A bespoke suit, custom made, fitted and refitted, was an expensive, essentially conservative proposition, a suit of armor and the bedrock of a gentleman’s wardrobe, but distinctly not a fashionable item. A Savile Row suit “rarely looks new in the conventional sense,” the Australian journalist Lance Richardson writes in his new history of Tommy Nutter (and his brother, David), “House of Nutter.” Its magic, he goes on, “is that it enhances your real self into heightened fantasy, then presents this fantasy as your real self.”
Nutter brought a substantial dose of fantasy to the fantasy. He began on Savile Row at the lowest levels, picking up pins at G. Ward & Company, where he eventually joined forces with a talented young cutter named Edward Sexton and, with him, opened Nutters in 1969 — the first new tailor on Savile Row in more than a century. His investors included Peter Brown, a manager of the Beatles (he stepped in when his friend and former boss Brian Epstein died), and the pop star Cilla Black.
Nutter was already a fixture on the London scene, well connected via Brown, his boyfriend for a time. The Nutters suit, unlike others on the Row, was cut for flash: tight-waisted and small-chested to emphasize the body, with a long jacket and mega lapels. Fabrics and colors were chosen to stand out rather than stand back. Men and women both flocked in: Bianca as well as Mick, Diana Ross, Eric Clapton, Twiggy, Peter Sellers. Elton John, who first came to Nutters in 1971, ordered in bulk.
“House of Nutter” traces the ascent and untimely end of Tommy Nutter, and the parallel history of his brother, David: also gay, also embedded in the world of rock ’n’ roll, though as a photographer and confidant. Tommy bloomed out of London’s Swinging Sixties and became an internationally recognized designer, a celebrity in his own right. He was as much a character as a person, natty and fabulous in a wild suit — “People expect one to turn up looking like a chic Bozo the Clown,” he once said — a salesman taking his show on the road. (Sexton, mostly back at base on Savile Row, was the better craftsman.)