About a month ago, Bene Factum of London provided me with a copy of the new book, The Savile Row Cutter: Michael Skinner – Master Tailor – in Conversation with Hormazd Narielwalla. Flipping through the first few pages, I did not know what to expect, but by the last page, I was delighted.
This book is a meticulously crafted mix of biographical details, pictures, anecdotes, memories, and of course, clothes and tailoring. Although written by Hormazd Narielwalla, the reader interprets most things through the eyes of Michael Skinner, chairman and for many years, the leading force behind the Savile Row tailoring establishment, Dege & Skinner. This informative book reveals aspects of Michael’s personal life on this famous street.
As you might expect from a Savile Row institution, the first pages of the book are dedicated to pictures of Michael Skinner’s Grant of Arms, as well as the “Family Tree” of Dege & Skinner. After Michael’s foreword, as well as a short preface by the author, the book begins with robes. Don’t be put off by this odd first choice – they aren’t just any robes, they are the coronation robes.
The Coronation Robes
J. Dege & Sons Ltd. was the first incarnation of the company we know today, and they acquired ownership of the court tailor, Wilkinson & Sons in 1939 just before the war. Back then, Mr. Wilkinson was the leading authority on court dress.
Soon after George VI died in February 1952, work on the robes for the coronation of Elizabeth II began and J. Dege was responsible for their production. Michael William George Skinner was just 18 at the time, and he assisted the Dege staff to remodel and repair robes that had long been in storage. Since coronation robes are worn so rarely, many of the gentlemen still possessed the robes of their ancestors, which could date back to 1937, 1911, 1902, and sometimes, even to the 18th century. These robes are made of crimson silk velvet with a silk lining and a trimming of ermine fur! They are worn over the uniforms, morning suits or velvet court suits. Depending on the title of the wearer, the robes indicated rank with rows of fur, ranging from 4 rows for a Duke to two rows for a Baron. Considering the delicate materials, as well as the age of these garments, it does not come as a surprise that they needed some repairs and some robes even had to be tailored from scratch! Since I had never read anything about coronation robes before, I thought this was quite an intriguing start.
In the second chapter, we learn about Michael’s early career and apprenticeship stages, beginning with the Tailor & Cutter Academy. At this point, one might expect an end to training, however, in the tailoring trade one never stops learning!
The Breeches & Body Coats
The third chapter revolves around breeches, jodhpurs and hunting coats. Even as a young boy, Michael Skinner did not have the most symmetrical body and so he started riding in order to strengthen his muscles. This represented the beginning of a life-long passion that lead not only to a professional specialization in riding clothes, but also to an interest that he shared with his wife Marcella.
The chapter continues with quite a bit of information about breeches and jodhpurs, which were nicely illustrated with pictures from the Dege & Skinner’s archives.
The fourth chapter is developed around body coats and covers such garments as morning coats, tailcoats, and red hunting coats. Moreover, Michael shares a number of anecdotes and explains how he first came to the US in order to measure and fit clients.
Trump Tower & Royal Warrants
In the fifth and sixth chapters, we learn about Michael’s early life in the military and how these experiences helped to develop a strong military tailoring branch at Dege. The specialty eventually led to tailoring the wedding uniform of Captain Mark Phillips (to Princess Anne) and the uniforms of the “guards” at the Trump Tower in NYC in the seventies. Along the way, he made many friends and started tailoring for the Sultan of Oman, the King of Bahrain, His Majesty King Harald V of Norway, and eventually for Queen Elizabeth.
Dege & Skinner Bespoke And RTW
Chapter seven discusses the transition of the formerly traditional bespoke tailoring establishment, Dege & Skinner, into a multifaceted company with classic bespoke suits and a ready-to-wear line in Japan. The company’s name officially changed to Dege & Skinner in 2000. Michael Skinner’s honors, such as Master of the Merchant Tailors, and his accomplishments at the Royal Warrant Holders association are also highlighted.
The book concludes with a chapter dedicated to his late wife and an epilogue. Overall, this detailed biography should be very interesting to anyone who is interested in tailoring in general, and the trade behind it. In particular, you will learn a lot about specialized kinds of clothing that don’t often receive much coverage in the modern day. If you read this article up to this point, chances are you will like this book!
It seems like this book is not yet available in the US through platforms like Amazon, but you can order it directly from the publisher Bene Factum Publishing Ltd for £25. Also, it is available at select places like Dege & Skinner on Savile Row.