Whenever talk turns to clothing and believe me, in my circle that is pretty much every day, I always claim that one of the best bespoke tailoring cutters of all time, is a south east Londoner, (well, we claim him as one of ours) namely Edward Sexton.
Hands up who just said, who? Well, that’s fair enough I guess, but you obviously need a drop of sartorial education and that’s handy, because that’s just what I’m about to give you today.
Edward was born in London in November 1942, the fourth of six siblings to a working-class family. He attended the English Martyrs junior school on Rodney Road, Walworth SE17, a spit and a cough from where your correspondent resides. His uncle was a tailor and Edward learnt the rudiments of the craft with him from the age of 12.
He had his initial formal training, under the auspices of Lew Rose from 1957, learning to cut and construct each element of a suit over the course of his time there. Once he had the basics under control, he moved on to equestrian tailor Harry Hall on Regent Street aged 16.
Sexton – ‘(we made) riding jackets, hacking jackets, breeches, jodhpurs and so on – so I came to like that longer jacket with a nice flared shape. I was also always interested in the 30s, the 40s, the romantic period. Pin collars, tabs, all that – a very nice, neat look; the strong shoulder line. I liked all that.’
He then started with Cyril A. Castle aged 19 and polished up his cutting skills at what is now the London College of Fashion. He then moved to Kilgour, French and Stanbury, which was founded in 1880. There under the instruction of ‘uncle’ Fred Stanbury, he developed the ‘Sexton Look’ which he made for private clients. His first job as a fully trained cutter was at Welsh and Jefferies, a long-established military tailor. As part of his duties, Sexton made the uniforms for the new influx of officers passing the grade at Sandhurst.
Whilst working next at Donaldson’s, Williams and Ward on Burlington Arcade, he met a young and vibrant salesman, one Tommy Nutter. Getting on well, they began to work together and make for private clients. With Tommy’s ideas and Sexton’s skills combined, they developed their own in-house style, which was more modern in outlook . Wide lapels, flared jackets, often made in interesting and flamboyant fabrics.
Sexton – ‘Tommy was working as a front-of-shop salesman. We’d go and have a pint after work and chat about style and came up with this look that we were both very keen on – longer than average, waisted and flared.’
So, this dynamic pairing joined forces. Nutter gay and Sexton married with a new baby, opened their own shop ‘Nutter’s’ on Valentines Day 1969 at 35a Savile Row, financially backed by Cilla Black, her husband Bobby and Peter Brown, long-time assistant to Beatles manager Brian Epstein, and Tommy’s lover.
These ‘new kids on the block’ hit the ground running with The Beatles, Elton John, Twiggy and her then partner Justin de Villeneuve, all being regular visitors to the premises.
Sexton – ‘You couldn’t orchestrate what happened with us. Lots of things happened to us that were a total fluke. The Beatles crossing the road in suits we’d made (for them) on the Abbey Road album cover – who could have orchestrated that bit of PR?’
Amazingly, in those less media savvy days, it appears no one had actually discussed the clothes they were wearing for the photo shoot. They just turned up and wore what they had on that day.
Sexton – ‘London was changing, you had the King’s Road, Carnaby Street, a lot of new money around, rock stars, but even people with money couldn’t necessarily find the quality they were looking for. Particularly the musicians – they were very artistic and talented, not just in their music but in other ways. They just wanted to have nicer, better quality clothing. In any business you need finders, minders and grinders to make it all really flow and work. Tommy was the finder – he was very social and had great connections. I’d term myself as the minder and the grinder. I ran the workshop, I did the cutting, I did the fitting. You’d have The Beatles, you’d have Elton John, you’d have Mick Jagger, you’d have Bianca, Yoko and John Lennon, and they’re all coming in and out like it’s a club. That was the initial kick of the business. But then we had a lot of captains of industry as well – Rupert Murdoch, Kerry Packer, Sir Paul Hamlyn – so our clientele was very mixed. They all wanted that touch of freshness and youth in their clothes, because they were young then too.’
Another way Sexton and Nutter bucked convention was by making women’s clothes, which was unheard of at the time on the Row. Then, the pair went their separate ways in 1976. A major disagreement meant Tommy left and Edward became managing director. A friend said at the time ‘Tommy was a great designer but a poor businessman while Edward was a brilliant cutter who ran the business. They had a violent argument and Tommy left.’
In 1982, Edward moved from 35a to 36–37 Savile Row and changed the name of the business to ‘Edward Sexton.’ As mentioned earlier, he was well known for cutting and making for women, and that heritage led in 1995, to Stella McCartney working as an apprentice with Sexton. He then assisted with her St Martins graduation show, which featured friends Kate Moss, and Naomi Campbell modelling her clothes. When she then moved to take over at the fashion brand ‘Chloe’ in 1997, Edward worked for her for a time as a consultant.
He then left Savile Row in 1990 and for many years worked out of 26 Beauchamp Place, SW3 but recently, his name is back on the Row, with a stand-alone shop situated at number 35, working alongside creative director Dominic Sebag Montefiore.
Edward – ‘I always believed in a working showroom, where the client comes in and sees and senses hand-craftsmanship going on. A suit is about so much more than dressing a person. It’s about romance and presenting an image.’
The Mumper of SE5
THE SPEAKEASY VOLUME 2 – AVAILABLE NOW
THE SPEAKEASY Volume Two by Mark Baxter (The Mumper)
Illustrations by Lewis Wharton
Foreword by Rhoda Dakar
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