Introducing Esquire's January / February Issue

Alex Bilmes on our style heroes issue

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No! Really? You think so? Well, OK, maybe a bit. Not sure exactly: haven’t weighed myself. Sweet of you to notice, though. I mean, yeah, fewer carbs for sure. More avocados. Nope, still drinking. Exercise? Wheezy trudges round the park. Even some sinew-straining in the gym. I know! Who’d have thought it? You’re not looking too shabby yourself, by the way. What’s your secret?

So, I’ve shed some timber. Not a whole tree. Not a scary, Nigel Lawson-style, don’t-you-think-you-should-see-a-doctor weight plunge. More a George Osborne svelte-down, since we’re talking chancellors. And yes, I do know there’s a passing resemblance; and, yes, I was aware that for a while I was in danger of becoming Fat George Osborne, so dramatic was his own shrinkage; and no, that wasn’t my primary motivation for cutting out the pies. (That’s my story, anyway, and I’m sticking to it like spinach to teeth.) But looking like Gorgeous George is one thing. Looking like his portlier older brother? That, like the revolting green juice I’ve taken to forcing down most mornings, would have been hard to swallow.

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There are clear benefits to losing weight. I mean benefits beyond not looking fatter and older than the Chancellor of the Exchequer. You feel healthier, because you probably are, and more attractive, even if you’re not. The first few times it’s mentioned in public you’re pleased, in a bashful sort of way. After a while, the more often your new figure is remarked upon, the more you come to feel only that you must have been a terrible porker before, since you’re hardly Early Bowie now, and people are making such a fuss.

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You also tire of explaining how you’ve done it. For the record my fiendishly clever health regime — the patented Alex Bilmes Eat Less, Sweat More Diet — is, as the marketable title suggests, a combination of cutting out chips on toast and owning, and even occasionally wearing, running shoes.

The downside — apart from having to cut out the chips on toast and occasionally wear running shoes — is that none of my old clothes fit me. But even that can be as much opportunity as obstacle. What happens when you have to reconsider your wardrobe for the right reasons, rather than because you’ve ballooned or lost a limb in a late-night carousing incident, is that you fall in love with clothes again. They make you feel good, instead of just dressed.

Which brings us to the changing room at Kilgour, a marvel of minimalism at 5 Savile Row, London, where I am trying on suits with the help of two elegant young men — both, conveniently, called Alex. (Such is his monomaniacal attention to detail that I wouldn’t put it past Kilgour’s design maestro, Carlo Brandelli, to insist that shop staff refer to themselves by the name of the client they are at that moment serving, to make an already spoiling retail experience just that bit more agreeable.)

The last time I tried on a Kilgour suit was in the autumn of 2014, for an article in The Times heralding an innovative new garment, the multi purpose suit, which has the appearance of a business suit but the feel of a particularly luxurious tracksuit. I had agreed to put the suit to the test by wearing it first to meetings, then to a smart lunch, to be followed by an afternoon run. The joke was not on the suit, a glorious thing in softest merino wool, but on me, and The Times published the photos to prove it: yours truly “jogging” through Green Park in said suit and trainers. Reactions were — how best to put this? — not muted. (AA Gill dialled my number, laughed down the phone like a sociopath for not less than two minutes, and then hung up without a word. I didn’t have to ask why.)

That jacket was a size 42, and the waist was elasticated; it needed to be. This time I’m a 38. I tell you this not to boast — although you can send congratulations cards and gifts (nothing edible please) to the usual address — but to demonstrate my urgent need for new duds, especially for the office. A number of more recently acquired suits I have had altered but certain old favourites are so huge on me now that I appear to be paying homage to the great David Byrne in Stop Making Sense. And even my miracle-working Soho tailor is going to struggle to turn a capacious 42 into a slender 38 without sacrificing something in the line of the suit.

It’s not just about size. It’s about style, too. Kilgour’s ready-to-wear collection offers two “blocks”: the No 5 and the No 8. The 5 is the more contemporary, the jacket cut shorter and narrower, with slim lapels, no pocket flaps, fly-fronted (the button is covered) and with slimmer trousers. Very smart, but a bit “directional” for fusty old me. The 8 is hardly fogeyish, but it’s more trad, so that’s the one I try first. The Alexes will back me on this: it looks splendid.

Only to humour them, because they’re so nice (and, for the moment, so well-named) I also try the 5, in a fabric that has the appearance of textured denim, although it’s actually a wool and silk mix. Much to my surprise, I find myself taking it. It makes me feel taller, leaner, sharper — and (even) smugger than I have for years. It makes the pie-denial and the circuits of the park seem worth it. That’s what great clothes can do.

Meanwhile, a wise friend who has been thinner and fatter and points in between advises me to hang on to my roomy old clobber. Because as sure as night follows day, so binge follows purge — and I’ll need a more generous cut before too long. (I trust the MP for Tatton has done the same.) Plus it’s Christmas. You can’t avoid the occasional pie at Christmas. Probably even David Bowie has a pie at Christmas. On which note, I wish you a happy, healthy holidays. See you back here in February, in some shape or other.

Alex Bilmes, Editor-in-Chief

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