Mr. Eric Musgrave author of “Sharp Suits” is one of the most famous fashion journalist. Former Editor of Drapers, FHM, Fashion Weekly and Men’s Wear is presently a freelance consultant in writer&fashion after being CEO of UK Fashion & Textile Association in 2010. His fashion opinions were appreciated by readers of Vogue, Esquire, The Sunday Times, The Independent on Sunday and Financial Times. Now in a Claymoor exclusive interview he will share his toughs about Man fashion and his shoe preferences along with some very interesting memories about the beginning of his career in journalism.
How did you become e journalist and from where this passion for fashion?
When I was a child in Leeds I wanted to be a teacher. By the time I was on my way to Hull University in 1973 to do a BA Degree in History, I did not want to be a teacher any more. When I decided to start a career, journalism seemed very attractive as I had always enjoyed writing. My first serious position was as a junior reporter on Drapers Record, the leading fashion industry weekly magazine. I started on 28 January 1980. Since my late teenage years I had had an interest in fashion, but I wouldn’t say that Leeds’ tailoring background was consciously an important influence. I just liked dressing up and still like dressing up today.
You wrote a very interesting book about suits entitle “Sharp Suits”. What do you consider to be the major changes in Man suites from Belle Époque until today?
In many ways there have been remarkable few changes in men’s suits over the past 100 years. I have written the foreword to MENSWEAR by Tom Phillips, a recently published book that brings together 200 vintage picture postcards from about 1900 to 1950. The silhouettes of the early 20th century look very familiar to us in the early 21st century. But of course, there have been huge advances in the quality and precision of factory-made clothes with the resulting and inevitable decline of the bespoke tailoring tradition. Cloths are much lighter and softer than those of 100 years ago. The most obvious change has been in the role of the suit – it used to be the almost universal uniform of respectability in society. Now many, many men do not even own a suit.
In terms of style what era you admire the most and why?
I like equally the 1930s, ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s. In each decade there was a distinctive style and swagger among well-dressed men.
How do you appreciate the increasing role of functionality in Men fashion? Do you think that we will end up in the next not so many years wearing Star Trek uniforms or do you give a chance to classic outfits?
To some people’s eyes, it’s remarkable that we are wearing so many old-fashioned styles. There is a great interest in classic heritage styles, especially for men. There are many interesting developments in so-called “performance fabrics” – cloths can be enhanced with nano-technology, anti-microbial chemicals, stain-resistant treatments, rain-proofing and so on. These seem like good ideas to me. Many of the most technical advances are seen in active sportswear and casual wear I think it is interesting that technical advances, such as Gore-tex linings, are sometimes “invisible”. I have some ready-made suits in modern “performance” or “travel” fabrics that I am very pleased with.
Many say that Dandyism is dead. Do you agree with this opinion?
Dandies are noticed because they are rare birds. I know quite a few flamboyant dressers, but if they don’t exist in the menswear business, where would they exist? I would agree, however, that many men are happy looking like their colleagues and peers – they actively do not wish to look different. A Dandy wants to look different.
What is the most annoying trend that you noticed lately?
I interviewed the great textile designer and menswear innovator Nino Cerruti at the beginning of this year. He remarked to me that while he was pleased that many of the old rigid rules on dress etiquette had been relaxed, one result is that we have never lived before in a time when ugliness seems to be so acceptable. I detest those low-slung jeans and other casual trousers that reveal the wearer’s underclothes. How depressing.
In terms of style do you follow the rule or improvise?
I do both. It’s all a question of interpretation. A shirt and tie combination can be deadly dull or imaginatively striking. I am sure most of my friends would say I improvise.
Lately we’ve witnessed the effect of Crises. For example in Eastern Europe the shoemakers do their jobs with great efforts. How do you think the bespoke industry will stand in the next years? Does Bespoke have a future?
In recent years in the UK there has been a better appreciation of handcraft, artisanship and the bespoke industries. Of course, things that take a long time to make, using fine raw materials, result in high prices. People, however, should consider the value of hand-made goods rather than the price. I am reasonable optimistic about the future of true bespoke industries although they do rely on a very tiny minority of necessarily wealthy clients.
There was recently a Savile Row protest against the opening of Abercrombie & Fitch store. How can we protect this kind of historical areas against the Mall aggression?
I am not sure we can. There needs to be an understanding that a historic handcraft trade requires a concentration of its practitioners in one place, along with the suppliers that provide the raw materials like cloth and trimmings. New arrivals like Abercrombie, the kids’ chain of Abercrombie & Fitch, only want to come to Savile Row because of its historic upmarket connotations, yet its appearance actually threatens Savile Row’s future as A&F can afford much higher rent than a bespoke tailor.
I know that you have an impressive collection of shirts. What shirt maker do you prefer and what style do you wear the most?
My first choice of classic shirt is usually Hilditch & Key, especially its ready-made slim-fitting style with a cutaway collar.
In terms of shoes what style do you prefer the most and why?
I prefer classic Northampton-made Goodyear-welted styles, even though they are very heavy by the standards of modern footwear. I like the substantial masculine quality of these shoes. I am keen on rubber soles like Dainite or Vibram these days as it rains a lot in England.
Who is your no.1 shoemaker from your point of view?
I do not have a particular favorite, but I enjoy my shoes from Church, Joseph Cheaney, Trickers, Jeffery-West and Ermenegildo Zegna (made by Ferragamo). For more casual shoes, I like Oliver Sweeney and Hope for Men (by English designer Emma Hope). I very much like my Red Wing boots from the USA for winter casual wear at the weekends. As I have two dogs that need walking at least twice a day, I am most usually seen in Hunter wellingtons at this time of year.
What leathers do you prefer for the shoe calf, suede, exotic or cordovan?
I have very catholic tastes, but in the UK light-colored shoes are always difficult to keep looking good. A substantial country brogue in calf from Cheaney – made for the now-defunct Lodger shop in Mayfair – is my current favorite style. I have a very pleasing pair of casual sneakers from Oliver Sweeney that are made of thin strips of eel skin. It’s a very soft and flexible fabric.
What Man fashion brand do you consider to be at present time under rated and deserve more publicity?
There are so many good British businesses around that get very little publicity because they are not big advertisers in the so-called style magazines. I particularly like the accessories firm Penrose London and the UK bag company Cherchbi. Drake’s London is another favorite for accessories. As I work from my house for much of the time and need to be comfortable while I am writing, I am wearing a lot of excellent knitwear from Hawick Cashmere and Johnstons Cashmere (which is also made in Hawick, Scotland’s cashmere capital) at the moment.
What future plans do you have in terms of writing?
Writing is my living. I plan to keep earning a living through writing, mainly features for magazines and websites. I’d love to do another book, about Made-in-the UK menswear brands, if someone will pay me enough.
As Leeds being your childhood town please tell my readers three distinctive places that they must see in Leeds
I have not lived in Leeds since 1974, but I can recommend a viewing of the Victorian edifice of Leeds Town Hall, the famous statue of the medieval Black Prince in City Square, and Elland Road, home ground of my beloved Leeds United football club.
Pictures courtesy of Mr. Musgrave.