St John’s nose-to-tail wardrobe
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I’m having lunch at St John in Smithfield to mark the union of two iconic British brands. The pioneering nose-to-tail restaurant and men’s outfitter Drake’s have collaborated on a clothing collection. How did St John by Drake’s come about? “Well, how about we order first?” says St John co-founder Trevor Gulliver who beckons the waiter over and requests the St John greatest hits. Plus a bottle of Déclassifié Pauillac 2018 Bordeaux.
It seems it all started a few years ago when St John co-founder Fergus Henderson went for a fitting at Drake’s on Savile Row. “I love having a suit made,” he reports as we tuck into a spread of beetroot, red cabbage and crème fraîche salad, Welsh rarebit, roasted bone marrow, whole crab and mince on beef dripping toast. “What a joy to have one’s buttons done up with such surgical precision.” Drake’s creative director Michael Hill remembers being struck by Henderson’s savvy. “A lot of customers need you to lead them,” he says. “Fergus knows exactly what he wants.” In this case, seersucker in blue and white stripes. Henderson was succeeded on a visit by his business partner Gulliver. He came away with a blue cotton-linen suit. Shortly afterwards, the three had lunch at St John. More lunches followed. And at some point, over plates of roasted bone marrow and whole crab, the idea of a clothing collaboration was born. No one remembers precisely when, as a lot of wine was consumed. Speaking of which, shall we have a top-up?
Hill is wont to say that the venture has been 20 years in the making. That’s how long he’s been coming to St John with his father, Charles Hill, and Michael Drake who co-founded Drake’s in 1977. The Drake’s factory used to be a few doors up. “Naturally, you go to places that are local but also where you feel you fit in,” he says. The companies share values including reverence for the best ingredients and materials. “St John is classic and comfortable but never staid,” says Hill. “I hope that’s how we’ve always approached what we do.”
The obvious reference points for the collection were Henderson and Gulliver, who each have their own look. Brooks Brothers shirts are a shared predilection. “We used to visit the store in New York once a year and buy a dozen shirts – generally white, maybe the odd pink one – with boxer shorts,” says Gulliver. Henderson remembers the saleswoman eyeing him up on each return visit. “Oh, did I see you here last year?” he mimics.
Gulliver is also fond of knitted ties and classic shoes (“all handmade by Ducker & Son of the Turl in Oxford, now sadly closed”). He wears jeans too, while Henderson – despite what he calls his “laidback” style – would not. Henderson favours Margaret Howell suits and Crockett & Jones brogues. He also owns a lot of shirts and trousers from his late architect father. “My dad was very well-dressed,” he says. “I think I inherited a love of dressing up from him.” His trademark remains his bleu de travail jackets and striped suits, the first of which was made for him by a former St John barman called Angelo and cut from apron cloth. “I think of a good suit as my armour,” he says.
These signatures were the starting point for two chore jackets (£495) in the new collection. They feature white pin buttons that remove for easy laundering and two large interior pockets, which Hill says are “perfect for storing a bottle of wine, a loaf of bread or giant root vegetable from the market”. It’s like they read my mind. Another hero piece, the Tasting Gilet is a riff on the waistcoat Gulliver wears for wine tastings. It contains ample pockets for notepads, corkscrews, glasses and handkerchiefs for mopping up. Henderson is also a fan of hankies. “I keep about four on me at a time,” he says, pulling out one in bright pink polka dots. “One for your brow. One for your nose. One for handing to a lady.” And the fourth? “Good to keep one up your sleeve,” he chuckles. The collection includes four bandana-sized squares in different colours emblazoned with a flying version of St John’s famous pig.
In addition, there are sweatshirts with “SNIFFING” across the front and a wine-drinking drake on the back (£195), lambswool jumpers (£395), shirts (£175), totes (£125), caps (£75), badges (£20 for three) and a vide poche (£95). The blue-and-white-striped trousers mooted early on didn’t make the cut, but Hill is glad other pieces did. “There’s a long-sleeved T-shirt in pink and yellow we were concerned was not commercial. But Fergus said, ‘We need it. It’s different. It’s alive.’” Dessert time: treacle tart and pear-and-almond Eton mess (demolished in seconds). Could we please have some of those famous baked-to-order madeleines as well?
Over coffee, Hill informs me Henderson has been back to Drake’s for another suit, which might inspire a future collaboration. “This is a trickier sell,” Hill admits. The latest suit has Henderson’s emblematic stripes, but this time horizontal not vertical. “Fergus calls it his jail suit.” What next? Diagonal stripes? “Too messy,” snorts Henderson. There he draws the line.