The tailor who made his name dressing the luminaries of Sixties and Seventies London shares the secrets of his sartorial success

Edward Sexton in his workroom in Beauchamp Place, Knightsbridge  Picture: Dylan Thomas

Edward Sexton in his workroom in Beauchamp Place, Knightsbridge

Picture: Dylan Thomas

Born in Essex in 1942 and raised in London’s East End, Edward Sexton began his career aged 17 as an apprentice at equestrian outfitters Harry Hall on Regent Street, before graduating to Savile Row. At Nutters of Savile Row, the label he launched with fellow tailor Tommy Nutter in 1969, he dressed some of the most celebrated names of the day; the pair made the white suits Mick and Bianca Jagger wore on their wedding day, as well as those worn by Paul McCartney and John Lennon on the cover of the Beatles’ 1969 album Abbey Road. Sexton set up his own label in 1990 and continues to dress today’s biggest names, from The Rolling Stones to Mark Ronson and Tinie Tempah.

Mick and Bianca Jagger in the white wedding suits made for them by Sexton and his business partner Tommy Nutter

Mick and Bianca Jagger in the white wedding suits made for them by Sexton and his business partner Tommy Nutter

My father told me, "Edward, always have a trade. When you have a trade in your hand, you’re your own master." Developing a skill allowed me to be independent, to think freely and clearly. 

I always had a passion for clothing. One of my cousins was a trouser maker and I’d go to his workroom and help during the school holidays. I couldn’t wait to become a teenager because then you were allowed to wear long trousers at school and I knew I could tailor them. It was the Fifties Teddy Boy era so I narrowed the legs of my baggy grey flannel trousers.

Working as a commis waiter at the Waldorf Hotel in Covent Garden when I left school made me aspirational. You’d see all these people coming in from the theatre in the evenings, dressed wonderfully. And I was seeing food I had never seen before; smoked salmon, caviar. I wanted a bit of that for myself.

I moved into tailoring at a company in the East End and learnt that Savile Row was the pinnacle. I kept hearing about "Savile Row", and how they did everything by hand. I decided that if this was going to be my trade, I’d better train to be the best I could. I responded to an advert in the Tailor & Cutter magazine and got my first job at Harry Hall, where I learnt the art of "outdoor tailoring" – riding coats, jackets, etc.

Tommy and I met when I was working in Burlington Arcade. When we launched in 1969 we were the first new company to open a shop on Savile Row in 100 years. This was post war: the King’s Road was happening, Carnaby Street was happening. We had display windows – no one else did at that time – and gradually what we were doing caught on. Curtains came down, heavy oak doors were opened. We were a breath of fresh air.

We picked up on the mood of the times. Our silhouettes were different: nipped-in waists, wide lapels, wide legs. We had a big rock-star following, and although our clothes looked modern they were created in the Savile Row tradition – hand-canvassed and handmade.

I’m hugely proud of the number of youngsters I’ve trained. I’ve given them skills so they too have a trade. They can feed their families and keep a roof over their heads – and produce beautiful work, of course.

I came from a Cockney background, and I found a lot of snobbery in Savile Row. A cutter once told me that my voice was "like a rasp upon his ears", which hurt deeply, but another took me aside and said, "people will come to you for clothes, not for elocution lessons".

I wanted my own identity, not to just be known as Nutters of Savile Row, so I launched my own brand. It was like a divorce in a way, but I knew that if I didn’t I’d regret it forever.

To make a beautiful suit is one thing. To make it come to life is another. A lot of people don’t have a clue about how wide a cuff should be, or the finer points of dress, so often it’s about educating the client – they should wear the garment, not the other way around.

It’s important to understand the basics of running a business. I took my eye off the ball once when I did a deal with Saks Fifth Avenue. It didn’t work out and I got burned.

Paul McCartney has worn my suits for years, so when he mentioned that his daughter Stella was going to Central Saint Martins to study fashion, I said she needed to get an old-fashioned apprenticeship. She came to work with me and proved very diligent. I helped on her first collection and went with her to Paris in the early weeks to work on Chloé. Seeing how a big fashion house in Paris was run was one of the highlights of my career.

I don’t think I’ve ever really "worked" a day in my life because it’s been such a joy. I’m very grateful that I’m still here, loving what I do. It’s not a job, it’s a passion. 

Source:     Photo: Dylan Thomas