While in London recently, I had the opportunity to meet Eric Musgrave, the author of the book sharp suits and all around a very interesting person.Although his book was published a couple of years ago, I would like to review it today, because it is written from a very English perspective and is overall very valuable due to its uniquely specific focus. Our standard copy was provided by Pavilion.
First, I want to introduce Eric Musgrave.
In the past, Eric has worked for Drapers, Men’s Wear, Fashion Weekly, International Textiles from Amsterdam (publisher of the magazine SIR), and Milan-based Sportswear International. In addition, he has written for a number of other publications, including Financial Times, Vogue and The Observer.
He has also been featured on BBC productions. Below, you can watch one of his recent performances in the show The Perfect Suit.
Sharp Suits –Book Review
When I held the book in my hands for the first time, I immediately enjoyed the large format as well as the rather flashy green color accents. Among its roughly 200 pages, the book has many outstanding large-format pictures, but unlike the Anderson & Sheppard book or Gary Cooper-Enduring Style, the 25,000 word text is not just an accessory to the photos, but rather they are an essential component of Sharp Suits.
After the foreword by Richard James and an introduction by Eric Musgrave, the first chapter is dedicated to the single breasted suit. Ironically, it begins with Musgrave sharing a story about a double breasted glencheck suit he ordered at Burton’s in 1983 that the suit-department manager insisted could only be made into a single breasted coat because it was a sports-jacket fabric.
The History Of The Suit
In the following, we learn about the beginnings of the lounge suit in the 1860’s, developments during the Victorian and Edwardian times until WWI, followed by the roaring 20’s and 30’s. He quickly moves to WWII, the Teddy Boys, and the 60’s Elvis. Chapter two is formally dedicated to double breasted suits, but you will see many pictures of single breasted suits as well. Overall, the first two chapters basically explain the history of the suit and its evolution through the decades.
Princes Among Men
Chapter 3 is titled ‘Princes Among Men’ and is probably my favorite because Musgrave knows so much about the English suits. We learn that Edward VII was a great admirer of simplifying things, and instead of keeping the habit of changing four times a day, he introduced the ‘shooting suit during the day and evening dress at night’ rule. Other than that, we all know what a clothes horse the Duke of Windsor was, but most do not know that he considered himself as a living trade enhancer tasked with increasing the export of British (clothing) goods.
The Italian Job
In Chapter 4 – The Italian Job – Musgrave recalls how the men’s textile industry was organized in the 1970s and 1980s. The single most prominent name back then was Turin based Gruppo Finanzario Tessile or for short, GFT. In its heyday, GFT produced suits for Armani, Valentino, Féraud, Calvin Klein, and Joseph Abboud among others, in one of their 18 manufacturing units employing more than 10,000 people.
Chapter 5 focuses on the American suit, explaining the history of the sack suit, Brooks Brothers, Hart Schaffner Marx and Hickey Freeman. But he also does not neglect to mention the famously oversized zoot suits, Puff Daddy, the American Presidents , Ralph Lauren, Frank Sinatra and Mad Men.
Subsequently, we learn about the French designers from the 1960’s such as Christian Dior, Pierre Cardin, and Yves Saint Laurent, but also less famous names such as Féruch. Later he also discusses LVMH, Givenchy, Gaultier, Hedi Slimane etc.
After a brief intermezzo about the Dormeuil suits and their exquisite Tonik cloth, Musgrave dedicates a chapter to suits in the world of music. In order to make a statement, band leaders and performers often choose very extraordinary suits and so we see Elvis in his glittering gold suit, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, James Brown, The Beatles in their unique suits, and of course David Bowie’s signature looks with his paradisaical suits.
The very last chapter is all about suits in the movies, in which Mr. Musgrave provides a quick synopsis of the suit developments from the 1920’s up until today
The book is summarized using a very good timeline that quickly illustrates the evolution of the suit from the 1900’s to 2000.
Overall, Eric Musgrave’s book Sharp Suits provides a very good overview of the development of the suit in the last 150 years. The book is at all times interesting, and the large format illustrations and photographs really help to understand the broad spectrum of the suit.