: Clothes make all the difference, they’re anything but trivial – there’s a whole culture behind it. In the UK, at least: every intellectual worth his salt knows what makes a decent wardrobe.
... his rings: I always wear them in the same order, and need them like a diver needs his weights to go into the depths.
… Beyer Watches & Jewellery: The shop is older than its brands and not only has a wonderful museum, but also an immense knowledge of vintage watches that they have been cultivating since the sixties, long before anyone else.
… his passion for watches: I started collecting mechanical watches when I was about ten, British case, Swiss movement, dirt cheap. At some point they ended up in a sack in the garden shed. That’s where one of my sons found them thirty years later. Half of the watches were still in working order. That’s sustainability.
FOULKES’ MAYFAIR FAVOURITES
London connoisseurs will note: Mayfair undergoes a charming little extension here and, for once, leads all the way to St. James’s.
One of Foulkes’ favourite sources of inspiration and proof that tradition doesn’t have to gather dust: the cult shop with exquisite accessories, women’s and men’s fashion and exciting exhibitions on the upper floor has managed to anticipate the pulse of the times for 140 years. It goes without saying that it was also one of Lady Di’s declared favourites.
4 Clifford Street
ORDOVAS ART GALLERY
The secret of this hotspot: you never know quite what to expect. Often the works aren’t even for sale (as with Modigliani’s sculpture). So it’s all the more special to be able to admire them at leisure.
25 Savile Row,
Unusual materials and classic designs in modern to extravagant interpretations: the optician embodies British style par excellence.
6 The Royal Arcade,
Head tailor John Butcher is a West End icon. The shop in the exclusive Burlington Arcade offers bespoke shirts from CHF 420 alongside a wide range of ready-towear shirts in unusual shapes and colours (from CHF 250).
3 Piccadilly Arcade,
EVEN MORE SHIRTS:
Emma is a media darling, and her best quality shirts are made of fabric from Appenzell! Even Prince Charles was visibly impressed during his visit. On the ground floor, the ready-to-wear selection (from CHF 250) is seductive. The basement, a cosy boudoir for men, is dedicated to bespoke items (from CHF 550).
66 Jermyn Street,
For cigar aficionado Nicholas Foulkes, one of the best, if not the best address in the world. The wonderfully old-fashioned shop seems to be stuck in a time warp and offers an incredible selection of smoking goods, accompanied by a knowledge that is second to none. Foulkes’ son Max also works here as a Master of Cigars.
35 St. James’s Street,
KENT & HASTE
Quintessential tailor’s for bespoke suits. Clients are received in the small salon; the tailoring takes place in the atelier behind. Prices start at around CHF 5000 for a bespoke suit. For Foulkes, one of the best tailors in London, especially when it comes to alterations of high quality heirloom items.
7 Sackville Street,
GAZIANO & GIRLING
“Our aspiration is for people not to want to wear our shoes, but to put them on display,” says Tony Gaziano. The attitude says it all: every single little step in the production process is performed by hand in the company’s own factory, which makes these fine shoes unique.
39 Savile Row,
It is considered one of London’s most exclusive private clubs, frequented by the influential class: so if you receive an invitation from a member, don’t hesitate. Apart from fine dining, the main focus here is on intellectual debate around the fireplace.
25 Albemarle Street,