Nick Hilton Princeton
Good clothes for men and women.

A Memoir

The Present and How It Got That Way

 

Savile Row

We stay at Browns Hotel in Albemarle Street. Jennifer has loved the quaintness and the discreet atmosphere of the place ever since she took on the task of reinterpreting the look of Burberrys’ “English Lady” sportswear collections for an upper-East-Side Bloomingdales shopper, when she had to be there a lot. The rooms are cozy and the service incredible. Once we were delayed by an airline strike and we arrived at Browns, enervated and beyond exhaustion, at 3:30 on a Monday morning. In our room about two minutes, there came a knock on the door and a waitress with a full trolley of tea, hot milk and sandwiches. “Just thought you’d be needing something after such a journey,” she said, turning quickly to go, without even a hint of the Okay-it’s-tip-me-time.

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                                         I'd been on the job for a while before it occurred to me I might have something to learn, humility never having been my strong suit. So one beautiful March morning I set off from Browns for Anderson and Shepherd, Ltd., to my father’s (and my grandfather’s) way of thinking, the cat’s pajamas of tailordom. I snuck in, sort of awed by the place, on auto-pilot, really. I’d been in the business forever, pretty sure I'm an expert, but in this place I felt like a little-leaguer in Yankee Stadium. Piles of fabric bolts stacked neatly on tables and a mirror in the back. No racks, no “try-ons,” no samples to show workmanship or silhouette. It was all a matter of trust. The implication of all this was, if you had the balls to come into this place you must know what you were going to get to begin with. Mr. Nelson approached me.

            “Sir?”   

            I mumbled about never having been in before, but my grandfather blah, blah, blah. The mention of a family member’s being a customer was all it took.  With this the slight, red-haired gent started hauling away at the piles of goods to find me the right, all purpose, all-weather Anderson and Shepherd starter suit. We settled on a charcoal gray nail-head pattern from Wain Shiell. 2500 pounds sterling it was to cost, give or take. I didn’t bat an eye; too scared. I had been on the other side of the deal for long enough, telling people their Norman Hilton suit was going to cost them 2500 bucks. I knew how to play it. Flinch when he tells you the price and you take yourself out of that magical realm where you and the salesman know that the goods is worth every penny. This is the special understanding that develops between the connoisseur and the purveyor of the goods; it says The Satisfaction This Product Gives Is Worth Any Price. A wink, a nod. No problemo.

He then escorted me to the spacious measuring room, where another chap joined him and he spoke the measurements while the second guy – a notch lower down in rank, and thus, in the English mentality of class and status, not worthy of introduction – wrote the numbers Mr. Nelson spoke. And such a lot of numbers, more than just over-arm, chest, coat-waist and seat, they measured for the button placement, the ½-back width, each shoulder to the floor.

It went on and on. I paid my deposit and went home to wait.

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