In Savile Row today, it seems that the dichotomy between bespoke and ready-to-wear is slowly becoming a quiet partnership between two different but, interconnected worlds. Of all the prestigious addresses on Savile Row, there is no better advocate for this paradigm shift, than Chester Barrie.
Since its inception, Chester Barrie has always been a gleaming example for all the merits of ready-to-wear in the predominantly bespoke dominated Savile Row. While Accessibility is not a word often used to describe this ostentatious world, a microcosm reserved for old-world indulgences, it is a word that has been at the forefront of Chester Barrie’s philosophy.
Following in the heritage of Savile Row, it is in the basement offices of their 19 Savile Row address that we meet Christopher Modoo, Chester Barrie’s Creative and Buying Manager. His instant charisma, sartorial panache, and dazzling charm mirror the brand’s unmistakable flair. Christopher’s journey to Savile Row makes for some fascinating conversation, beginning with a career in banking, followed by a stint in the Selfridge’s shop floor, to leading the Personal Tailoring service in London’s oldest Tailoring House. In an impeccable navy peaked lapel suit, and the perfectly placed colourful pop of silk pocket square, Christopher exudes exactly the kind of knowledge and cutting wit you would expect from the man at the creative helm of Chester Barrie. A tailoring house that has, in more ways than one, become a vanguard for quintessentially British style and craftsmanship.
Tell us about your journey to Savile Row. How do you go from a career in banking to becoming the Buying and Creative Manager of Chester Barrie?
I left school with no great ambitions or qualifications; and I had no idea what to do other than get a job. I felt a bank was a sensible and appropriate job, but then I would go and spend all my money on clothes - that’s just how I expressed myself. I saw there was a vacancy in the account department of Selfridges, and discovered that you got a 40% clothing discount. Naturally, I applied! I found that I could get a similar salary to banking, while working in menswear
Before Chester Barrie, you lead the Personal Tailoring Service in Ede and Ravencroft, How has this experience affected your aesthetic at Chester Barrie?
Ede and Ravenscroft was a very interesting experience. Prior this, I had worked for Thomas Pink which was the newest tailor in Savile row, and then moved to a company that was even older than Savile row itself. The very traditional customers taught me a lot. I came from a flamboyant background, so the quirks and details that I learned from them were really quite stylised. The ultra-classic world would soon become ultra-fashionable. I found that by making classic clothes really well, we picked up the occasional genius design element. By executing the classics beautifully and with a good aesthetic, you won’t have to change too much - the ideas will come naturally.
At Chester Barrie, we can be slightly more flamboyant. However, I know that everything I do is rooted in tradition and correct form - and that is something I learned at Ede and Ravenscroft. You can be exposed to taste, but you can’t beat just being in Savile Row and seeing the customers come in and learn what they expect from a suit. Achieving the look they desire and transferring their ideas into ready-to-wear is amazing. The best ready-to-wear products should always look like they are bespoke. Whether it’s shoes or a shirt, it should always aim to look bespoke.
How would you describe Chester Barrie? What are the defining features of any Chester Barrie suit?
It’s all about balance and economy of design. Chester Barrie has always had an Englishness about it. A lot of successful English brands have become very international in their tastes, but we have kept our Englishness despite expanding our brand. The way we mix colours and the way we use textures add to our authenticity.
For decades, Chester Barrie has been synonymous with precision tailoring, impeccable taste, and quintessentially British style. What is it about British style that makes it so unique?
The authenticity of it! If you are looking at international business dress, you generally have a suit, a shirt, and a tie. The way in which most of the world dresses for politics or finance was born between Paris and London, but mostly London. It has evolved because London is such a great trading nation. We were an industrial nation and our wool came from the colonies - and this is all part of the heritage of the clothing industry. It was very much about trading our knowledge and culture with the rest of the world. Since then, craftsmen have been coming to England for generations. British style has always been a mix of different cultures and nationalities, while simultaneously being typically English, which is why it is so unique.
It is a known fact that Savile Row is the pinnacle of tailoring. What do you think makes Chester Barrie stand out from other Savile Row fixtures?
Chester Barrie began in 1935, and from day one it’s been all about accessibility. I’ve been on Savile Row for quite a while now and I’ve noticed that some brands now have blogs and great window displays, whereas fifteen to twenty years ago they would have had no window displays. Back then Savile Row had a reputation of requiring customers to have letters of recommendations and not accepting walk ins, which was quite intimidating as I’m sure you can imagine.
We offer things ready made, which makes things a little bit easier for customers. When you come to Savile Row, it is really important that you are able to try a lot of different things on. I also think we bring an element of design as well. Building a bespoke suit for the first time can be daunting and people come in for bespoke consultancy, I believe there is room for both. We have a huge respect for the craft of bespoke tailoring, we are the first to say that’s not what we do and point people in the right direction. However, everything we do comes from bespoke as bespoke came first. Surely, what we’ve done in the ready-to-wear world, from innovation to fabrication, has shifted the way people look for suits.
Being a lover of impeccable suiting yourself, what is the one menswear style rule that you would never break?
I could name hundreds of rules and there would always be exceptions to prove them. It’s tricky. One of my pet peeves is short socks on men - I hate ankle socks. I can never imagine thinking that’s actually stylish.
Menswear tailoring is a well-known British Institution, it is a craft that is both built on heritage and yet has a viewpoint on modernity. How do you think the London Tailoring scene has changed throughout the years?
It’s been a good challenge - the essence of tailoring clothes that are practical, comfortable, and modern still exists, but peoples’ lifestyles have changed. People, regardless of income, want a smaller wardrobe - large wardrobes have become an indulgence. The average Savile Row customer doesn’t want too many things in their wardrobe. In the last five years, the classic occasions tailors are meant to cover have completely changed, whereas twenty years ago it was as simple as black-tie. Today you have occasions that take classic styles and twist them around to make clothing that is really wearable.
Savile Row is predominantly occupied by bespoke tailors. With Chester Barrie offering Ready-to-Wear and Made-to-Measure services, how do you overcome the added value that bespoke services provide?
They can offer things we can’t do and we can do things they can’t do. It’s a good relationship.
In your opinion, what is the secret to making a perfectly tailored garment?
There is no such thing as a perfect suit. There are always new innovations and peoples’ body shapes change all the time. It’s finding a balance between all these things. We had a consultant, Edward Sexton, who helped us with our range. It was an absolute privilege to work with him; he taught me everything I know about the structure of a suit. I discovered the architectural elements involved in a suit’s construction. Having the vision to see something through a three dimensional lens - that was key.
The other side of that of the discourse, is having innate skills and being a technical perfectionist. He managed to put a little bit of flair in everything that he did without going over the top. Everything has to be functional, beautifully balanced, and well-designed. We are constantly trying to refine and perfect, while always trying new things every season, whether it’s a new model or shoulder line.
Portraits by Chris Baker
Words by Hannah Tan