Weekend wear. Resting in the park. Shades of brown, grey, green and red. Lots of textures: tweed, viyella, peccary, corduroy, cashmere.
Both jacket and trousers are bespoke from Italy. Jan Kielman in Warsaw has made me the split-toe shoes.
Frank Foster (1923-2016)
The viyella shirt is one of the last shirts I picked up at Frank Foster, a wonderful shirtmaker, who died in October 2016 aged 93.
Frank and his wife, Mary, had their own design and make among the London shirtmakers.
They didn’t put a shirt tail on their shirts. Their regular solution was a square buttom with side vents.
I like the hems on their shirts in particular. They are very fine and narrow on side of the shirt, whereas they are very wide at the shoulder head and shirt buttom, so you get an almost invisible and flat hem as if it was handsewn. Frank said fondly that you could turn his shirt inside out, and you wouldn’t notice a difference.
Then there is the shirring at the cuffs instead of the usual four or six pleats. The shirring doesn’t make ironing easy but adds to the shirt’s character.
Frank was an original on cuff designs too. He made true cocktail cuffs and lapidus cuffs. He told me he delivered shirts with cocktail cuffs for Sean Connery in the first Bond movie. Turnbull & Asser claim to have to done the same, yet I remember Frank insisted that he made the shirts for Connery’s first James Bond movie (Dr No). Perhaps both Turnbull & Asser and Frank have provided shirts for the movie.
Roger Moore was a client too, and several of the shirts in Roger Moore’s Bond movies come from Frank, including the ones with lapidus cuffs in Moonraker. The lapidus cuff was a design Frank got in the 1970s from the French designer Ted Lapidus, whom Frank knew.
Gregory Peck was a gentlemen
Throughout his life Frank made shirts for many actors and the movie industry. Orson Wells, Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant, just to mention a few.
He didn’t pride himself of that, though. Celebrity didn’t impress him. In fact I think he scorned those famous clients, who felt entitled to VIP service, because they were famous. He couldn’t care.
That brings me to a comprehensive obituary about Frank, which I found on Spitalfield Life. A few quotes from Frank I stumbled upon in the article:
“Tony Curtis, I didn’t like him at all. I went round to the Dorchester and he didn’t offer me a cup of coffee when I was spending hours with him. Then his kinky wife came out of the bathroom stark naked and said, ‘Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were here.’ These people are not humble, they are used to being applauded, they are in the limelight – it’s all false. But Gregory Peck was a gentlemen and Robert Mitchum, although he was tough guy, was a gentlemen too. You have to go through a lot of people before you find the genuine ones.”
“I love making shirts, I can look at an individual and when I measure him, I can see all the problems and the build. So when you leave here, I’ll remember your build and how you stand and hold your head. That’s not me trying, it comes – I can’t tell you how. I remember fine details about people, their eye colour, and their hair, how it grows. It’s a strange thing, I suppose the eye becomes accustomed to noticing these things.”
“We don’t use shirt tails, we cut shirts with square bottoms and side vents. Our shirt tails are very smart, especially when men like to disrobe in front of their females.”
“We then do what is called a ‘button gauntlet’ to enable rich men to have the choice – if need be – to have the choice of rolling their sleeves up. Workers don’t have button gauntlets because no-one gives them the choice or option to roll their sleeves.”
A real shirt fitting
Contrary to most London shirtmakers today Frank started out with a real shirt fitting. You had to visit his shop, and he would adjust and pin a lightly basted shirt, while you were wearing it. Next you could explore his enormous stock of deadstock shirtings, many of them 30 or 40 years old. Inevitably, you ended up with shirts that were thoroughly distinctive everyone of them.
Visiting Frank Foster and his wife Mary in the cave on Pall Mall was a feast.
Frank always bid me farewell with “God bless you”.
God bless you, Frank.