Journalist Eric Musgrave has been working in fashion for 30 years, and has just penned his first book, “Sharp Suits” (Pavilion), which comes out in the U.S. early next year. The coffee-table book — Richard James has written the foreword — is less a history than a celebration of men’s tailoring over the past 150 years, from the moment posh British men swapped their frock coats and morning dresses for lounge suits to designers’ current obsession with suiting celebrities.
This story first appeared in the December 17, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“The suit itself has changed little over that period; the basic single-breasted has such an excellent design, it doesn’t really need to change,” said the bespectacled Musgrave, who launched the men’s title FHM in the Eighties and is the former editorial director of Drapers, Britain’s fashion business weekly. Earlier this month, Musgrave was named director general designate of the U.K. Fashion and Textile Association, UKFT. Over a glass of white wine at the Union Club in London’s Soho, he talks about princes, pop stars and tailoring’s pinups.
WWD: What have been the major changes in men’s tailoring since the 1860s, when Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) began dressing down and favoring softer, more comfortable suits over stiff formalwear?
E.M.: The big change was that fabric got lighter. Other changes came after World War I and World War II. In the Twenties and Thirties in particular, you saw the democratization of men’s wear and the rise of cinematic style icons. Any major changes, though, have usually come over as simply eccentric — and they haven’t lasted. Take The Beatles’ lapel-less Pierre Cardin-inspired suits from 1962. By the time the group traveled to America to appear on “The Ed Sullivan Show” two years later, they were wearing more conventional — what I like to call Blues Brothers — suits. Jean Paul Gaultier’s extreme play with proportions in the early Eighties — the wraparound waistcoat and long, wrapped trouser leg — now looks hopelessly dated.
WWD: What was your least favorite time in men’s tailoring?
E.M.: I think one of the least interesting times was the black, pared-down, minimal period of Helmut Lang, Jil Sander and Prada. It was all very underwhelming, and started with “Reservoir Dogs,” and continued with “Pulp Fiction” and “Men in Black.” You won’t see many black suits in this book — with the exception of Tom Ford — because they are boring to look at and hard to photograph.
WWD: Which individuals have had the greatest impact on men’s tailoring?
E.M.: King Edward VII, who made the reputation of Savile Row; the Duke of Windsor, who became an international pinup boy for men’s wear with his very big wardrobe and his enjoyment of clothes, and Cary Grant, whose philosophy was, ‘Buy a good suit and it will last you 30 years.’ He was trim and tanned, and believed in keeping things simple.
WWD: Who is having the most influence right now?
E.M.: Celebrities. They have overtaken designers as influencers, which is why designers want to dress them. I put together a timeline at the back of the book where I chose one photograph for each decade. I started with Charles Dalmores, the French opera tenor, who’s wearing a lounge suit, and ended with Christiano Ronaldo wearing a suit by the Savile Row tailor William Hunt as he picks up his FIFA World Player of the Year award in 2009.
WWD: Is there any celebrity in particular who is your suit hero?
E.M.: Bryan Ferry was a possible contender, but just try and find a picture of him actually wearing one. In the end, I chose David Bowie: He’s been a suit guy his entire career. He’s taken the suit and played with its proportions. He’s been influenced by jazz, and I’m sure he’s dressing himself a lot of the time.
WWD: What’s the future of the suit?
E.M.: I feel there is going to be a significant suit-wearing group — young guys who take an interest in how suits are made and how they can make individual statements, improve the fit or personalize their tailoring. I think we’re going to see a lot more personal and discretionary choices among men who wear suits.