The proprietor of Chelsea Menswear emporium Oliver Brown – which has provided attire for Sam Smith and Damian Lewis, and is a former official supplier of formalwear for Team GB at the Sochi Winter Olympics and a licensee to Royal Ascot – is a passionate ambassador for classic British tailoring.
Offering ready-to-wear and made-to-measure as well as a unique bespoke service which fuses the very best of Italian and English traditions with its own special twist, his establishment is a jewel in London’s tailoring crown. (It’s also a repository of sartorial intrigue: next time you’re there, ask to see the tiny basement room in which a painstakingly curated collection of Ascot-friendly top hats, dating back to the 19th Century, are kept.)
Here, Ferner talks cuts, career catalysts and catering for emerging menswear mavens.
Why does the world look upon Britain – along with Italy and France – as a style hotspot?
Savile Row was the very first street in the world to become famous for bespoke tailoring. Beau Brummell was iconic as the first dandy who changed the way people dressed forever, and really put Britain on the map for being stylish. Savile Row grew and evolved from people wanting to be understatedly stylish and, therefore, needing bespoke to achieve that look.
Modern Italian dressing, such as the construction of a short trouser and jacket styled with a cardigan, influences so much of men’s fashion. Even the classic houses are seeing that influence. At Oliver Brown we don’t follow fashion as closely. Where we do take heed of trends is through the fabrics, patterns and colourways that we build into our collections.
Is there a tailor you most admire on the planet and why?
I believe our own third-generation master tailor, Juan Carlos, is the best tailor in London right now. [Historically] I would say Tommy Nutter. He changed the world of tailoring, reinventing the Savile Row suit in the 1960s. He was the first tailor to really play with style whilst keeping the Savile Row mark of quality. I loved the suits he made for The Beatles – truly iconic.
How are menswear tastes and priorities changing as Gen-Y – and now even Gen-Z – gets in on the whole act?
We’re very fortunate to have Juan heading up our bespoke tailoring – he’s Gen-Y and the only master tailor in London of that generation to be as skilled as he is. Our younger customers respond really well to him. Be it ready-to-wear, made-to-order or bespoke, it’s essential that a team can understand the customers’ requirements, and support them appropriately.
Gentleman who have a classic sensibility naturally gravitate towards Oliver Brown because so many of the other brands within the market have become exclusively fashion focused. Though we do realise a younger person may want a shorter jacket and a more tapered trouser, we’re now tailoring to that also, whilst ensuring our classic cut will always remain alongside. We’re introducing a new block this Spring which will cater to the desired cut of Gen-Y and Gen-Z.
Do you recall a specific career catalyst which led you to where you are today?
There are two significant moments that I can attribute to where I am today. The first was in my teens when I purchased an antique silk top hat from a second-hand shop on London’s Portobello Road for £40. I wore it to a race meeting, and everyone was asking me about it, so I realised there must be a market for it – I took it to a shop in Jermyn Street and sold it to them for £200. That ignited my interest in racing attire, which has led to Oliver Brown having the largest independent collection of top hats, and being an Official Licensee to Royal Ascot – the world’s biggest race meeting.
The second was my decision to expand the bespoke department a few years ago. We doubled the size of the Oliver Brown store on Lower Sloane Street to incorporate a dedicated bespoke area at the forefront of the store. You can see Juan Carlos at his cutting table from the street – it’s extremely unique to see that in London.
Do you feel the nature of luxury is changing?
I think you see a lot of luxury for luxury’s sake. People are happy to pay for luxury so long as there is a perceived value. Gentleman that shop with us don’t want to buy a jacket because there is a certain label in it – we’re not an enormous global brand that can hide behind the name. Gentleman buy from us for the strength of the product and so it’s vital that the quality and cut back that up. thoughtful partnerships with likeminded brands to offer our customers added value – from male grooming activations and drink collaborations for our bar, to private dinners in-store – are also important.
In what circumstances do you get your best business ideas?
I’m a creative person – my mind is constantly thinking of new ideas! My best time is when I’m on holiday resting. Also, when talking with friends, as my friends reflect who the Oliver Brown customer is so it’s really valuable to discuss new ideas with them.
75 Lower Sloane Street, Chelsea, London SW1W 8DA (020 7259 9494/ www.oliverbrown.org.uk)
Country pursuit looks, Oliver Brown-style