I have a confession to make. At the not-so-tender age of 32, I have hitherto never possessed a bespoke suit. Not, you understand, that I’ve been slumming around in Primark my entire life; Messrs Smith and Ford have done a very decent job of kitting me out in suitably sharp threads for the past decade or so, and so I started to believe that the higher end of Bond Street would suffice, rather than my needing anything more elaborate. Oh, how wrong I was.
I first came into contact with the excellent Gresham Blake a few years ago, when I was after a slightly outré shirt that would both look stylish and turn heads. After some consultation, we decided on a rather decadent black number with crucifixes – a homage to my mentor, the late Sebastian Horsley – embedded on it. While it’s not the sort of shirt that I wear on a daily basis, it was, like everything else that the ebullient Brighton and Shoreditch-based Blake designs, witty, beautifully produced and a true compliment to one’s wardrobe. An invite to a glamorous party in Shoreditch duly followed, where I rubbed immaculately tailored shoulders with some of Blake’s regular clients including Ray Winstone, Steve Coogan and Krishnan Guru-Murthy, all of whom looked sharp and sophisticated. Another of my sartorial and literary idols, Nick ‘Bad Seed’ Cave, seldom wears anything else.
Which is why, when the time came to come up with a really exciting and original desin for my first bespoke suit, Blake was the first name on the list. I recently published my debut book, Blazing Star, a biography of the courtier, wit and libertine John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, and wanted the sort of outfit that would simultaneously look like a very sharp suit but also have a touch of wit and dash to it. A consultation duly followed in the civilised settings of the basement. It was relatively straightforward:
GB: So, you’d like to look like a Restoration dandy.
GB: But no big wigs, flouncing around or absurd cuffs?
AL: Absolutely not. I did all that at my 30th birthday party. The pictures still haunt me.
GB: Right…let me have a think….
The compromise that we came up with was a brilliant one. The suit was to be a charcoal grey one, immaculately tailored and as sharp and debonair as Rochester’s pen itself, but with a twist. On the inside, we planned a lining that would pay homage to Our Lord, with extracts from his poetry sewn into it. There is something rather excessive about any suit that allows one to literally wear the words ‘Cupid and Bacchus my saints are’, but this level of excess and daring was one that Rochester was fully attuned to. And then, on the inside of the back of the jacket, was the piece de resistance – a screenprinted reproduction of the famous image of Rochester, complete with monkey. It was stylish, absurd, camp and brilliantly unique – and we loved it.
The fittings for the suit proved as painless and trouble-free as I’d hoped – there is always the slight suspicion that things will end up in ‘Suits you, sir’ territory, especially when dealing with something as outré as this. But eventually we got there, and the final result really was something spectacular. I looked at it and felt that it was a true expression of Gresham’s unique and witty worldview, crossed with a homage to Rochester in its purest form. Both a devilishly stylish suit and the perfect promotional tool, it went down a treat at both the launch party and my first event the week after, ‘An Evening With Lord Rochester.’
So, count me a convert to all things bespoke and unique. I can see that this is going to become rather an expensive habit – but then all the best ones are.
For further details on how to get your own bespoke suit, visit Gresham’s website.
Alex Larman’s biography of John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, is out now in hardback from Waterstone’s and all good stockists.