Terence Stamp On The Man Who Dressed The Sixties

The Oscar-nominated actor on the meaning of a great suit, and the tailor who makes it 

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The importance of a really well-cut suit is the first impression it makes. It’s the measure of a man, isn’t it? Before you hear a man speak you notice the suit.

You’ve got to have a suit that you feel good in. And you might get lucky, so you’ve always got to wear a suit that you feel good taking off. You must be able to get out of a suit if you get into mischief.

I learned a lot from my dad. Although he was a stoker – so he was a real working-class labourer – he was very, very fussy about what he wore. He’d have to save up to get something nice. What I got from him was that it’s better to have one thing that’s good rather than a load of things that are only half decent.

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I heard his mother was a big drinker. She would pawn his clothes and shoes so he bought a padlock for his wardrobe door. My memories of him, curiously, are of when he was dressed to go out: if there was a family wedding or it was Christmas or something. I was particularly struck by a gabardine single-breasted suit he used to wear. A lot of my ideas about clothes in general – how to buy or wear them – were from my dad.

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I must have been about 17 when I first had a made-to-measure suit. I guess I picked up the vocabulary because I seem to remember talking about the pitch of the sleeve, which I thought was very important to the whole shoulder thing. I noticed very early on that very few people had great shoes; if you’re on the train and you look at men’s footwear it’s just rubbish.

My idols like Gary Cooper always had wonderful shoes. Obviously, I care less about clothes now – it was mainly about looking good for work, jobs and women, stuff like that – but if I need to get dressed the shoes are the first decision and then I choose the outfit. Style is about how you feel. It has to start with that. If I’ve got uncomfortable shoes on that’s all I think about. That’s a huge distraction. The present – the moment – is about getting out of these tight shoes.

When I first got proper money after I’d made my first movie, I started searching around for a shoemaker because my right foot was always about half a size bigger and a different shape. Well, not a completely different shape, but enough for shoes never to fit properly. I discovered George Cleverley, who’d made shoes for Gary Cooper. When he was 15, he’d made button-up boots for Rudolph Valentino in Blood and Sand. He had a letter from him, which he showed me, thanking him for the boots. I thought, “He’s my man.” So he added Terence to his list of Cooper, Bogart, Churchill and the other people that he shod.

Doug Hayward was the apprentice to a guy called Dimi Major, who was a great tailor in Fulham. Doug was his star pupil, and he wanted to start on his own. I got to know him. He told me that he was looking for premises. At the time I was living in 119A Mount Street in Mayfair, London, and I saw a dry cleaners that still had the “by appointment” transfer in the window. I said to Doug: “Look, there’s a vacant shop in Mount Street. I think that might be nice for you because it’s in Mayfair and it’s near The Connaught.” My only disappointment was that I tried to get him to keep the transfer in the window but he didn’t. 

Doug was important, really, because he introduced me to linen. I understood immediately the chicness of how linen creases; I thought that if it was beautifully cut, the fact that it creased added to the panache of it. The shop in Mount Street actually became a kind of salon. That was where Doug was years in advance of everybody else. He became more famous than a lot of the people he cut for, which had never happened before as far as I can remember.

When Doug started cutting for David Hemmings, I left him. I was having most of my suits cut in Italy then. The thing was, I’d been fired from Blow-Up [a 1966 thriller starring Vanessa Redgrave] and David Hemmings had replaced me so I took it as an affront because I was one of Doug’s oldest chums. I couldn’t believe that he was making suits for Hemmings! It was my vanity, you know what I mean?

What was really charming was that just before he died, Doug said to me: “Oh, I want to make you a suit.”

I said: “No that’s fine. I’ve got enough suits.”

He replied: “No, I want to make you a suit. It’s on me.”

That was overwhelming because Doug was extremely frugal with his customers – that was a flaw in his character. I remember once a girlfriend of his told me a story about Doug. When they were leaving the country cottage Doug went out into the garden, took down the bird feeders that were hanging in the trees and brought them back into the kitchen.

“Why are you doing that?” she said.

“Well, we’re going back to London,” he replied.

“The birds are not going back to London.”

“Fuck them. If I can’t watch them, they don’t eat!”

That was how frugal Doug was. So the fact that he wanted to cut me a suit was staggering. He made me a really, really beautiful suit. He died about six months later. That was in 2008. I thought that this suit was kind of an acknowledgement of what I had done to help him get started. I’d introduced him to everybody.

It’s still really fun for me to wear wonderful gear, but I don’t dress up much, frankly. I have a three-piece corduroy suit that I travel in because I can sleep in it on a plane. It’s the old corduroy – not the shit corduroy that you buy today. I feel extremely comfortable in that.  Most of the time, I’ll just wear Birkenstocks. It’s convenience, really. Never trainers. They’re just incredibly ugly.

I’m fit because I always wanted a long career, so I started taking care of myself early but the shape of the body changes as you get older. You start building up around the waist. There’s nothing you can do – you can’t diet it away. I’m about 12st and I guess in the Sixties I was 11 1/2st. The measurements haven’t changed that much but the shape has. I can get into my old suits but they don’t feel right any more.

Taken from the Autumn / Winter issue of the Big Black Book, Esquire’s new biannual style magazine, on sale now.

 

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