CEO Letter | Last night a DJ saved my life
At next Monday evening’s Walpole British Luxury Awards, the dress code will be black tie for the very first time in 17 years. For me, black tie is as essential to a celebration as champagne and diamonds so as we gather to fete the great, the good and the glamorous of the British luxury sector, it’s not so much a case of why, as why didn’t we decide to do this sooner? And who could disagree that a dinner jacket makes every man look impossibly suave and debonair?
It was with Savile Row legend, Angus Cundey of Henry Poole, one of the founding fathers of Walpole, that the idea of upgrading the Awards dress code was first conceived: over lunch this summer, Angus told me of how, in 1865, the Prince of Wales, asked his tailor and friend, Henry Poole, to make him a short evening coat to wear at informal dinners at Sandringham. This royal evening coat became the blueprint for a new universal standard in men’s evening dress that quickly became known in England as the dinner jacket. I like to think this is one of luxury’s great contributions to society, not to mention a brilliant innovation, so as we gather to celebrate the inventors, innovators, entrepreneurs and creatives in British luxury in 2018, please take particular note of our Awards host, Jason Isaacs, who will be wearing a Henry Poole dinner jacket, and ponder the origins of such an iconic piece of kit.
Today’s luxury sumptuary laws seem almost more complicated than they were for the future Edward VII, over a century ago. The casualisation of luxury, prompted by the rise and rise of streetwear, has made men’s formal evening wear increasingly nuanced. A cursory Google search of red carpet images throws up a selection of impossibly ritzy jackets; diverse interpretations of the black bow tie (including ‘no tie’ – really, too transgressive); black shirts (less Mosley than it suggests); a shorts-suit (not worn by ACDC’s Angus Young but oddly reminiscent of him), and countless sneakers. Each variation aims to signal the status of its wearer as someone discerning, or creative, or maverick or just plain cool enough not to have to conform. I’m all for people looking to test the formal codes of luxury by making their own statement – and British luxury is known for making the rules and then breaking them, but equally, as all the red carpet pictures of Colin Firth will attest, black tie is the apotheosis of British style when every convention is adhered to.
That being said, I’m tempted to ring Fitzdares to place a bet that at least 10% of luxury’s leaders will sport sneakers with their dinner jackets – luxury has taken the trainer to its bosom – according to a recent study into the casualisation of luxury by Boston Consulting Group and Altagamma, 78%of luxury shoe customers felt that sneakers can be luxury goods, and 83% of those were prepared to spend more than 300 euro on a pair. No wonder the market for sneakers grew 10% last year to 3.5 billion euro. Of course, for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction, so for those who find luxe-casual either unthinkable or just too mainstream, may I recommend Church’s Whaley Patent or Whitham Velvet dress shoes, Edward Green’s Carnegie, or their Royal Albert slippers in navy velvet, or something bold in a vivid hue from Manolo Blahnik’s new men’s collection on Burlington Arcade.
Do women have it easier when it comes to getting dressed up? Perhaps we just have more choice – the little-black-dress can still take us from desk to dinner with the addition of shinier jewellery, accessories and more glamorous make-up, but equally, one can go the whole hog. I adore dressing up so on 19th November, I will be firmly in the latter camp in an uber-glamorous floor-length Temperley frock, having madly coveted the Temperley number worn by Catherine Zeta-Jones at the Awards last year.
I’m looking forward to seeing British luxury look its finest – as Harry Winston apparently once said, “People will stare. Make it worth their while.”
The Walpole British Luxury Awards will be held at The Dorchester on 19th November 2018. Dress code: Black tie.