Carlo Brandelli rejoins Kilgour with plans to update Savile Row's style
"Would you like to come back and finish what you started?" was the question Carlo Brandelli was asked last year by the new Hong Kong owners of Savile Row tailor Kilgour. What Brandelli had started, rather controversially before he resigned in 2009, was shaking up the Row by creating a modernised, pared-back version of a suit.
"I have always been quite progressive in Savile Row, and I think that is what it needs," says Brandelli, a statement that sounds safe enough, until he adds: "French couture houses have been progressive for 30 years, but I don't think Savile Row has moved forward."
Brandelli, whose latest line for Kilgour has just launched on MrPorter.com thinks the tailors are stuck in a heritage rut. Recalling the conversation with the owners, No. 14 Savile Row, a subsidiary of Fung Capital (of Li & Fung), he says they told him: "We think what you were doing, which is taking Savile Row in a more contemporary direction but keeping the craft at the heart, is the correct way forward."
The tailor is sitting in George, a private member's club in London's Mayfair, wearing one of his seminal designs, a one-button fly-fronted suit with a turtleneck sweater.
Along with shaking up the idea of bespoke, and bringing his distinctive style back to Savile Row, Brandelli decided to announce his return with a short video illustrating his design philosophy on photographer Nick Knight's SHOWstudio.com website.
He also launched his comeback ready-to-wear collection globally on MrPorter.com This is all part of his progressive thinking, and has instilled Kilgour with the air of an international brand.
"Savile Row should be elegant, quiet and discreet, not showy," says Brandelli. "The men attracted to brands like Kilgour think and contemplate. So what we do is about intelligence and thought."
He describes his current project as taking another look at jeans - not your usual Savile Row product - and bringing craftsmanship and tailoring to a denim product. "Bespoke is at the heart of everything we do, but we will transfer more technique and ideas to the ready-to-wear," he says.
He started this process in 2004, a year after he joined the tailors, by creating an elegant, streamlined style with a strong shoulder and defined shape that uses bespoke techniques to create something he calls "unstructured" for Kilgour's suiting. It caught the eye of the menswear editors who retain all their Kilgour pieces, and won fans like actors Daniel Craig and Jude Law, actors who wouldn't normally consider the Row as an option.
This blend of cool elegance and longevity is why Mr Porter agreed to show the return collection, which includes fly-fronted lounge suits, a mohair/wool tuxedo, fly-fronted shirts, scarves and T-shirts.
"I think Carlo's level of taste is still relevant today - in fact, I know people who still wear pieces dating back pre-2009, myself included," says Mr Porter's buying director, Toby Bateman. "Hopefully, it will appeal to both existing Kilgour fans and a whole new audience," he adds.
What makes Kilgour stand out, Bateman says, is the cut. "Cut is key. A lot of men consider 'designer' suits to be too slim fitting, and a Savile Row, off-the-peg at least, to be too old-fashioned. The sweet spot is that vague area in between these two that lets a man wear the suit with a tie to the office, and then change his shirt for a fine-gauge roll-neck before going out to dinner."
Savile Row has an international appeal due to its heritage - Kilgour was founded in 1882. "But in the past, there hasn't been the modern product to go along with the myth," explains Brandelli.
The Row's Asian customers are interested in the past, and they are very specific about the information they want, "which is really refreshing because there is still a hunger there for style and Savile Row stands for style," he says.
Brandelli regards Asia as very modern and pioneering. "Progressive thinking is commonplace in Asia and that is exactly the sort of person that we want. Someone that is contemporary in his thinking and also appreciates quality."