High end tailoring has always looked good on women; yet, despite Marlene Dietrich’s 1930s forays in top hat and trousers, and Yves Saint Laurent’s game changing Le Smoking tuxedo in the sixties, up to now the bastions of the art of tailoring – the artisans of Jermyn Street and Savile Row – were only available to English gentlemen in search of a well-cut suit. But not any more. In her collaboration with famed Jermyn Street tailor New & Lingwood, Alex Eagle is bringing the fit and function of tailored menswear to women with a capsule collection of smoking jackets, covert coats, dressing gowns and velvet slippers. The collaboration comes with a unique angle, as Alex is less interested in androgyny than in the psychology of how men dress.
“Menswear has a strong focus on fabric and cut, it’s less about seasonality. It’s smart, easy and uncomplicated. As women, when we shop we can be quite erratic, buying things because they’re fashionable or in vogue. Men buy the trousers that suit and fit them, cashmere jumpers, one great jacket – a uniform basically.”
Alex takes issue with the breakneck pace of modern fashion. Items appear on catwalks, transfer immediately to red carpets and become overfamiliar before they even arrive in store. Enormous sums are therefore being paid for pieces that will be old news within a month. It is an unsustainable cycle, and she has noted something of a backlash.
“People want things that are actually worth the money you are asking for them. With menswear, the bang for your buck isn’t in the pattern or the obvious status symbol of it, it’s in the fabric and the fit and the longevity. They are things you feel you can shove on every day that make you look smart and feel comfortable.”
So for Alex, adapting menswear for women wasn’t simply a question of sizing down particular items but also about adopting the values of how the Jermyn Street man dresses – thoughtfully, with an eye for the quality of cut and fabric, ease and flexibility, for items that will stand the test of time. For this there was one natural destination. New & Lingwood has a long history – founded in 1865 as the official uniform suppliers for Eton College, the company bought their first premises in Jermyn Street in 1922, and now have two stores bridging the end of the Piccadilly Arcade. They are a vibrant voice in tailoring, blending a classic English heritage style with a spark of eccentricity. Alex has shopped there for years.
“It’s colourful and accessible, both really old school and very warm and inviting, classic tailoring as well as lovely bright cashmere blankets, scarves and dressing gowns. There’s humour at New & Lingwood, it doesn’t feel too serious – that’s why they were the perfect people to work with.”
The brand took some persuasion. This was the first collaboration in their 150-year history, and certainly the first time they had considered creating womenswear. But marketing director Simon Maloney was excited from the start:
“The idea of taking in the best bits of menswear and presenting it on a woman, marrying the fairly classic with the very feminine to create that sort of elegant androgyny – I thought it was very brave and brilliant. Persuading our owner was tricky, but once he met Alex, all was settled.”
The items chosen for recalibration include smoking jackets, dressing gowns and velvet slippers, and all required different attention. While some – like the slippers – could simply be sized down to fit a woman’s foot, others – like the jackets – needed more work. According to Simon:
“People do try and oversimplify it. Try and do menswear for women without changing the proportion, and it just ends up looking like you’ve borrowed something that isn’t yours. Whereas the way Alex has done it, they look like pieces that somebody bought for exactly that purpose, as well as being something true to the New & Lingwood style and standards.”
This for Alex is the entire point of collaboration:
“Of course, in an ideal world, I’d do everything myself. But I can’t, so instead of trying to imitate, I go to the originators, the people who did it first and best. New & Lingwood have been making things for so long, for decades, so why not go to them for their tried and tested shapes, fabrics, factories and expertise? Why copy, when you can collaborate?”
In Alex, New & Lingwood have also found a unique expertise as well as opening up a new audience. Simon says:
“The reason we took the leap of faith was because Alex has a vision and a taste that matches ours as a brand, and the results have brought a new life, exposure to a younger customer who we wouldn’t normally have access to, but one that still shares our values – a confident and sophisticated individual with excellent taste.”
For Alex, at its core the collaboration is about introducing the less-is-more attitude from classic men’s styling into how women dress. This way, she says:
“You don’t get bored of things because they are lovely fabrics, they suit your figure and you can dress them up with lipstick or great jewellery. The idea is that if you have great bones you can embellish from there.“There will always be a trend for the fun branded things – Moschino, Stella McCartney, people aren’t going to stop wanting them because they are fun, they are art. But there is another customer who wants to make their money go somewhere, towards pieces that will last and look expensive, and always feel good.”